A distinctive Late Modern building that deserves a second look, Zenith Tower's architect, Maxwell Starkman, was one of the first combination architect-developers which put methods of production on equal footing with pure design.
The Zenith Tower on Wilshire Boulevard is a massive skyscraper of what looks like white concrete, but it is actually clad in sculptured metal panels that were once bronze in color. It was designed to be the headquarters of Zenith National Insurance and was completed in 1972. The architect, Maxwell Starkman, was well known for his commercial designs (especially high-rise office buildings), after years of developing tract housing. He was one of the first combination architect-developers, considering materials, construction methods, schedules, and budgets on equal footing with pure design. This enabled him to complete projects quickly and efficiently, with rapid financial return to investors.
His Late Modern design for the Zenith tower placed a sixteen-story skyscraper atop a five-story building that was much wider and more massive in feel. The building’s exterior is clad in a multifaceted metal curtain wall system, with rectangular elements offset from each window to create a dynamic, almost rippling effect across the face of the building. The sculpted metal exterior and windows alike were tinted bronze, so their original effect was very different than it is today—white paint on the metal curtain wall has significantly changed the building’s feel, but also serves to emphasize the pattern of the exterior in a way that may not have been evident before. The Zenith Tower is a very distinctive Late Modern building, and one that deserves a second look next time you’re driving down Wilshire.