Live the high life atop the Insurance Exchange Building for $2.9 million

The word penthouse doesn’t mean as much today as it used to. The term’s cache has been watered down by marketers who have taken to using it as a label for the more deluxe units in a building: ones with a balcony or a terrace, particularly nice views or more top-of-the-line bling.

But they’re rarely the sole, top-of-the-world places that sit high and alone on the building, perched on the shoulders of the horde of the unwashed in the lesser, lower residences.

Penthouses by name are common enough in Downtown Long Beach, but penthouses of the exclusive, single-unit aerie that you might associate with one are rare. The Kress Building has two penthouses, the Aqua has two floors worth of penthouses, the venerable Lafayette has one, but half of its outdoor area is for community use. You buy a penthouse, you don’t want commoners blocking your view.

I can only think of one authentic, old-school penthouse in Long Beach and luckily for you, it’s on the market (for the first time) right now. Is it cheap? No, and why are you even worrying about price when you’re shopping for a penthouse?

For $2.9 million, you can waltz into the multi-level residence atop the historic Insurance Exchange building at 207 E. Broadway, at The Promenade, in Downtown Long Beach. Its address is #801. There is no #802, or #80-anything.

The Insurance Exchange penthouse comes with a kitchen with an island and granite counters, stocked with high-end appliances, two bedrooms and two baths in 2,810 square feet of living space. It has a laundry room, a separate family room in addition to the living room, a fireplace, elevator, two staircases and two parking spaces.

“It’s an incredible property, there’s nothing like it,” says its listing agent, Debra Kahookele of RE/MAX Estate Properties. “And it has an amazing history.”

It does. It was built in 1925 by brothers Lorne and Way Middough to house their Boys’ and Men’s shops on the corner of Broadway and what was then Locust Avenue. Its architect was Harvey Lochridge, who also designed the Markwell Building, which later became the Jergins Trust Building on Ocean. The eight-story Beaux Arts-style building was festooned with terra cotta tiles depicting sea serpents, griffins and tridents, while the lower section over the Boys’ Shop featured bas-relief images of young lads running, boating and playing tennis.

The structure still has those decorative frills and continues to bear the name Middough’s even though the brothers closed the shops in 1931 after which the building took on a host of insurance agents, giving it the name Insurance Exchange, which it still retains.

The view from the terrace at the Insurance Exchange penthouse. Listing photo.

In 1999 Dan Peterson, who owns a hydraulics company in Gardena, took a shine to the Insurance Exchange Building just before it was to be demolished for falling short of earthquake safety codes. He purchased it for $1 million and spent another $6 million in converting the offices into condos, giving them high-end fixtures and retrofitting the building for earthquakes. The retrofit included putting vertical steel bars in the walls and, says architect Jonathan Glasgow, who was in charge of the building’s conversion, “as long as they were running steel bars through the walls, Dan figured why not keep going up and add the penthouse to the roof.”

On paper, the penthouse didn’t look like much more than a box, but Glasgow designed it with a wide-open plan and made it three levels (and change, because a wine storage room was added below the lower level, going into the building’s seventh floor).

“It’s so nice, because from the bedroom you can look down into the living room, and it’s got a great big master bath on the upper level and you can see the whole city from the bathtub,” said Glasgow.

“The building doesn’t seem that high,” he said. “But the views are fantastic.”

Kahookele, a longtime resident who lives on The Promenade, is a big fan of Peterson. “He had a vision of how things could be on The Promenade and in Downtown,” she said. “He brought the Congregation Ale House and Harvelle’s into the building. He’s one of the founding fathers of Long Beach development.”

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.