L.A.’s New Playa Vista Neighborhood Is Where Silicon Valley Meets Southern California
Playa Vista, a newly built neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, lacks much of what locals consider luxury. There are no estates, sweeping views or movie-star enclaves. Yet houses are selling for over $4 million, and rents are eye-watering.
That is because Playa Vista is in the final stages of its reinvention, providing office space for the biggest names in tech as well as dense, urban-style living for residents. In the fall, Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit will begin moving employees into a 319,000-square-foot office space, adjacent to 12 acres of land the company purchased in 2014. Yahoo , Microsoft , IMAX, Electronic Arts and Alphabet’s YouTube are already there; Facebook leases a 50,000-square-foot space across the street, the company said.
Between 5,000 to 6,000 people work at Playa Vista today—a number that is expected to double in the next few years, said Adrian Foley, president and chief operating officer of Brookfield Residential , the company that is implementing the master plan.
Playa Vista sits roughly between the oceanside neighborhood of Marina del Rey and Culver City. Immediately to the west of the community are the Ballona Wetlands, a 600-acre preserve visited by hundreds of species of birds, including Great Blue Herons, ducks and egrets. The development backs up to the Westchester Bluffs, giving some residents a grassy hillside view.
The community includes a dense collection of modern buildings and houses; 29 parklike areas; two outdoor concert areas and three areas with retail and restaurants. The newest shopping area, called Runway, has a Whole Foods Market, a multiplex movie theater, 11 restaurants and about 15 retail outlets, including places to take Pilates, yoga and spinning classes.
Home values are on the rise. Randy Schwab, a 54-year-old chief executive of a nonprofit and his wife, Laurie Dworsky, a 56-year-old graphic designer, were planning on selling their Playa Vista four-bedroom unit—until they learned how much it could generate in rent.
So instead of selling, the couple bought another unit for $1.95 million in 2016 to live in and were able to rent their $1.45 million condo for a handsome $9,000 a month to NBA player Jamal Crawford. At the time, he played for the Clippers, which has a training facility on the Playa Vista grounds. After Mr. Crawford moved out in August, the couple was able to rent the unit to another person for $8,500 a month, Mr. Schwab said.
In 2003, then-law student Marc Bauer bought a two-bedroom condo for roughly $530,000.
Today, Mr. Bauer is a 38-year-old municipal-bond attorney with a wife, Lacey, and a child on the way. His unit would likely sell for about $1.1 million, said Tami Humphrey, an agent with Palm Realty Boutique who lives in Playa Vista and has sold 115 homes there.
For decades, Playa Vista was known for two things: Howard Hughes and red tape. The 460-acre plot where the billionaire once housed his aviation firm sat unused for decades, as various developers struggled with environmental concerns and bureaucracy.
In 2012, Brookfield Residential bought the area’s master plan for $265 million. Brookfield predicted that tech companies would run out of space to expand in other parts of Los Angeles due to lack of space, building restrictions and high prices and turn to Playa Vista, said Mr. Foley. Today, the term “Silicon Beach,” originally referencing Santa Monica and Venice to indicate a Southern California outpost of Silicon Valley, also includes Playa Vista. Currently, the Google office is being built within the “Spruce Goose” airplane hangar where Mr. Hughes built his wooden airbus, said Mr. Foley.
To sell to luxury buyers unfamiliar with the development, Brookfield contracted Beverly Hills luxury brokerage Hilton & Hyland to market its highest-end product: 14 approximately 4,500-square-foot single-family homes; three are currently on the market for between $4 million and $4.89 million. Under construction are 66 single family homes asking between $2 million and just over $3 million; these will be up to 3,600 square feet and equipped with the Apple HomeKit, which allows lighting, locks and the thermostat to be controlled by an iPhone.
The lowest-priced new construction condo is $1.1 million, said Mr. Foley. Rentals start at $3,200-a-month for a one-bedroom. At completion in 2020, Playa Vista plans to have 6,046 units of housing, ranging from rental apartments to large, for-sale houses, and roughly 12,000 residents, said Mr. Foley.
Right after Meredith Schlosser closed on a $2.44 million model home in Playa Vista she started “freaking out,” she said. The 33-year-old real-estate agent said it shook her confidence when colleagues in Beverly Hills asked incredulously, “What is Playa Vista?” When she drove by her home, dirt and tractors surrounded it, she said.
Today, Ms. Schlosser lives in the Playa Vista home and owns a second unit with her fiancée and fiancée’s parents. They bought it for $2.1 million and rent it for $8,200 a month. She also sells property within the community as a real-estate agent. Other agents no longer scratch their heads over her choice, she said.
“Now it is like the coolest thing,” said Ms. Schlosser. “What’s bigger than Google?”
Originally appeared in Wall Street Journal