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Historic Juvenile Detention Property Becoming New Urban Neighborhood

Brookfield Residential, Lennar Broke Ground on 75-Acre Site
April 4, 2018
Former Whittier State School and Correctional Facility buildings and open space will be preserved and restored at The Groves in Whittier.
Rendering courtesy of Brookfield Residential.

California’s longest-running state juvenile reform school and a correctional facility are being transformed into a 75-acre master-planned community in Whittier, CA.

Lennar Corp. and Brookfield Residential Properties Inc., which was the master developer of tech hotbed Playa Vista, broke ground yesterday on a project to turn the former Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility School and surrounding property into a large-scale, mixed-use commercial and residential development.

The property, at 11850 Whittier Blvd., was one of the largest remaining opportunities for development in Los Angeles County. Brookfield Residential bought the landmark site for $42.5 million from the State in 2015, as first reported in the L.A. Times.

Known as The Groves in Whittier, the project is slated to include 561 for-sale homes, 189 market-rate and senior apartments, and 150,000 square feet of office, shops and restaurant space.

The reform school was built in 1891 and operated continuously until 2004 when the state of California shut it down. It was the oldest of its kind operated by the California Youth Authority. In recent years, it had been vacant and a popular filming site for television shows and movies including "The Othersiders" and "Blow."

Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri said the Groves project is a welcome addition that has been about 15 years in the making. The City has sought to move forward with developing the site into something for the community since the school shut down.

"It's huge in terms of the planning and what it means to our community and what it means to Whittier," he told CoStar News. "I fully expect a rising tide raises all ships."

The redevelopment project had been stalled for years by lawsuits filed by Whittier Conservancy. The Conservancy wanted to preserve historic buildings at the site, which was registered as an historic landmark in the California Register of Historic Resources in 1982. The lawsuits ended with a settlement last year that added further protections to some buildings that will be preserved during development and a compensatory mitigation fund that will be used to preserve other Whittier resources.

Brookfield Residential’s plan preserves four of the site’s primary historic properties: The administration building, the superintendent’s residence, the chapel and the assistant superintendent’s residence.

The Groves, named as a nod to the site’s history as an orchard and farm, will include pocket parks, a dog park, a clubhouse and pool area, as well as a10-foot wide walkway planned through the property.

Brookfield Residential Vice President of Land Dave Bartlett said this is an "exciting moment" for Whittier.

"We are also preserving and restoring four historically significant buildings, built between 1919 and 1933, repurposing them into valuable new community uses, while subtly integrating them into a wholly new environment," he said in a statement.

The City of Whittier is expected to receive $1 million in annual net tax revenues from the project, which is slated to open in 2020.

Jacquelyn Ryan, Los Angeles Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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