Dr. Woll Hits the Wall: Skin Doctor Survives Building Her Dream Dermatology Center

October 4, 2009
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Dr. Laurie Woll is dwarfed by the size of her new dermatology center in Montclair.

Dr. Laurie Woll is dwarfed by the size of her new dermatology center in Montclair.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must mention that Dr. Laurie Woll has been my dermatologist for decades. She has keenly kept watch over all my suspicious-looking moles, their unshapely appearance the outgrowth of too much exposure to the sun as a kid growing up in a different era when no one knew any better. Laurie is as calm as I am excitable, so doctor and patient are a good match. When Dr. Woll, who has thriving practices in both Glendora and Montclair, told me she was building a new dermatology center to replace her Montclair facility, I didn’t know that I was supposed to take her literally – that she was going to act as the contractor. Her building, near the eastbound entrance to the 10 freeway on Central, took five years to plan and 11 months to build. Here’s their all-consuming story, for she and her building are now hopelessly intertwined.




The crowning piece to Dr. Laurie Woll’s new dermatology center isn’t the two-story building’s faux-painted Tuscany walls, beautiful teak-stained cabinetry, recessed ceilings, cherry wood elevator, spacious patient rooms, terrazzo tile or quartz countertops. It’s a trash enclosure in the parking lot that cost a princely sum.

Granted, it’s beautiful, the ivy-covered slump stone walls handsomely concealing any hint that a green dumpster lies hidden inside. With a roof over its head, plus a built-in sprinkler system, this dumpster has to be considered waste management’s gold standard.

“That’s why I would never again construct my own building,” Woll said, standing next to the trash corral that cost as much as building an entire small tract of homes a generation ago. “If I learned anything about this whole process, I learned not to build something new.”

Still in the parking lot, Woll next wandered over to two storm drains. These aren’t just any storm drains. They are filled with bio-filters and living landscape (trees) to capture and remove pollutants from storm water run-off. Required by the city, they’re really cool, but also very expensive. She also pays the city fire department a monthly readiness fee for water that may be used in the event a fire breaks out at her building.

Dr. Woll takes a call before the office opens.

Dr. Woll takes a call before the office opens.

“That really shocked me,” said the soft-spoken dermatologist, who also teaches dermatology to second-year medical students at Western University in Pomona.

(Think about it though. If her building were to burn down, officials could argue she might not have the resources to pay for the water needed to suppress the fire. Get the money upfront. This pre-pay system is brilliant bureaucracy!)

If Dr. Woll thought she received an education in medical school, that medical erudition pales compared to the lessons she learned about new construction in California. After hearing her building trials and tribulations, one wonders how many moles and skin tags she had to lance or laser over three decades to build her private palace.

Woll’s Montclair dermatology practice occupies 3,000 square feet on the top floor. Another 3,000-square feet are for lease downstairs. The ideal tenant, Woll said, would be a plastic surgeon. But in this economy, owners can’t be choosy.
You would think the city would have rolled out the red carpet for her in honor of her building a handsome new landmark in the city. The exterior of her former Montclair facility (mid-century bomb shelter) didn’t look nearly as nice as her new trash enclosure. Even her constant flow of sub-contractors couldn’t resist commenting that she was moving from the outhouse to the penthouse.

In spite of the former building, her hundreds of patients always remained loyal, a tribute to her easy-going style and refreshing, self-effacing sense of humor. She laughs when she mentions she had to build two exterior staircases to meet the city’s building codes. Other owners would have cried or given up. Another sign she might be better with people than managing huge commercial building projects: Many of her employees have been with her for years – the longest 22 years, the newest more than three.

“That’s the economy; they’re all scared to look for another job,” she said.

The new waiting area.

The new waiting area.

Despite the money she spent on her inn of skin, she hasn’t rolled up the plastic runners in the lobby and in the hall.

 “My decorator is mad at me,” confesses Woll, a bit of a neat freak, which in today’s world of indiscriminate infections is a good thing.

Another reason for Woll’s popularity and successful practice is that she isn’t hustling skin peals, fillers, microdermabrasions and other skin and beauty treatments — though she offers them all, along with treatments for a host of medical specialties, such as skin diseases, rashes, skin cancers, precancerous lesions, moles, tumors and other abnormalities.

“I don’t want to take someone who is happy with himself or herself and do x, y and z,” Woll explained. “If people are happy with themselves, and are leading a good life, why go there?”

At the same time, Woll is very much a realist who recognizes the youth-obsessed culture we live in. “Most of us who are aging, we’re concerned about cosmetics,” Woll admitted. “But usually I don’t bring it up. It all depends on our gut feeling, and how receptive the client is.”

Clearly, Woll didn’t train in the wrinkle-free O.C.

The infamously expensive trash enclosure

The infamously expensive trash enclosure

It’s clear, on the day of our LaVerneOnline interview, that the professor doesn’t want to talk about the latest rejuvenating pharmaceutical promised to make her patients look 10 years younger. She’s more interested in showing off her building, despite its almost six years of planning and construction.

“I kind of overdid it in here,” pointing to the tiny glass tiles, molding and sturdy door frame in her bathroom. Although next to a busy freeway, her new center is impervious to the drumbeat of speeding cars only yards her way. In fact, although each of her patient rooms has speakers, she hasn’t hooked them up yet because she treasures the quiet of her new quarters.

“I’m happy with the silence,” she said, gloating just a bit.

Her staff is also happy with the openness and airiness of their new space. Out of their former bunker, no one is bumping into one another anymore. They even have a large lunch room to enjoy and no longer feel the need to escape to the nearby Montclair mall.

Now if they can only get their new lunch room refrigerator to work –nothing the warranty shouldn’t be able to address.

“No,” Dr. Woll corrected, “the warranty is voided if the refrigerator is purchased for commercial use.”

Then there’s the small matter of not having provided enough ventilation for her computer room, which houses all of her vital and sensitive patient data.While a new ventilation system is being installed, fans keep the servers cool.
Despite the tweaks and adjustments that constantly need to be made, Dr. Woll absolutely loves her new building and is excited for her patients to see it.

Just don’t ask her to build another one.

Dr. Woll's longtime staff has found a new home.

Dr. Woll's longtime staff has found a new home.

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