Andrew Meieran, 50, is well known in Los Angeles and San Francisco for restoring old buildings.
Two of his biggest projects are in downtown Los Angeles: the Edison and Clifton’s. The Edison is a prohibition-era bar. Clifton’s is a cafeteria that first opened in 1935. Meieran added a giant tree in the middle, a handful of bars and unique décor before re-opening Clifton’s in 2015. Meieran has opened an additional Edison in Disney Springs in Orlando. He has also restored houses and other buildings around the county.
Crain's Los Angeles spoke with Meieran about how he started restoring buildings, his process and how he picks projects.
Starting in college
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do but I loved architecture and history. I liked things that were fantastical and whimsical and fun, but I had no idea that I would be working on them. That developed by coincidence and circumstance.
At Berkeley, I didn’t get into the dorms. There was a lottery to get housing. I was left to fend for myself. In Berkeley that meant you had to go off to the boonies or you came up with something creative.
As I was looking at apartments I saw this craftsman cottage that was for sale. It was completely run down. I thought why not buy it and fix it up. I personally learned how to rehab the building top to bottom. I did carpentry, roofing, everything.
I became a landlord on top of everything else. That sent me on a totally different path. I realized that was something I could do on a bigger scale. I went and took it, sold it, and bought a much bigger project.
I’ve always done residential. But I started doing commercial buildings in San Francisco. I was looking at a Victorian and a guy mentioned that he had a commercial building for sale. I realized I could look at all sorts of properties. One of the properties I got in San Francisco that compelled me was the David Hewes Building. David Hewes was the individual who donated the golden spike for the railroads. He was a major character in San Francisco history.
I left San Francisco about 15 years ago to focus on Los Angeles. The next step was rehabilitating spaces and creating environments in commercial projects. In a commercial project there’s no restrictions. There’s no end to what it could be.
Changes to downtown Los Angeles
In L.A. my first project was the Higgins building. It was a coincidence. I had done a project with the archdiocese in San Francisco. I had rehabbed an earthquake damaged church there and turned it into housing. I was sent to look at St. Vibiana. I was across the street and looked at it and thought it was a tough project. I looked at the building I was leaning on and that was the Higgins building and what I ended up putting the Edison in.
The Higgins building was the first adaptive, reuse building. When I looked at buying the building people were telling me to tear it down and build a parking lot. And I thought that sounded awful. I did exactly what every human being told me not to: I put a restaurant-bar in a flooded basement in an abandoned building in an abandoned alley.
I did a bunch of other projects after that.
Clifton’s seemed like the next interesting weird logical step. It was all the things I love on steroids. It had a historic themed environment. I found out after I bought it that my grandpa had worked in the basement of the building next door. I found a picture of my grandfather sitting in front of Clifton’s with his boss 60 years ago.
There’s much more expansion going on. We have done a bunch of work to expand the cafeteria into the Exposition-a marketplace of the extraordinary, kind of like the next generation of food halls. We’re opening the Shadowbox later this year. Literally a “Through the Looking-Glass” space. It’s a complete, immersive, unique experience.
Projects pick me. They’ve got to have layers. There are very few that don’t have full intriguing layers. If I look at a project and see one layer with no cool history, it’s very difficult for me. It’s not interesting.
Clifton’s is a perfect example: the more I dug the more I found. It was completely endless. I’m getting known for doing this kind of thing. So now people bring me projects.
I do all the design, all the thematic overlays and programing, I set up the way the infrastructure works and then step back a bit and let people run it. In Clifton’s every detail has gone through my hands. I love the layers and looking at them and learning about them. I hand-picked every artifact in that building. Same with the Edison. I even helped paint.
I’m looking for ways of doing what we are doing at Clifton’s and to continue to expand upon that. The future is the Wild West when it comes to what it means to create a hospitality environment. People are so inundated with immersive experiences. People are looking for that experience within their own normal life. To go to a bar or a nightclub, it needs to be an immersive environment.