Friday, November 4, 2011

A Walk In Downtown Los Angeles

From Blade Runner to a Flight of Angels

When someone says "Los Angeles" it always conjures up images of beaches and long rows of tall wispy palm trees. Some think Hollywood, to others its shopping on Melrose or people watching on Venice beach.

"LA" means something different to everyone.

Over the years I've returned to Los Angeles and its suburbs many times, mostly for business, frequently for fun. Rarely, however, have I spent much time downtown. I've made the occasional trip to Olvera Street and visited Little Tokyo for some mochi and once visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. But I've never really just walked around.

Yet, when I do explore downtown, I seem to find surprises everywhere. It is filled with wonderful places to sightsee, eat, absorb culture, even pray. And of course it is home to some wonderful architectural icons.

This week I attended a three day conference downtown. The conference was a tired rehash of uninspired thinking (I had to fight off sleep). But before, between, and after my conference I explored downtown Los Angeles.

My starting place was the conference hotel itself; the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel (now part of the Millennium chain). Facing onto Pershing Square, the Biltmore opened in 1923 with 1500 guest rooms making it the largest hotel west of Chicago. It hosted the first eight Oscar ceremonies. It's Gold Room has hidden compartments where elite guests concealed their liquor during prohibition. It has been featured in dozens of movies including Hitchcock's Vertigo. President Kennedy accepted his presidential nomination here. Paramahansa Yogananda passed to the next world here.

Although its entrance now is kind of an ugly car tunnel, thankfully, most of its magnificent public spaces are intact.

The Spectacular Original Lobby 
Facing Pershing Square

Next stop was the wonderful Los Angeles Public Library designed by Bertram Goodhue. LA Central is a mashup of Egyptian and Moorish styles that somehow works just fine. It is another of Goodhue's successful collaborations with architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie. The library opened in 1926 and is the third largest library in the US based on book and periodical holdings.

A Roadboy hint: Central has one of the best little gift shops in LA. It features a constantly changing selection of one-of-a-kind stuff at great prices. It is simply the perfect place to shop if you want to be a hero at Christmas.

LA's Downtown Library

Lee Lawrie's One Ton Globe Chandelier
Surrounded by 48 "State" Lights  

From the library I was off to absorb perhaps America's most "noir" building; the 1893 Bradbury Building.

Here are some of the reasons to love this building:

1. The architect George Wyman, after repeatedly turning down the job, changed his mind after he had a "conversation" with his brother Mark. Slight wrinkle; his brother had been dead six years and the conversation took place using a planchette.

2. The French wrought iron work in the building was so wonderful it was chosen for display at Chicago's (White City) World's Fair before its installation.

3. The building has served as a set for countless movies, videos and television shows. The most famous probably being the rooftop climax in 1982's movie Blade Runner.

4. For years one of the doors upstairs had "Sam Spade Private Detective" etched in it.

5. In the telelvision show 77 Sunset Strip Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (yeah, I am that old...) had his office in the Bradbury. 

6. Both Marvel and DC have comics featuring the Bradbury (Marvel: The Order, DC: Human Target.) Marvel actually leases office space in the building. 

7. I'm a pushover for cage elevators. This building has two of them....

The Flanking Cage Elevators

A Huge Atrium

Perfect Terra Cotta

Amazing Wrought Iron

Upon leaving the Bradbury it was getting dark, so we opted to ride the 109 year old Angel's Flight Railway up Bunker Hill. Jack Webb in Dragnet once opined "for five cents, ride the shortest railway in the world". Well a few items to mention. It is now one block south of its original location and it now costs fifty cents. It is short, but it is sweet and Jack Webb was always a stick in the mud.

The Top of Angel's Flight Railway

At the top of the railway we had a wonderful view of one of LA's most distinctive skyscrapers; formerly the Interstate Bank building, now it is the US Bank building.

The US Bank Building and it's Trademark "Crown"

With that I must catch some shuteye.

Day Two:
The next destinations downtown were new buildings - the curvalicious Disney Hall and the new Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is the new home to Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra. The building, designed by Frank Gehry, took about 12 years to design and build. It rang up a breathtaking price - approaching $300,000,000. And that price was after the project was scaled back to be clad in metal instead of stone.

After all the noise and fury, the hall has been universally praised by performers and audiences for its superb acoustics. The sensuous Disney Hall replaces Welton Becket's stately and totally rational Dorothy Chandler Pavilion - which was always plagued by poor acoustics.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

From the Music Center it was a short walk to the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. New home of the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles. It was built as a modern replacement the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana which was heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Designed by Rafael Moneo it cost $250,000,000, unearthed a stunning amount of alabaster, and opened in 2002. 

As with any monumental architecture, I found parts much to be admired (the interior and the stunning wall tapestries) and parts that were lacking (the lackluster exterior color, its hulking fortresslike mass, and its very confusing and totally unwelcome entry.)

The Interior
With its Amazing Pipe Organ 
and Beautiful Wall Tapestries 

One of John Nava's Stunning Tapestries
(This One is About 4 Stories High)

From here we toured LA's New Police Administration Building. The Building is filled with light and replaces the earthquake vulnerable Parker Center a few blocks east. Surprisingly we were told it could not be called the "Headquarters" since it was not built to California's stringent earthquake standards for  Essential Service buildings. Lets see they replaced the old building because it was seismically vulnerable, then exploited a loophole in the building code to build the replacement building to a lessor standard? Odd priorities in my book. 

When one reached the upper floors of the new Police Administration Building they are afforded  perhaps the best view possible of LA's iconic City Hall. Perhaps with a bit more irony. The folks who opted to avoid incorporating stringent earthquake standards in the design for the new police HQ decided to literally lift up City Hall and install a state-of-the-art base isolation system under it to virtually assure its ability to survive a major quake.

Los Angeles City Hall
Parkinson, Austin, and Albert C. Martin Sr.

Now pretty hungry our last stop was lunch at LA's Grand Central Market. It reminded me of Seattle's Pike Place Public Market, it has been serving fresh meat, produce, baked goods, and ice cream since 1917. It has sawdust floors and lots of neon. I love it.

The Grand Central Market

I had an awesome carne asada combo plate.

I know any trip to Southern California poses many options to compete for your time. If you have an afternoon, I suggest donning some comfy shoes and taking a walk around its amazing downtown.

Roadboy's Travels © 2011

1 comment:

IniquitousFish said...

So, so beautiful.