Goodbye Upholstery, Hello Land Design

Goodbye Upholstery, Hello Land Design

City business landmark moves out to make way for new venture.

After 40 years of rock and roll and bucket seats, Morris Katz & Sons Car Radio and Seatco Center is about to transition to shrubs and walkways and greenspace design.

The Alexandria landmark, at 200 South Peyton Street, officially closed its doors on March 16, with the retirement of Marshall and Paul Katz. It will become the new home of Land Design, Inc.

"The upholstery and radio business are going to move to a new location in Alexandria but it will be under new ownership," Marshall Katz revealed. "After 40 years, its time to retire. I'm 68 and Paul is 72."

When the business started it was strictly dedicated to automotive upholstery. "We introduced radio service in 1965. We still do a lot of business for car dealers throughout Northern Virginia," Marshall said. "And, I still plan to work parttime."

Owned by R.W. Lotto, Inc., the 8,200 square foot building will undergo a major internal change to transform it from a vehicle shop into offices for a landscape design organization. "We had planned to tear the building down and replace it with a new 26,000 square foot building," Lotto said.

"Then Land Design indicated they would be interested not only in taking the entire existing building but also becoming a part owner," Lotto said. They are now in another Lotto building as tenants at 1414 Prince Street, just around the corner from the Katz location.

"They will own one half the building," according to Lotto. "And we will jointly operate it." The architectural redesign is being undertaken by Heffner Architects, an Alexandria firm located at 604 Montgomery Street.

"We plan to essentially gut the interior and start over. We will also be making some changes on the exterior to make it more attractive and give better balance to the overall design," said James C. Heffner, III, president.

"We don't have to add any changes to be ADA compliant because all services the new company will provide can be accessed on the first floor. The second floor will be duplicate work space mirroring what's available on the lower level," Heffner explained.

The center of the building is only one level with the two wings each having a second floor. The auto bay doors on the front will be converted to windows with a third added for symmetry. The main entrance will remain in its present location with a large conference room to be situated in the area of the former showroom/customer area.

WITH AN OVERALL lot size of 12,000 square feet, there is enough space to park 20 cars at the rear, according to Lotto. "This will be great for new occupants because they have about 30 employees and expect to grow to 40 or more," he said.

The present curb cut will be reduced and there will be parking in front for approximately four client/visitor cars. "However, it will be landscaped giving a much more garden appearance," Heffner pointed out.

The general concept was approved by the Board of Architectural Review at its September meeting. However, nothing has progressed because, "We have been months doing the interior space planning," Lotto explained.

"We'll be filing for permits next month with construction starting, probably, in May," he acknowledged. Target date for completion is before the end of the year.

LAND DESIGN INC., has been in business for 20 years with offices in three different Prince Street locations during that time. "We set up shop originally in Alexandria at 1016 Prince. Then moved to 916. And, then located to 1414 in 1990," Peter Crowley, a partner said.

"I came here with my wife in 1983 with drawing boards and our furniture in the back of a truck. Now, 20 years later, we are finally able to realize our dream of our own building," Crowley said.

The firm now has six other offices in the United States located in North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. They have recently opened an office in Beijing, China.

"The firm was founded by Larry Best. He's at our headquarters office in Charlotte. I was the third employee hired in 1979," Crowley revealed. Land Design, now employs 150 people and boasts 12 partners. The other principals locally are Stephen Jordan, Kevin Pankersley and Gabriela Cannamar, according to Crowley.

"This office grew from two people in 1983 to six then to 30. But, when the real estate depression came along we dropped back to eight. Now we're back to 30 people and hope to grow to 40 or more. We also have learned how to do business," he said.

"We saw this new location as an opportunity to invest in Alexandria and our own future. We are committed to Alexandria," he said.

As landscape architects and land planners, "We work on a wide variety of mixed use projects such as Moorefield Station and Fairfax Corner. I just returned from Inner Mongolia were we are planning a new town for approximately 600,000 people as part of an international consortium," Crowley said.

"Our new building represents a dual story. A 40-year career that was an Alexandria institution and the realization of a 20-year dream," Crowley stressed.