Chet Holifield Federal Building, Laguna Niguel, CA

Chet Holifield Federal Building, Laguna NIguel, CA

Building History

The striking Chet Holifield Federal Building was constructed in Laguna Niguel, California, between 1968 and 1971. William L. Pereira & Associates designed the building, which is unlike any other in the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) inventory. The building has a remarkable stepped pyramid silhouette that is rare in American architecture. The unusual form references ziggurats, ancient Mesopotamian temples.

The building was originally constructed for Rockwell International, a multifaceted company that worked in the manufacturing arena for defense and space industries. Rockwell never occupied the building; the company no longer required it after a defense contract that it was relying on never came to fruition. The company offered to trade the building to the federal government in exchange for three surplus government facilities of equal value. In 1974, GSA assumed control of the building.

William L. Pereira (1909-1985) was an American architect who designed futuristic, "jet-age" landmark buildings, often in pyramidal and ziggurat forms. His best-known building is San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid. He designed Los Angeles Airport's Theme Building and completed master plans for the cities of Irvine and Newport Beach, California. He also worked briefly as a Hollywood art director, sharing an Academy Award for Best Special Effects for the film Reap the Wild Wind in 1942. Pereira is credited with more than 400 projects and his stylish yet efficient architecture had a tremendous impact on California from the 1950s through the 1980s.

In 1978, the building was rededicated in honor of Congressman Chet Holifield (1903-1995), who Represented California's 19th District from 1943 to 1974. Holifield was a Congressional adviser on nuclear weapons testing and disarmament and atomic energy.

The building's unique form has been featured in several films, including Coma (1978), Deal of the Century (1983), and Outbreak (1995). Today, the building's primary tenants are the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service.

Holdings of the Pacific Region National Archives and Records Administration are located in the building as well. These records constitute a resource for the study of Native American history, naval history, westward migration, Asian immigration, civil rights, and other subjects.


The sculptural Chet Holifield Federal Building is skillfully executed in a stepped pyramidal form that has a similar appearance to ancient ziggurats. Modern master architect William L. Pereira developed the unified design that is unparalleled in the federal government. A large portion of the more than one million square foot building is below grade, effectively diminishing the overall mass. It is located on a 92-acre parcel of land in Laguna Niguel, California, between Los Angeles and San Diego, and approximately 4 miles from the Pacific coastline.

The building has seven tiers and is constructed of angled, painted, pre-cast concrete panels with reticulation, a textured finish that displays curvilinear forms. The building displays some characteristics of the Brutalist style of Modern architecture, which is distinguished by weighty, massive forms; rough, exposed concrete surfaces; broad, expansive wall planes; and recessed windows.

The building has a concrete frame and the lateral force-resisting system consists of concrete shearwalls and single-level concrete moment frames. It was constructed on spread footings and caissons. Anodized aluminum windows, which are separated by slanting concrete walls with triangular forms, are recessed between the horizontal levels. Evenly spaced windows provide a consistent rhythm to the symmetrical building, which has a sprawling horizontal emphasis. The top tier of the building has a large flat roof with attached protruding vertical elements, providing additional texture to the structure.

The east entrance is trapezoidal in form, referencing the overall shape of the building. A moat of smooth rocks surrounds the building on three sides, alluding to the idea that the massive structure is a modern-day fortress. A formal, classically inspired, symmetrical plaza is located outside of the main entrance. Grass panels, trees, landscaped beds, and planters greet visitors and provide contrast to the massive concrete structure. When the site was developed, more than 2,500 trees and 6,500 shrubs were included in the initial landscape plan. Concrete benches echo the materials and form of the building.

In the lobby, both escalators and elevators provide high-speed vertical movement. Pereira's efficient interior circulation system allowed for a maximum travel time of approximately five minutes between any two points in the building. Select walls are covered in wood paneling and some areas contain wooden slat ceilings, several of which are coffered. Vinyl tile and carpet cover the floors. Portions of the interior were redesigned by GSA to accommodate increased office space.

Other buildings on the site include a maintenance warehouse; 500,000-gallon water tank that services the fire protection system; energy plant, cooling tower; a 1,000,000-gallon thermal energy storage tank; and security buildings. A heliport is located on the site and additional landscaped areas are found throughout the large parcel. When constructed, the complex had 6,200 parking spaces, which radiate diagonally along the building axes, in anticipation of the thousands of employees that were to occupy the facility.

In 2003, state-of-the-art upgrades and modifications to the roofing were completed as part of an energy-saving plan that saves $650,000 per year in utility costs. Elevators, critical to efficient circulation in the building, were upgraded in 2005.

Significant Events

1968: Construction commences

1971: Construction completed

1974: GSA assumes ownership of building

1978: Building renamed to honor Chet Holifield

2003: Energy-efficient roofing upgrade completed

Building Facts

Location: 24000 Avila Road

Architect: William L. Pereira & Associates

Construction Dates: 1968-1971

Architectural Style: Sixties Modern

Primary Materials: Pre-cast Concrete Panels

Prominent Features: Tiered pyramid for; Weighty massiveness; Recessed windows; 92-acre landscaped site

Chet Holifield Federal Building, Laguna NIguel, CA
No Historical Significance available at this time.
Description Architect
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13