Zobler decided that the former Commercial Exchange Building he called "gritty and humble" felt more like a Freehand, Sydell Group's young-skewing, less-expensive brand. About a third of the rooms are communal, where guests can sleep on a bunk bed for as little as $40 a night.
"It's a hotel with the spirit of a hostel," Zobler said."We wanted to create a place that was kind of communal, where you want to meet other people who are there."
The more glamorous Giannini building would be a NoMad, the developer's upscale brand, with handsome finishes and food service by New York restaurateur Will Guidara and award-winning Swiss chef Daniel Humm.
The NoMad's design theme is California-meets-Northern Italian, Zobler said, including a Venetian-style coffee bar where patrons drink standing up.
The massive vault door on the underground level where Giannini placed 12,000 safety deposit boxes now leads to restrooms. Bank of Italy, which became Bank of America, was one of the first to cater to women and working people turned away by other banks.
Recent conversions of older structures such as offices to hotels reflects a second wave of adaptive reuse in downtown Los Angeles, architect John Arnold said.
It follows the first wave that started around 2000, when historic commercial buildings began being turned into housing following the adoption of a city ordinance meant to encourage such transformations.
"The buildings we are seeing turned to hotels now were passed over in that era," said Arnold, whose company, KFA, oversaw the makeovers of the Freehand, NoMad and several other old downtown buildings.
The narrow Freehand structure, with its small, film-noirish "Sam Spade"-style offices, was more easily converted to hotel rooms than loft-style apartments, Arnold said. Original hallways and transom windows above the doors became part of the hotel.
The vast lobby at the NoMad, where bank tellers once cashed paychecks, would have been impractically large for a residential building, but works as an inviting space for the hotel.