In the late 1920s, as Los Angeles was becoming one of the world centers for tire manufacturing, architects Aleck Curlett and Claud Beelman were hired to design a sprawling Renaissance Revival factory complex for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in South Gate. The factory would grow to encompass a million square feet and become a powerful economic engine.
The jewel of the complex was and is The Administration Building (now called Building #2), with its double height lobby set at an angle to the intersection of Santa Fe and Firestone, at the southeast corner of the site.
Visitors were dazzled by the three enormous custom Gladding, McBean tile murals illustrating the process of rubber farming and tire production, following the raw latex from the Firestone Natural Rubber plantation in Harbel, Liberia to the main factory at Akron, Ohio, where it was processed to feed America’s hunger for automotive tires. Surrounding the brightly colored murals made at the former Tropico plant in Glendale were thousands of plain tiles, decorative vents, flooring and a tiled reception desk by Ernest Batchelder, whose factory was in Lincoln Heights.
To learn more about the remarkable Firestone lobby tiles, tune in to Episode #32 of our You Can’t Eat the Sunshine podcast, Ranchos & Rubber Plants (the section with tile historian Brian Kaiser’s interview begins at 45:30).
The Firestone Rubber factory closed in 1980. After standing vacant for decades, the derelict site was purchased by the Los Angeles Community College District in 2009. Although the factory complex was eligible as a California landmark, over the past several years, LACCD has demolished nearly all of the historic buildings. All that’s left is the lobby building with its priceless tiles—and now LACCD wants to tear it down, too!
We have heard troubling rumors that the reason LACCD is seeking to demolish the lobby now, after pledging for a decade to preserve it, is because thieves have accessed the building and caused significant damage, breaking through the Batchelder tiled floors and Batchelder and Gladding, McBean tiled walls to get to copper pipes and wire that can be sold as scrap!
With Building #2 currently gated and inaccessible to preservation-minded citizens, we are unable to confirm or deny these rumors. The photos on this page were taken between 2010 (murals by Brian Kaiser) and 2013 (building, factory mural and doorway by us).
The Los Angeles Conservancy has recently raised the alarm about the latest demolition threat, and asked that interested parties contact LACCD to urge them to preserve Building #2. We echo this request, and ask that when emailing or calling, you also ask them to allow historic preservation experts to access the structure and provide a report to the community about the condition of the building and the unique and priceless tiles. This Los Angeles County treasure must be protected and preserved, ideally in place. Contact information is below:
Concerned citizens are encouraged to reach out to LACCD, pressing them to reconsider their demolition plans and instead retain and reuse Firestone Tire and Rubber Plant Building #2. Also, ask them to provide a public report from historic preservation experts on the current condition of the tiles and lobby. Contact: LACCD Office of the Board of Trustees at (213) 891-2044 and LACCDBOToffice@laccd.edu; and email Reuban Smith, Chief Facilities Executive, firstname.lastname@example.org. If emailing, please cc the L.A. Conservancy at email@example.com, and Esotouric at firstname.lastname@example.org.