Walker & Eisen’s Commercial Exchange Building

The Commercial Exchange Building at dusk.

The Commercial Exchange Building. Photo taken through my car’s windshield.

Work was completed on the Commercial Exchange Building, located at Olive and Eighth Streets, on May 18, 1924 according to the Los Angeles Times. The William Simpson Construction Company was the contractor for the building and Walker & Eisen were the architects. Walker & Eisen were the architectural firm behind The Fine Arts Building (1926), the United Artists Building (1927) which was also known as the California Petroleum Building and the Sunkist Building (1935).

The Commercial Exchange building was a concrete and steel, height limit building which meant it was 150 feet (in reality 160 feet) and the cost of the building was reported to be $650,000. The Times article reported that the Southern California Telephone Company had leased the second and third floors of the building but there were still no occupants for any of the ground floor retail spaces. The offices above the ground floor were divided into one room, two room or three room office suites. The possibility of a large cafeteria in the basement (similar to the Arcade Building’s cafeteria?) was mentioned in the Times but it is unclear if that plan ever moved forward.

Commercial Exchange Building from the California State Library. The Olive Street side is the narrower side.

Then in 1935 because the city wanted to widen Olive Street the building had to be altered. What most owners would have done is simply cut off five feet (the amount the city deemed necessary) from the end of the building on the Olive Street side. Walker & Eisen drew up plans for this possibility but the owner of the building found this option unsatisfactory. Why? Because the end offices were the biggest offices and they were responsible for the highest rents. The Olive Street facade had three offices on each floor from the second floor to the thirteenth floor.

In order to keep those high rent offices intact George R. Kress of the Kress House Moving Company suggested removing 8 and 1/2 feet — near the center of the building — close to the building’s light court. This plan would also keep the building’s ground floor intact, which had been recently occupied by an Owl Drug Store, and not reduce the square footage of the prime retail space.

From Architecture and Engineer December 1935 showing what would be removed.

The removal of 8 and 1/2 feet of the building, approximately fifty feet from the Olive Street side, was seen as a better solution because it would only reduce the size of two offices on each floor and narrow each floor’s hallway in this particular area. Walker & Eisen, according to an article in Southwest Builder and Contractor, weren’t initially convinced the Kress plan would work. Prominent structural engineers of the time Blaine Noice, Murray Erick and Paul Jeffers were consulted along with the California Institute of Technology’s Professor Martel. Eventually, Kress was able to convince all of them that his plan was doable so the work prior to the move was undertaken including the slicing of the building in half, the excavation of the area beneath the basement and the installation of jacks, steel plates, steel rollers and tracks.

Architect and Engineer stated the most important issues regarding the movement of part of the building to the east after the 8 and 1/2 foot section had been removed:

“One, the maintenance of that portion of the building moved in a level and plumb position at all times; two, the supporting of the column footings under which the Kress Company excavated ten feet below the basement floor line; three, the placing of moving equipment under the footings and the construction of reinforced concrete mat sub-footings of such dimensions as to insure perfect floor alignment of the portion of the building not moved with that of the portion moved keeping in mind the fact that the portion moved would be placed on these newly constructed sub-footings, which must support the immediate load to which it would be subjected, and maintain the same without rising a possibility of the slightest degree of settlement.”

A closer view of the section that was removed. From Architect and Engineer December 1935.

Architect and Engineer, whose article relied heavily on the article in Southwest Builder and Contractor, was in awe of what had been accomplished. When the undertaking was completed Architecture and Engineer listed the endeavor’s statistics.

  • The section moved was approximately fifty-five feet by fifty feet.
  • It was thirteen stories and 160 feet tall.
  • The portion moved weighed an estimated 5,000 tons.
  • It took nine hours to move it five feet.
  • Seventy-five men undertook the job with twenty-five devoted to pipes, plumbing and utilities.
  • The section cut out was 8 and 1/2 feet to allow for the over lapping of the steel in the beams and the floor slabs where the building was re-connected.
  • One window replaced two windows where the building was reconnected.
  • “with the exception of a couple of bruised fingers” there were no accidents.
  • The entire process was completed in 80 days.
  • The cost of the procedure was $60,000.

The Commercial Exchange Building, at Eighth and Olive Streets, in March 2019. Notice that the cornice has been removed. [Note: the picture I had here seemed very dark so I lightened it and enriched it with color. Now, it looks like a postcard from the 1940s.]



13 story office building cut in half and moved five feet. (1935, December). Architect and Engineer, 123(3), 56-58.

Complete business structure. (1924, May 18). Los Angeles Times, p. D4.

Concrete structure 160 ft. high moved five feet in nine hours. (1935, October 25). Southwest Builder and Contractor, 86 (17), 13-14.

Height-limit building cut for setback lines. (1935, August 29). Los Angeles Times, p. A2.


Note: I have a book coming out on March 11, 2019 from The History Press titled: The Architects Who Built Southern California. It’s 10 chapters with each chapter devoted to a different architect (or architectural firm) including: Harrison Albright, John Austin, Claud Beelman, Elmer Grey, Hudson & Munsell, A. C. Martin, Meyer & Holler, Julia Morgan, Morgan Walls & Clements and Alfred F. Rosenheim.

Published in: on March 3, 2019 at 9:26 pm  Comments (2)