As we look back on summer, we’re thinking of some of our Coastal Clients and Brixton Capital comes to mind. With its space-ship-shape and rich history, the Brixton Headquarters building is iconic in San Diego’s coastal north county. The building’s location afforded the opportunity to capture breathtaking views of the only cove in Solana Beach, and yet it was starting to show it’s age.
On a mission to bring this beauty back to life, Brixton retained ID Studios to consult on its design transformation, both inside and out. As we researched the building’s history, we quickly discovered that the story of this uniquely shaped building is as interesting as its unique shape.
The building currently located at 120 South Sierra Avenue, started as the Solana Theater in the 1930s with its main entry, and address, on South Acacia Ave. It was built by Smith Construction which was run by Dorthea Smith and her husband Milton Smith who built several landmarks during their tenure in Solana Beach, including the simple, rectangular theater.
[note: You can also find pictures of the original theater by photographer Eleanor Antin in her “King of Solana Beach” series. Due to copyright issues, we can’t post them in this article, but they’re out there if you do an image search.]
The earliest reference to the theater we found was in the book Seabiscuit, An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. In the book, she recalls a famous 1938 horse race, Seabiscuit vs Ligaroti, which was reportedly replayed at the theater after being run on the nearby Del Mar Racetrack. The theater stayed in business for decades and holds a fond place in many people’s memories and is often recalled in the Facebook Group, “You Might Be From Solana Beach If…”
Long-time locals remember long lines that would wind along South Sierra and into the Plaza on “kids mornings,” when the theatre would play 25 cartoons and a short feature — and no parents were allowed. “A theatre full of popcorn eating (and popcorn throwing) kids and no parents hollering ‘no.’ It was utter joy,” recalls Society programs chair, Carol Childs.
In the late 1970s business at the theater waned after the more modern Flower Hill Mall Theater opened just two miles away in Del Mar. When the Solana Beach theater closed, a family took advantage of a then-current trend and opened “Organ Power Pizza Parlor.” They purchased and moved a historic organ built by famed organ builder Robert Morton onto the theater’s stage.
Unfortunately, the pizza restaurant didn’t last long, and the building started its next life when it was converted to office space. In the ’80s, big changes were in store for the building. Following a leveraged buyout of The Chart House, the executives turned its sights to Solana Beach and the historic theater for their new headquarters building. They hired Architect Joe Lancor, who added the curved roof and nautilus shell shape which is now prominently featured as the entrance.
When Chart House decided to move its headquarters to Chicago in 1997, the building continued its corporate identity, by housing various companies. When Brixton purchased the property in 2016 they did so with the intent to modernize it for their Corporate Headquarters.
According to CEO, Travis King, Brixton wanted their offices to reflect the “hardworking, get it done East Coast/New York mentality combined with the laid-back vibe of San Diego.” ID Studios brought those ideas together, with a design based on an open concept, maximizing the coastal views of Fletcher Cove and to bring those elements to the interior of the building.
When Brixton approached us, we knew the almost windowless wall that previously housed the large movie screen, hid a stunning view of Fletcher Cove. The design team went to work relocating restrooms and other core services to maximize the potential held in this solid wall. Piercing this wall with a line of windows also created access to fresh air for its occupants along with the coastal views.
The renovation also features a new monument stair which took into account the circular theme inherent in the nautilus shaped entrance. With office space on the two upper floors, the basement was converted into a fitness area, complete with a jiu-jitsu studio, showers, and surfboard storage. Separate access to the fitness studios is directly accessible to the community park and beach access which has the added benefit of minimizing the intrusion of beach sand into the main office. The result is a refreshing interpretation of Coastal Modern, bringing an infusion of natural light, fresh sea breezes, and an active vibe to the entire building.
ID Studios is proud to have been a design team partner to this beautiful, coastal restoration and to join the mission bringing this historic building back to life.