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Friday, Jun 14, 2024

Construction — El Cortez Rebirth as Apartments Nears

After sitting vacant and heavily vandalized for more than 20 years, the El Cortez Hotel is fast approaching a new career as a luxury apartment building.

The 16-story, 89,000-square-foot 1920s era tower at 702 Ash St., now called The Apartments At Hotel El Cortez, has been undergoing renovation the past two years for a total project cost of $23 million. Members of the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Professional Estimators and other guests took a tour of the property May 16, courtesy of Ninteman Construction Co. Inc. of San Diego, the general contractor.

The guests saw the completed upper floors, now luxury apartments, and the yet-to-be-finished lobby and Don Room, a ballroom that was once the setting for formal parties.

Jeff Bingham, a Ninteman spokesman, estimated the project would be completed by the middle of June. Bingham said the city would probably be issuing a certificate of occupancy later this month, with tenants starting to occupy the building as soon as that is done.

The battered walls, missing doors, door knobs, plumbing fixtures and wall air conditioners are now replaced by new wallboard painted light yellow with wood trim done in gloss white and new period-style kitchen cabinets, plumbing fixtures and hardware.

The entire building has been re-wired for high-speed Internet access and more telephone lines to bring it into the 21st century, Bingham said.

Richard Vallin, one of the estimators, told guests about how he rode the exterior glass elevator, installed in the 1950s, accompanied by his father, a construction worker, to the then-new Starlight Room cocktail lounge, before the glass was installed in the elevator.

His comments were prompted by the fact the temporary construction elevator, a cage-like contraption installed on the northeast side of the building, wasn’t working for the tour.

That prompted the group of about 30 to begin a trek up 15 flights of stairs. First through floors of the hotel still undergoing heavy construction, then through finished levels complete with floral-style carpet covered in plastic sheets for protection, they eventually reached the top. It is a two-level, 15th-floor penthouse that was converted from the Skyroom cocktail lounge.

Three stories below, the Starlight Room was converted into apartments as well, restoring many of the original Craftsman-style architectural features.

Gone also is the Caribbean wing, a one-story annex built in the 1950s that spread around the pool to the north of the hotel. It was demolished to restore the hotel property to its original condition, said Donna Alm, vice president of the Centre City Development Corp., which oversees Downtown redevelopment.

In 1998, the CCDC board of directors approved a $5.85 million loan to help rehabilitate the building. Additional financing was obtained from other sources as well.

There are 85 apartment units at the El Cortez, 40 of which have already been pre-leased, said Roger Conlee, a spokesman for the developer.

They are just a handful of the hundreds of residential units being built Downtown, said Peter Hall, president of CCDC. Thousands more are in the planning pipeline as well, Hall said.

The J. Peter Block Cos., owner of the El Cortez, has done two other restorations of historic buildings. One was the renovation into condominiums of the 1923-era Kress Department Store in Long Beach and the other was the conversion into condominiums of an abandoned 1880s-era warehouse in Denver, said Conlee.

The company is also considering purchasing Temple Beth Israel, a 1926 Mediterranean-style building at 2512 Third Ave., and converting it into a museum and apartments, Conlee said.


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