“This building has some magic in it, and I think everyone wanted to be a part of it,” says Sally Breer, of the design firm ETC.etera. The two-story Engine Co. No. 17 building on Santa Fe Avenue was built in 1927, but it’s been decades since its two sets of hulking red double doors served their intended purpose. The Los Angeles Fire Department unit that served here for more than 50 years moved to a relatively modern facility nearby in 1980.
Instead of housing LAFD personnel and equipment, the property now pulses with a radically different kind of energy thanks to hospitality entrepreneur Dustin Lancaster’s latest venture, of which Breer is a major part: the Firehouse Hotel. The hotel’s nine individually designed guest rooms—as well as its bar, restaurant, cafe and boutique—are making this block near 7th Street in the DTLA Arts District hotter than ever.
The Firehouse Hotel is Lancaster and Breer’s fourth undertaking together, and this time around the effort has gotten a boost from other L.A. creatives, notably culinary-brand founder Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett and accessories designer Clare Vivier of Clare V. “We’re big collaborators in general, because the more cool people you can bring on, the better it’ll be,” says Lancaster. “This project is very much about L.A. love.”
In 2016 Lancaster began negotiations to take over the structure he’d seen and fallen in love with many years ago. He immediately wanted Breer on board. Given his successful track record with venues like L & E Oyster Bar, El Condor, Bar Covell, Hotel Covell and Oriel restaurant (the last two designed by Breer)—as well as other projects in his An Eastside Establishment portfolio—certain friends were eager to get involved.
The Firehouse Hotel offers more services and amenities than Hotel Covell, which opened in 2015 with the distinctive stamp of Breer’s unconventional approach and aesthetic. “Always our job first and foremost is to respect the architecture and breathe some new life into it,” says Breer. In this case, the team retained the dignified 92-year-old civic landmark’s original wood and concrete floors, exposed wood-truss ceilings and pressed-tin panels. (The building’s previous owner had lived in a loft apartment upstairs; other sections of the building remained mostly raw.)