One Wilshire: Telco Hotel Central

505 One Wilshire, as seen from the rooftop patio of the new Standard Hotel, with its bright red fiberglass waterbed nests. CLUI photo ON THE OUTSIDE, ONE WILSHIRE is an ordinary-looking 30-story 1960’s office tower in Los Angeles, located at a prestigious address: the point where Wilshire Boulevard, the city’s grand west-heading avenue, meets downtown. On the inside is quite a different story: One Wilshire is a telco hotel, said to be the “most interconnected building in the west.” The interior is packed full of telecommunications equipment, connected to the world through dozens of major fiber optic conduits that spill into the building’s below-grade parking garage, from conduits running under the streets outside, and rise through the tower like an infestation of electronic vines.

The busting of the telco boom has put the owners of the building (the notorious, privately-held investment comapny The Carlysle Group) in the position of eager real estate agents, seeking tenants to plug into their new fiber terminal rooms, which offer more bandwidth interconnectivity, especially for direct Asian links, than nearly anywhere else in America. This new posture of publicity enabled the Center to have an unprecedented look inside this remarkable building, and to glimpse some dramatic physical and architectural manifestations of the often invisible, expanding global infosphere.

Equipped with digital cameras and video recorders, the CLUI, led by urban historian Kazys Varnelis, toured the facility with the building’s manager, Chris Pachall. While a few floors have lawyers offices, most of the building is sectioned into rooms with corridors of server and telecommunication switching racks, often protected by cages, and strung together with coaxial and fiber optic cable, bulging from ceiling-mounted raceways. The resulting exhibit was mounted at the CLUI’s Los Angeles exhibit space within a few weeks, and Kazys Varnelis, who teaches at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, delivered a talk, Towers of Concentration, Lines of Growth, on Friday August 29, 2002.

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Meet Me Room
Perhaps the most inter-connected floorspace in the world, and among the most expensive real estate in North America, the "Meet Me Room" (a telco industry term) is the heart of One Wilshire. It is where the primary fiber optic cables are routed, split, and shared, and, due to the access to so many major telco cables in the room, rackspace is of high value. If it were office space, $250 per square foot per month would be a bargain in the Meet Me Room. The average price for office space in downtown Los Angeles is $1.75 per square foot per month.
The 4th Floor
The Meet Me Room is located on the fourth floor of One Wilshire. As it was originally designed for the building's mechanical systems, this floor has a large carrying capacity that is required for the heavy equipment of the MMR. The fourth floor also has most of the HVAC blowers and electrical generators for the building, systems that were shrunk to make more room for valuable telco space.
Surface Cable Map
Whenever a permit is pulled by a contractor for any underground repairs outside One Wilshire, the various telco companies with cable in the area come cut and paint the cable routes on the asphalt, creating a visible graphic of the complexity of the cable that lies out of sight, just below street level.
Point of Entry
The main fiber optic cables connecting One Wilshire to the world enter the building from under the street, into closets in the walls of the building's parking garage. Given the importance of the building to the global communications network, access to the parking garage is controlled, and the building is monitored by federal security officials.
Cable RIsers
Some 1,800 known conduits contain the fiber optic cables that flow through the building's stairwells and vertical utility corridors, called "risers." Cable connects the commercial telco tenants on floors 5 through 29 to the 4th floor Meet Me Room, and to a new, "wireless" Meet Me Room constructed on the 30th floor.
Cable Mining
As tenants' needs change, cables can go unused. Cable mining is performed to thin out the obsolete cables and future congestion is alleviated through the installation of dedicated new ducts.
Power is supplied by DWP, but in the event of a blackout, the building's five generators will kick in. It takes the generators three seconds to start up and stabilize. During this brief period, the entire building runs on batteries. There are 11,000 gallons of diesel stored on site, enough to run the generators for 24 hours before being refueled.
Computers generate a lot of heat, and maintaining a stable, cool temperature and a low humidity is essential in telco hotels, where tenants sometimes demand to install their own cooling systems to safeguard their equipment. At One Wilshire, these units are installed primarily on the third floor roof. A new closed loop cooling system has been installed on the 30th floor roof.
On the roof, microwave antennas link up One Wilshire to transmission towers located around the city. Though fiber's higher capacity has given it dominance over microwave at One Wilshire, microwave's relatively low cost over long distances still make it economical for some applications. The roof's clear line of sight to the south, west, and to the other high-rises, along with the ability to interface with the fiber inside, continues to make One Wilshire an attractive location for microwave-based transmission.
Reading a Roof
Much can be learned about a building's function by examining its roof. The existence of telco hotels in the region around One Wilshire is indicated by the presence of new and extensive cooling units on the roofs of adjacent buildings, many of which were nearly vacant until the telco companies moved in.
Pacific Bell Hub
One Wilshire is located near SBC/Pacbell's central switching station at 400 S. Grand, with its towering, now nearly obsolete, microwave antenna. With deregulation looming in the 1980s, Pacific Bell banned competitors from the central switching station. Long distance carrier MCI thus mounted its own microwave station on the roof of One Wilshire, at the time one of the tallest buildings with good lines of sight in downtown. And so began One Wilshire's importance as a telcom site.