Developer Has New Plans For Nixon Building In Uptown Whittier


WHITTIER >> The former Bank of America building in the heart of Uptown has been sold, and the new owner plans to make the building an attraction that will bring more shoppers to the long-struggling business district.


“I believe we can bring a lot more people to the area if we do it right,” said John Hsu, CEO of STC Management Inc., which acquired the six-story building in Oct. 3 for $4.75 million.

“We want to restore the building so we can revitalize the whole area,” he said.

Getting a Cheesecake Factory restaurant to lease the ground floor is at the top of his wish list of things to do with the building, he said. STC has set aside $1 million for tenant improvements for Cheesecake, if he can convince the company to lease the 15,000-square-foot ground floor, with a 3,815-square-foot courtyard.

“If we can get Cheesecake Factory in, we would be very, very happy,” he said.

Talks with the company are planned.

Hsu also plans to restore the American flag at the top of the building and to refurbish and light the exterior. The building is a National Historic Landmark and was the site of President Richard M. Nixon’s first law office. (It’s the second window from the right on the six floor facing Greenleaf Avenue.)

“We’re going to put the flag back and bring back the glory so when people see this building they can feel proud,” Hsu said.

Since the building’s former glory days, however, it has had a checkered tenant history.

Bank of America moved out in 1980, although many have continued to refer to it by that name.

The building was acquired by Whittier Building Inc. in 1988 for $900,000.

In 1995, Q’s Billiards Club opened on the ground floor. It was taken over by Stixx Billiards in 1998.

A year later, the city imposed tougher operating rules due to complaints about noise and other problems.

Ibiza Steak and Lounge Restaurant took over in 2000. The restaurant’s name was changed to Rome Fine Dining, but it closed in May after losing its liquor permit due to complaints about noise and security problems.

The building opened in 1923 as a Bank of America, built for $414,000. In 1937, the then future president, Nixon, practiced law in the building as a member of the firm Wingert and Bewley.

A furniture store currently occupies the ground floor.

The building will be rebranded as The Nixon Plaza,

“The sale of the Bank of America-Nixon building is an important movement forward for development in Uptown Whittier,” said Tony Williams, of the Whittier Uptown Association.

The association has offered its recommendations for the building to Hsu and recently donated funds for repairing the clock that hangs on the corner of the building, said Williams.

City officials also are hopeful about the building’s future.

“This building is an architectural gem, and the city looks forward to working with a new owner to assure preservation of this wonderful building and bringing new vitality to Uptown,” said City Manager Jeff Collier.

Hsu also wants to establish an upscale lounge-bar, similar to The Edison on 2nd Street in Los Angeles, in the basement of the building.

STC plans to spend $2 million on the renovation, which includes updates to the interior, cleaning and other work.

Stage 2 of the renovation will focus on redeveloping the upper floors with a possible housing component linked to the offices, Hsu said.

Hsu, 43, who speaks English, Mandarin and Taiwanese, came to the U.S. from Taiwan in 1983 at age 11. His parents began investing in real estate and in 1985 formed STC. They owned two shopping centers, he said.

In 1995, Hsu took over as manager of STC, which currently has nearly 60 commercial properties and more than $1.5 billion invested in Southern California, he said. The company owns three Whittier commercial properties, including STC Plaza on the southwest corner of Norwalk and Beverly boulevards, where STC’s accounting offices have been located since 1991. The company also has offices in Industry and Los Angeles, Hsu said.

Hsu said Southern California commercial real estate is undervalued, and STC Management tries to enhance the value of its properties by “taking care of tenants” and attracting new businesses, including businesses from Taiwan, Korea, China and Europe.

85 Degrees, which he described as the Starbucks of Asia, is one such company that has been successful in the U.S. and could be a tenant at Nixon Plaza, he said.

“I feel this is the heart of Uptown, and I have an obligation,” he said. “I want Uptown to be prosperous.”

Whittier Daily News — Staff Writer Mike Sprague contributed to this story.