I’ve been a member of the Los Angeles Conservancy for well over 25 years. For 16 of those years I was an architectural walking tour docent, which I enjoyed immensely.
For the rest of September members can reserve spaces on any of the tours (through November) free of charge for themselves and a guest. I haven’t been on a regular LAC walking tour in many years. I led just about all the tours myself and it’s very difficult for me to walk along on another tour guide’s tour! I want to be up front leading the tour!
But I decided to take this opportunity to take a friend for free. My friend “S” was willing to accompany me on the Art Deco tour on Saturday. We met at the Culver City Station and took the Expo Line to downtown Los Angeles. It was a beautiful day, sunny but not too hot.
The starting point for the tour was Pershing Square. I’m hoping to write a separate post about this park another time as it is undergoing more changes.
The photo at the top of this post is looking back at the 1923 Millenium Biltmore Hotel with the Pacific Mutual Building to the left built in the same era. This is the first time I’ve noticed the cat over the escalator entrance. This may have something to do with the new children’s playgrounds recently installed in the square.
The second photo shows what used to be known as the Gas Company Tower on the right (buildings annoyingly change names when a major tenant moves in and claims naming rights). In the center is Library Tower (which will soon no longer lay claim to being the tallest building west of Chicago). In front, of course, another view of the Biltmore Hotel.
So, this is the Art Deco tour! The 1930 Title Guaranty Building was designed by the father and son team of Donald and John Parkinson. They were prolific architects in LA during the 20s and 30s. Like many former office buildings in downtown, Title Guaranty has been converted to residential lofts. In the background to the left is one of the California Plaza buildings.
During this time period there were two major architectural styles in downtown commercial buildings: art deco and beaux artes. The art deco style is easily recognized by its verticality and set backs.
Click an image below to start a slide show of some details of the building:
I don’t know about people from outside the LA area, but Thrifty Drug Stores were a mainstay of everyday life for many decades. Everybody loved Thrifty ice cream. I go as far back as single cones for a dime, or maybe it was quarter, I don’t quite remember. When the Thrifty stores became Rite Aid, Thrifty ice cream was so ingrained in the hearts of customers that they retained the brand name. You can still buy Thrifty ice cream cones, albeit no longer for a dime or a quarter! (This terrazzo logo remains at the corner of the Title Guaranty Building.)
In LA, the term “art deco” is used as an umbrella term to cover many related styles and versions. At least by me!
Probably my favorite art deco style building in all of downtown is the Southern California Edison Building or One Bunker Hill, or whatever company is in possession at the time being and bought the naming rights!
Completed around 1931, just as the depression era moved into Los Angeles and put the kabosh on any further expensive, luxury construction. This was the building that convinced me to sign up for the Los Angeles Conservancy docent training program in 1988. After seeing many other gorgeous 1920s/1930s buildings in both the art deco and beaux artes styles, this was icing on the cake.
Built for the Edison company, the architects were Allison and Allison (as a UCLA grad that is a familiar name to me) and it was the most high tech building at the time. No surprise, it was all electric.
Walking around with a group I have a hard time taking the photos I want to capture. I am better at being by myself and taking my time. But hopefully the following photos will give you some sense of why I love this building so much, inside and out. Click on an image to begin slide show:
Some notes on the lobby photos: there are about a billion different kinds of marble used. At one time we had a geologist docent who made an inventory of all the marbles but I no longer have that information at my finger tips. Maybe it’s short of a billion, but at least a LOT!
The windows are composed of multi-pastel-colored panes that imbue a soft, warm light into the space.
The painting by Hugo Ballin is entitled The Apotheosis of Power and depicts the discovery of electricity by Benjamin Franklin and William Gilbert. A hand comes down from the heavens bestowing electricity (power) on the people of Los Angeles. The hand of God or the Southern California Edison Company?
The 1930s meets the 1990s. By now you recognize the building to the left as Library Tower (US Bank Building). The story of Library Tower is quintessential Los Angeles but I won’t go into the whole story here. Another day…
Okay, I could spend a week talking about what is going on in the above photo. The short story is Central Library (see previous blog post here) is in the center, which supplied the air rights to allow Library Tower (peeking in at right) to be built. To the left of the library is the new construction for The Wilshire Grand Center, replacing the old Wilshire Grand Hotel, which promises to overtake Library Tower as the tallest building. Boo hoo… I always liked pointing out Library Tower to visitors. I guess I’ll get over it.
The two black shoe box buildings in the background tell a terrible story. The Los Angeles Conservancy, which does its best to preserve and protect buildings of architectural note, was not around in the 60s when the black and gold Richfield Building, the MOST beautiful art deco building anywhere, was demolished to make way for what were originally known as the Arco Towers. Don’t you just love the towers’ exquisitely intricate design? When I was an LAC docent I had a hard time keeping my opinions to myself! I do hope you will take an extra second to click on the link to see what LA is now sorely missing.
The tour continued on but at this point my stupidity took over. I was trying to change a setting on my camera while walking, listening to the docent and doing my best not to trip and fall flat on my face. I’m still extra cautious after my concussion!
I apparently accidentally hit a button that made me believe my camera had crapped out on me. This was the power of suggestion at work as a few days before I had inadvertently left my camera outside overnight. In the morning it was soaking wet with dew and I was afraid I had damaged it. So instead of continuing to investigate why the camera was not working properly, I decided it was indeed damaged and I stopped taking photos on the tour.
Of course when I got home and thought everything through, I realized it was merely a wrong setting in the quick menu. In any event, by this time in the morning the sun was very strong and causing a lot of glare on the buildings, so photography would have been limited anyway.
At some point in time I need to make the effort to walk around downtown earlier in the morning and finish up the art deco tour on my own.
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