Los Angeles is home to architecture that is wacky and wonderful, artful and edgy. Buildings bursting with post World War II exuberance nestle against mid-century modern drive-ins, Italianate libraries, avant-garde edifices and homes that could double as castles.
The most successful means to date of protecting this cultural heritage has been through Mills Act Legislation, which allows local governments to offer financial incentives to private property owners for the restoration and preservation of historic buildings. Then-Councilmember Ridley-Thomas authored the Ordinance that brought the Mills Act to Los Angeles, thereby funding millions of dollars of historic preservation and adaptive re-use investments in the City, and helping to save many landmark buildings. The City of Los Angeles adopted the program in 1996 and since then, hundreds of properties have benefited. The County, however, has had no such ordinance on its books – a step the Board of Supervisors may soon remedy.
On February 14th the Board of Supervisors approved a motion sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich, directing the Regional Planning Department to develop historic preservation strategies for the unincorporated areas of the County. The department will deliver its findings to the Board this summer, and the supervisors will be poised to take a critical step toward safeguarding the county’s rich design heritage.
In honor of the occasion, we compiled 10 of our favorite architectural sites, and we invite you to upload photos and share your favorites with us as well. Ours are in the Second District, but we welcome contributions from all over the county. Some of our picks strain the definition of “architecture” — they are not buildings. We included them, however, because this preservation effort isn’t just about bricks and mortar. It’s about the inspiring symbols of human creativity, perseverance and skill, ranging from the high art of the Clark Library to the folk genius of the Watts Towers. Our goal is to raise awareness about the features that make our communities recognizable, livable and beautiful.
Click on the audio link below each image to hear Dan Rosenfeld, a noted developer and the Second District’s senior deputy for economic development, discuss the picks on our list. You can click directly on the audio link to add your observations or leave a longer post in the comments section.
We’ll be featuring a new site, with accompanying audio, every month for the rest of the year and posting your submissions in a gallery.
Audio overview by Dan Rosenfeld
1. Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum
California can almost trace its modern history — as a territory of Spain, then Mexico, and finally as part of the United States — through the family founded by Spanish soldier Juan Jose Dominguez. The 75,000 acres of Rancho San Pedro, gifted to Dominguez in 1784 by Spain, covered most of what today is Compton and stretched to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. His heir and nephew, Don Manuel, built this lovely adobe home for his bride in 1826. Situated on a hilltop in what is now Rancho Dominguez, this “Mission” or “Spanish Colonial” look became the signature style of Southern California and has influenced the design of countless homes and public structures. Its genius lies in the artful use of simple, locally made materials such as fired mud bricks, whitewashed stucco, and curved clay roof tiles. Moreover, the style is sustainable, providing excellent insulation and naturally cool or warm spaces as the seasons change. Don Manuel Dominguez lived California’s metamorphosis, holding positions under both Mexican and U.S. governments: he served as (Alcade) Mayor of Los Angeles, a judge, and Los Angeles County Supervisor. He also was one of 47 delegates to sign the new state’s constitution. One hundred and eighty-six years later, Don Manuel’s home is a museum. Its grounds are often used for parties, weddings, and other celebrations that entwine both the Dominguez family and California’s historic past with the lives of residents today.
2. The Clark Library
Photo: Adam Janeiro
The opulent rooms of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library are a bibliophile’s dream. Home to one of the most comprehensive rare book and manuscript collections in the United States, the Italian Renaissance building was designed by Robert Farquhar (who also designed Beverly Hills High School) and built in 1924 to house the personal collection of philanthropist William Andrews Clark, Jr. The library was named to honor Clark’s father, a Montana copper baron and U.S. Senator. Special touches reflect the family’s history: bookcases in the reading rooms, for example, are made of copper. With a particular focus on 17th and 18th Century English literature, the collection includes works by or about luminaries such as John Milton, Henry Fielding and Jonathan Swift. The Clark is also home to the world’s most extensive collections of works by or about Oscar Wilde. The library hosts poetry readings, concerts, lectures and special events in its drawing room, where murals depicting scenes from All For Love, English poet John Dryden’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, grace the walls.
3. Dunbar Hotel
When the Dunbar Hotel, opened in 1928, it was the center of African-American culture in Los Angeles. Originally called the Hotel Somerville, it was built entirely by black contractors, laborers and craftsmen, and financed by black Angelenos. It was the only hotel in Los Angeles that welcomed black guests and as such, hosted many of the era’s legendary entertainers, politicians and civic leaders. Stars of the Jazz age, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, stayed there and then played next door at the famed Club Alabam. The hotel was renamed the Dunbar in 1929, in honor of legendary poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and was designated a historic-cultural landmark in 1974. It is currently under renovation by local developer Tom Safran. Upon completion, the new building will provide affordable housing for senior citizens.
4. Exposition Park Rose Garden
Home to 200 varieties of roses and 20,000 bushes, the seven acres of the sunken rose garden in Exposition Park are a serene and exquisite oasis in Los Angeles’ urban core. Its beauty makes it a popular backdrop for summer weddings, and no hint lingers of its earthier turn-of-the-century past when gamblers gathered to bet on dog, camel and horse races. Why is a garden on our list? In Southern California our outdoor spaces — patios, decks, balconies and even rusty old fire escapes just large enough for a grill — are extensions of our homes. Just as a superbly designed building is the imaginative but practical organization and use of space, so too is a well-planned, and in this case, beautiful, fragrant, and blooming outdoor rose garden.
5. Angelus Funeral Home
Photo: Martin Zamora
The Angelus Funeral Home, designed by noted African-American architect Paul R. Williams, incorporates neo-classical and Art Deco elements often seen in Williams’ work. Williams’ talent was evident early on; he designed buildings while still a student at the University of Southern California School of Engineering and opened his own architecture office at age 25. He designed more than 2,000 homes in Los Angeles, but is perhaps most noted for the swank residences he created for Hollywood stars, including Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney and Frank Sinatra. Among his public projects are the Beverly Hills Hotel, Hollywood YMCA and Los Angeles County Courthouse. Founded in 1923, Angelus Funeral Home was the first black-owned business incorporated in California. The name refers to the Christian devotion, taken from the Latin, Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ, meaning “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.”
6. The Watts Towers
“Why I build it? I can’t tell you. Why a man make the pants? Why a man make the shoes?”
– Sculptor Simon Rodia
Was he genius? A madman? A little of both? (Sabato) Simon Rodia, who was born in 1879 in Italy and who emigrated to the United States at age 15, always refused to explain his labor of love. Built over the span of 33 years, the Watts towers are actually 17 dazzling structures composed of steel piles and rods wrapped with wire mesh, coated with mortar are inlaid with broken glass, sea shells, and tile collected by Rodia and neighborhood children. Almost as soon as they began to take shape, however, the towers became controversial. Vandals targeted them relentlessly, and in the 1960s, the City of Los Angeles attempted to have them torn down. Today they are widely recognized as masterpieces of ingenuity and engineering. According to a documentary about the one-time bricklayer, Rodia was in part inspired by the most famous tower in his homeland, the leaning tower of Pisa, where Galileo Galileo dropped two balls in his famous experiment on acceleration. “My God, I say, I’m going to make a tower different than Galileo,” Rodia once remarked. In the historic two-square mile neighborhood from which the towers take their name, that’s exactly what he did.
7. Randy’s & Dale’s Donuts
Randy’s Photo: Thomas Hawk (thomashawk.com) Dale’s Photo: Phil Pasquini
Los Angeles loves donuts: hot Krispy Kremes, towering strawberry donuts, beignets, gut-busting maple-bacon donuts, Danish aebelskiver (apple fritters), and even newfangled red velvet concoctions. Best donut lists and contests are eternal internet favorites, and there is even L.A. art commemorating the donut experience, such as Jennifer Rubell’s donut wall at LACMA. Greater Los Angeles is arguably the donut capital of the world. Although aficionados debate which ones are best, few deny that the region’s most iconic donuts are the towering rings above Randy’s and Dale’s donut shops. Built in 1952 and designed by Henry J. Goodwin, Randy’s Donuts was a part of the BigDoNut drive-through chain and is an example of semaphore architecture, in which buildings visually signal their purpose. For decades, these landmarks have grabbed motorists’ attention in our fast-moving automobile culture, and Randy’s has been featured in movies including Earth Girls Are Easy, Coming to America and Iron Man 2.
8. Pann’s Restaurant & Coffee Shop
Photo: Pann’s Catering website (www.pannscatering.com)
It’s 1958: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launches Explorer 1 and the space race is on. Drive-in movies are in their heyday, and a group soon to be known as the Beatles has its first recording session. Ed Sullivan and Elvis are in, and the average cost of a house is $12,750. That same year, Greek immigrants George and Rena Panagopoulos open Pann’s Restaurant and Coffee Shop in Inglewood. Some love Pann’s for the food and others the hospitality, but it’s the restaurant’s optimistic architecture that lands it on our list. Googie architecture – the name comes from a now defunct coffee shop in West Hollywood – was popular from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s, when futuristic motifs were the rage. Pann’s was designed by architects Eldon Davis and Helen Liu Fong, and, more than 50 years later, the large windows and tropical landscaping give the site a classic coffee shop look and feel. The restaurant continues to attract a devoted following and has also been featured in hit films such as Pulp Fiction.
9. Marilyn Jorgenson Reece Memorial Interchange
Photo: Google Maps
The flowing sweep of the freeway interchange between Highways 10 and 405 in West Los Angeles is an architectural triumph. One of the largest man-made structures in the region, it is also one of the most elegant — a true work of art. Practical, simple and highly sophisticated in its design, like much of the architecture that we use in our daily lives it often goes unnoticed. What further distinguishes this immense structure is that its designer, Marilyn Jorgenson Reece, was the first woman to break the gender barrier in highway design. Including this representative from the road system in our list of heritage highlights seems natural to us. Not only does it underscore the importance of the freeway system in fostering Los Angeles’ rapid growth and suburbanization after the Second World War, it also pays homage to the fundamental importance of mobility in our unique urban character… and let’s face it, we live on freeways.
10. Dr. Theodore T. Alexander, Jr. Science Center School
Photo: Gary Leonard
Can anyone just walk by a Thom Mayne building without stopping to stare and wonder? The Pritzker Prize-winning architect is respected as one of the world’s most aggressively original designers, and theDr. Theodore Alexander, Jr. Science Center School illustrates why. Built in 2004, a steel-framed lattice addition is attached to the original 1926 cast concrete and brick armory structure. The two story, steel-framed addition contains 20 classrooms, and the main floor supports an 8,400 square-foot garden on its top deck. If you ever pass the intersection of Exposition Park Boulevard and Figueroa Street, you will see Mayne’s linear structure of gridded lattices, bridges and stair extensions pushing upward toward the intersection. The building challenges the eye the way science challenges the mind, inviting students indoors and observers outside to go forth into unexplored territory, always asking: Why? How? What next?
11. Village Green
Sir Thomas More published the book Utopia in 1516 and simultaneously gave birth to the enduring quest for the perfect place to dwell. Yes, that’s an exaggeration. The concept of the ideal city far predates More. In antiquity, mighty capitals often were constructed to align with the stars: Machu Picchu, ancient Persepolis and Peru’s Cuzco. So how does Village Green fit into this grand lineage? It too, has utopian aspirations. When construction began in 1941, the former Baldwin Hills Village was one of the most ambitious urban planning projects of its day. The goal was to do the remarkable: balance the tensions between nature and development, privacy and community, individuality and interconnected living. Today. the gardens, parks and courtyards of the condominium complex provide an oasis of greenery and calm in the heart of L.A.’s metropolis, and in contrast to architecture that clamors for notice, the buildings of Village Green almost slide off the eye. Even better, the design minimizes visual evidence of cars — it’s as if the architects knew Angelenos would one day grow to depend on (and therefore to resent) automobiles. Critic Lewis Mumford once said of the neighborhood, “Here every part of the design speaks the same robust vernacular: simple, direct, intelligible.” We couldn’t have said it better.
12. Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Hirsz, Aaron, Szmul and Itzhak Wonskolaser – better known in Hollywood as Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner, or simply, the Warner Brothers, catapulted the film world out of the silent movie era into the talkies with The Jazz Singer. One of the Warners’ lasting gifts to Los Angeles, however, is not on film, but on the walls of the grand and graceful Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The Temple, erected in 1929, is masterpiece inside and out. This photograph shows the building as it is most familiar to passersby, with its beautiful Byzantine dome. Inside is another artistic glory. Commissioned by Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner and painted by artist Hugo Ballins, murals depicting the journey of Jewish people from biblical times to their arrival in the United States, ring the sanctuary. Such depictions, even in a reform temple, were rare at the time, due to a strict interpretation of the Second Commandment’s prohibition against graven idols. The Warner Memorial Murals, 320-foot long and 7-foot tall, serve as a spiritual silent movie telling the story of a people.
13. USC’s Widney Alumni House
The 20 years between 1860 and 1880 were transformative for Los Angeles. The city’s Wild West character was rapidly evolving – civilizing, if you will. The population swelled from 4,400 to 11,000 people; L.A. was connected to San Francisco by railroad in 1876, and four years later the University of Southern California was founded. Stately Widney Hall, now Widney Alumni House, was the newborn institution’s only building, accommodating 53 students and 10 faculty members. For many Angelinos (except maybe Bruins fans) the building is almost as iconic as Tommy Trojan, and over the decades, it has been remodeled, renovated and even relocated several times. Today USC enrolls about 37,000 students annually and has more international students than any university in the nation. Nonetheless, the school also has fostered vigorous community partnerships and programs that support and engage its neighborhood. The Widney’s graceful lines and simple design are a visual testament to USC’s commitment to Los Angeles and its own past, even as its vision is now focused on the future.
14. Leimert Park
In the heart of the Crenshaw District sits lovely Leimert Park. Developed in the late 1920’s by real estate mogul Walter Leimert, the neighborhood was an example of cutting-edge urban planning. Walter Leimert’s other projects included Beverly Highlands in the Hollywood Hills, Sierra Park in Orange County, and Cambria Pines near Hearst Castle. Leimert Park’s quaint shopping district today is an arts Mecca — the hub of Los Angeles’ spoken word, jazz, blues, and poetry community and an important cultural center for the city’s African-American community. The entire Leimert Park neighborhood, however, spans 600 acres and was designed to be a self-contained community complete with a theater, shopping center, and town square. The residential areas are dominated by craftsman and colonial-style homes that sit on shady streets lined with giant Magnolias, Eucalyptus, Maple and Pine trees. Designed to promote pedestrian traffic, the community was laid out to take advantage of the main mode of transportation of the 1920s: the yellow trolleys of the Los Angeles streetcar system. The streetcars are long gone, but construction of the new Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line is slated to begin next year, and once again, the train must stop in this iconic location.
15. Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza
Built in 1947, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza was the first open-air mall in the nation. Originally called the Broadway-Crenshaw Center, the mall was a 550,000-square-foot retail wonder. Anchored by The Broadway and May Company stores, it was also home to that fixture of the American marketplace: a Woolworth five and dime. (Woolworth had distinguished itself decades earlier by becoming one of the first American retailers to let shoppers handle wares without the help of a sales clerk. Also, its famed lunch counters, in some respects, were the precursors to the modern food court). The photograph here has been altered – a palm tree originally blocked the view of The Broadway. We thought it worthwhile, however, to capture the feel of the original mall and offer a glimpse of what would be unthinkable today: 13 acres of parking. The magic of the mall, however, was not just its size and retail offerings. It was and still is the gathering place for a community. It was redesigned, expanded, and enclosed in the 1980s, and purchased by Capri Capital Partners of Chicago in 2006. Capri has given it a $35 million-makeover, with new shops, a new movie theater, and new restaurants — most notably, the upscale Post & Beam. With glowing reviews and an already ardent following, the new dining spot bids fair to build on the tradition established by its predecessor, the popular Golden Bird restaurant. When the new Crenshaw-to-LAX light-rail line begins service to the mall, there really will be no stopping the resurgence of this iconic city meeting place.
16. Southwestern Law School’s Bullocks Wilshire
Bullocks Wilshire Department Store opened its doors on September 26, 1929, and instantly set a new standard for opulence. Never had Los Angeles, or the rest of the country for that matter, seen a store whose stylish exterior so perfectly matched the luxurious shopping experience indoors. With its 241-foot copper-topped tower, terracotta tiles and decorative copper panels, the five-story Art Deco building was an instant L.A. landmark. The interior was equally elegant, with marble walls, travertine floors and a Herman Sachs ceiling mural that paid homage to transportation, with images of steam trains, ocean liners, planes and giant blimps. The ambience was one of restrained gentility: the store featured live mannequins, and sales clerks wrote slips by hand to minimize noise. Strategically located three miles from downtown – far enough then to be considered suburban but close enough to wealthy Hancock Park – Bullocks catered to Hollywood. Katherine Hepburn was said to have bought her men’s trousers there –as were Cary Grant and Clark Gable. For six decades the store reigned over its stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, finally closing its doors in 1993. A year later, Southwestern Law School purchased the building and invested $29 million in a terrific restoration and renovation. It now houses a law library and other accoutrements of its academic mission. Although the building has been repurposed, we love Southwestern Law School’s Bullocks Wilshire. Los Angeles has lost irreplaceable architectural gems in past years, and it’s wonderful to see Bullocks Wilshire still thriving. No, a modern-day Mae West can’t pull up out front and have clothes brought to her car as the legendary movie star did, but 83 years after it first opened, Bullocks Wilshire is still going strong.
17. Sanchez Adobe
Hidden in plain sight, on a tree-lined street in Baldwin Hills, is what could be the oldest building in Los Angeles: an adobe building dating from the late 1700s. Archival materials date the Sanchez Adobe, located on Don Felipe Drive, to as early as 1791, meaning the South Los Angeles building likely surpasses the Avila Adobe on Olvera Street, the city’s acknowledged title holder, by 20 years of age. We say “hidden in plain sight,” because it has long been known that the Sanchez Adobe, is centuries old. Recently, however, its current owners, the Consolidated Board of Realtists, spearheaded research into the adobe’s past, and a closer look at the building hinted at its record-holding status. Little about the building calls the eye in way of decoration or adornment. The Sanchez Adobe is a plain, somewhat weather-beaten structure with numerous additions and alterations. But its history is romantic as one could wish, with residence or ownership by a colorful cast of characters and organizations that truly evokes the Los Angeles’ Wild West, multi-ethnic layers of history. It has been home to Mexican dons and Anglo entrepreneurs. Once the residence of Vicente Sanchez, the adobe later belonged to Irish-American businessman Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Now it belongs to an organization of African-American real estate professionals. (Incidentally, it was Paul Williams, one of L.A.’s most noted architects, who urged the Realtists to purchase the building). Freed African slaves worked there after the Civil War, as did Chinese laborers – all brought by Baldwin to the property, according to the Realtists. After Baldwin’s ownership, the adobe passed to the Catholic church for a time, and later was home to a golf course and a women’s club, when the surrounding neighborhoods were mostly Anglo. Standing inside the adobe today and looking out over Los Angeles, one can only imagine the breathtaking sweep of hills and dells, the splendid solitude and wondrous views of earlier times. Like many Angelenos, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had been to the Don Felipe Drive building many times but was unaware of its tremendous historic value and legacy. He recently toured the adobe with architectural preservationist Peyton Hall, of Historic Resources Group, to gain new perspectives on its hidden heritage. Hall, who wrote a report on the Avila Adobe in 1992, said he was shocked to learn of a building that likely predates that one. Many in his field, architects, historians and preservationists, have no idea the building even exists, he said, and a detailed study of the structure is the immediate next step toward establishing its place in L.A.’s architectural history. The Supervisor agreed. Sanchez Adobe is a building at once familiar and yet unknown, he said. “To think that right here in the Baldwin Hills is perhaps the city’s oldest building, is just wonderful. There is a tremendous story to tell here, and now our task is to tell it.”
Click here to read the Los Angeles Times Editorial published September 4, 2012.
18. Petersen Automotive Museum
There’s something about Los Angeles and cars. Even as public transit becomes an increasingly important and popular option for residents, there will always be something about L.A. and the role of the it’s car in its growth: the car grew with L.A., and L.A. grew with the car. Thus it is only fitting that we have the world’s most noteworthy shrine to the automobile, the Petersen Automotive Museum. Inside is a car-lover’s dream (classic cars, vintage cars, rare cars, and even television star cars: Adam West’s Batmobile is on permanent display). The outside of the Petersen, however, is what lands it on our list. The sleek, sharp fenders across the front make the whole building looks as if it could spring free of its foundation and zoom down Wilshire Boulevard. It is a fine example of classic modernism — or perhaps, modern classicism evoking neoclassical columns.The style is less literal than the Forum, but still a terrific modern riff off the Parthenon. Architect Scott Johnson, took the idiom of Roman Classicism and with one simple gesture, the addition of fins, repositioned the building. And how fitting that it sits in the Miracle Mile on Wilshire — a road designed at the turn of the 20th century to accommodate not the horse and foot traffic of the day, but the transportation methods of the future. The museum was founded in 1994 by Hot Rod and Motor Trend Publisher Robert E. Petersen, and is housed in what was once the old Ohrbach’s department store. In addition to hosting special exhibits and programs, it is a popular place for swanky receptions and — for truly hardcore automobiliphiles — weddings.
Even for those who’ve never gone inside, however, the Petersen is unforgettable. It powerfully captures the eye. Too often, repurposed and renovated buildings lose the integrity of their original structures, becoming a mishmash of times, eras, styles and egos. But here, Johnson’s slight tweak of the department store had marvelous results: it announced the building’s singular automotive purpose to all driving by, and gave Los Angeles another landmark.
19. Loyola High School
Founded in 1865 as St. Vincent College, Loyola High School is the oldest educational institution in Southern California and possibly the oldest high school in California. Located two miles west of downtown Los Angeles, the private all-male, Catholic high school sits on 15-acres in the Harvard Heights neighborhood. Designed by Albert C. Martin, Loyola’s beautiful buildings are in a style called Collegiate Gothic — an architectural tradition more commonly found on Ivy League campuses. Yale and Princeton universities, for example, yearned to exude the ancient, slightly weather-beaten and look of, say, Oxford and Cambridge universities, and therefore were built to look old, or rather, pedigreed. At Yale, architectural Anglophilia was taken to an extreme, and newly-built stone buildings were given broken windows and reportedly were doused with acid to add a patina of ancient heritage. Loyola’s grace is not contrived, deriving its beauty from stained glass windows, slender columns, free-standing sculptures, entrances with vaulted ceilings, and gabled rooftops accented by spires, pinnacles, and finials. For more than 140 years, the school has inculcated values of stewardship and community in the young men, and the school is renown for its diversity, admitting students from more than 225 zip codes across Los Angeles County. Located in close proximity to Hollywood, Loyola has appeared in a number of films, including: Coach Carter (2005), Donnie Darko, (2001), Fat Albert, (2004), and Thank You For Smoking (2005). A.C. Martin’s contributions to Southern California extended beyond Loyola. His firm worked on Los Angeles City Hall, the downtown Department of Water and Power building and many other local landmarks; it is still owned and managed by his direct descendents.
20. The Forum
21. Coca-Cola Building
22. Stealth Building
Photo: Courtesy of Eric Owen Moss Architects
23. Culver City’s City Hall
24. 28th Street YMCA
25. Compton City Hall
26. John C. Argue Swim Stadium
27. Spruce Goose Hangar
28. Ambassador Hotel
29. Angelus Rosedale Cemetery
The FaithDome, home to the Crenshaw Christian Center, was founded by Rev. Frederick K.C. Price in 1973. It was first located in Inglewood, with about 300 members, but Price’s radio and television ministries brought hundreds, then thousands more to services, and to accommodate the booming congregation the center purchased the 32-acre former campus of Pepperdine University, which had decamped to Malibu. Construction on the building, and the aluminum dome’s clear-span design by Temcor, was completed in 1989. It is one of the largest geodesic structures in the world, and is widely regarded as an iconic landmark in the region’s landscape. The lattice shell structure is built in a style popularized by Buckminster Fuller – a Unitarian architect, inventor and futurist who once decreed that selfishness is unnecessary and “henceforth unrationalizable.” With a push from Fuller, the popularity of geodesic domes took off in the 1950s, and they were featured as exhibit attractions (notably in Montreal), municipal buildings, military station and experimental housing developments. Fuller did not invent the design – rather he is the Henry Ford of the structure — the person who popularized it for the masses. Try to imagine the wonder and contradiction the new shape presented to mid-20th century eyes — the expanse of vaulted weightlessness that soared without pillars or posts, columns or beams. Today, the FaithDome is the spiritual home of more than 10,000 people. It is also, however, a beacon to millions who never have entered its doors. The aerial photo here shows a sight familiar to many Angelenos and travelers from around the world. On the final approach to LAX, no matter what time of day, you know you are almost safely home when there, glistening in the glare of sunshine or the soft glow of moonlight, is the stunning white roof of the Faith Dome.
31. Loyola Marymount University
32. Bethlehem Baptist Church
33. Eric Owen Moss
Is there another neighborhood in the United States of America that packs the contemporary architectural punch of the Hayden Tract in Culver City? We don’t think so. Building by building, architect Erin Owen Moss transformed what was once a gritty industrial area of warehouses and near-empty buildings into an outdoor museum of dynamic structures. Instead of imposing one man’s personal ethos, however, they invite creative communion. Architectural institutions, associations and aficionados, developers and design die hards sing his praises; tour groups from as far away as Japan, Germany come by the busloads to revel in the area. We have featured Moss’ work previously (The Stealth building), but looking at his work piecemeal mutes the impact of his achievement in Culver City. What city planners around the world struggle to accomplish – the graceful repurposing of neighborhoods– he has achieved with architecture, catalyzing economic development and job creation, creating spaces that attract cutting edge companies and entrepreneurs. Moss credits the vision of developers Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith, who have been his long-time patrons, saying: “What the Smiths did is actually quite unique; I don’t think they’ve been recognized for it enough.” Nike moved in, so did digital advertising powerhouse Omelet, Beats by Dre and the list goes on. Why? Because a creative environment attracts a creative community, which in turn inspires and energizes the work. It is also a winning business model – with roughly 1 million square feet of space, the Smiths have a vacancy rate of zero. To end 2013’s look at architectural sites in the Second District, we diverge from our typical routine. Normally we feature one architectural gem with an audio description of its merit. This month, however, we have a special gift: a video interview with the architect behind the some of the region’s most riveting structures, Eric Moss. Enjoy!
Spotlight on Willowbrook
Is it a part of Compton? Watts? Maybe Rosewood? The little unincorporated community of Willowbrook has, like so many neighborhoods in unincorporated Los Angeles County –long had a question mark hovering over its identity. However, the community named for the willows and shallow brook that were a landmark and boundary of sorts in the 1840s, is poised to emerge as a distinctive health care, transportation and civic hub , thanks to a $600 million- investment by Los Angeles County in new buildings, gardens, art and infrastructure. Catalyzing its resurgence is the development of three modernist buildings on the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus: A Center for Public Health, the new MLK Outpatient Center and a new state-of-the-art hospital. The center for public health opened in 2011, the other two jewels in the crown, gleaming with glass and steel and welcoming curves, have recently completed construction. Glass is the prominent design element in all three buildings, and the afternoon sunshine or evening light reflect from one building to the next, thematically uniting facilities devoted to wellness, prevention, treatment and cutting edge technology. But as important as healthcare is to a community, Willowbrook retains an old fashioned sense of community that gives it a strong sense of place. And to capture that sensibility , in 2011, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, in partnership with LA Commons, used funding from the National Endowment for the arts to do a year-long project on the community’s cultural assets. The results, highlighted in the book Willowbrook Is…Willowbrook Es, bring to life the role arts, architecture and culture can play in a community where neighborhoods still have a distinctively agrarian and even rural feel. Since, the 1930s, residents have used the deep lots to grow their own fruits and vegetables, a tradition long held among the African Americans who moved to Los Angeles from the south and now more recently, with Latino immigrants. In Willowbrook, residents share their garden bounties with one another, look out for each other and take pride in where they live. There are no McMansions here, only carefully tended homes with lovingly cared for gardens and residents who love where they live. Viewed in isolation, the homes are far from unique in the Los Angeles landscape. Taken together, as they are here in Willowbrook Es…they are a snapshot of a neighborhood’s past history and present aspirations.
The Reserve: Modern Design for an Older Space
Big Yellow Taxi’s famous chorus – They paved paradise and put up a parking lot – could have been written about just about any community in Southern California. Too many architectural landmarks, historical structures and buildings that sported cool, quaint or quirky designs were paved over for so-called progress. So it’s not just refreshing, it is the rare example when the reverse occurs; modernize it but work with the natural surroundings.
A group of environmentally conscious developers, design and landscape architects created a 20-acre work space on the site of the former main distribution center for the U.S. Post Office in Playa Vista, re-imagining and reusing the space for something extraordinary. Taking the restored wetlands and wildlife preserve nearby as a cue, The Reserve, as the new office spaces are called, seeks to balance nature with a 21st century work environment.
In 2011, the former postal complex was purchased by two private real estate groups, Worthe Real Estate Group and Shorenstein Properties, with the intention of creating an appealing space for small businesses in the media and entertainment industries.
Purchased while in foreclosure, the space was bleak. One blogger described it as looking like “some abandoned complex at Chernobyl,” with lots of concrete and steel, not a nary blade or leaf of green in sight. But its location, so close to the Playa Vista development, the beach, the Marina Freeway and Jefferson Boulevard, as well as the enormous amount of acreage gave the space tantalizing possibilities.
Fast forward to today: the former asphalt parking lot for post office trucks, is now an oasis of drought resistant grasses bordered by evergreen trees and hidden red and blue bird houses. Workers can stop by a private fitness center, dog walk, a bike shop and café or ride along miles of trails that connect to the beach. But some of the old was respected: the numbers painted on the walls designated for the big postal trucks remain.
Sony Play Station, Team One Advertising, the entertainment site TMZ and Microsoft have already signed leases. More technology firms, digital arts, media groups and other forward-looking companies are coming.
With nearly two acres of garden spaces, including 600 newly planted trees, the building itself is Gold LEED certified, meaning the buildings are models of sustainable re-use and cost less to operate because they reduce energy and water bills. Natural light streams through the large windows and open spaces and a large lead glass window panel welcomes visitors into the lobby.
The space is reflective of the newer trends in architecture, where visual design interacts with the people that use it. To counter the sedentary and often stultifying effects of traditional desk jobs, some architects now are also looking at “active designs” as a way to build buildings or recreational spaces and neighborhoods that support and promote physical, mental and social well-being. Examples include the 2009 opening of the High Line in New York City, which converted miles of unused rail line into a public park. Chicago recently announced a $290 million-plan to create hundreds of new parks, community spaces and boat houses for residents.
While Los Angeles may be the land of freeways, increasingly it also is becoming a region that moves toward converting using already constructed spaces in dense urban areas into little villages and pockets of self-sustaining communities.
In the 1960s, contemporary architecture often looked to space exploration and other-worldly experiences to depict a lifestyle anchored in the world future. Half a century later, we have shifted course; some of the most enlightened and inspiring architecture looks downward, promoting and encouraging human creativity in harmony with respect and love for nature.
King Fahad Mosque
Architecturally, mosques distinguish themselves as ideal places of contemplation. If Christian architecture historically emphasized verticality – cathedrals reached heavenward — and Jewish buildings focused on the bema or bimah, where the Torah is read, the architecture of mosques is of an emphatic simplicity and grace. Their lines are mathematical and pure externally, often with intricate inlays and detailed tiling on the inside, and the King Fahad Mosque is no exception. In the 1990s, Former Presidents George W. Bush and Gerald Ford lauded it as a symbol of the bond between the peoples of Saudi Arabia and the United States, with President Ford noting that all Americans were grateful for this gift from King Fahd, for whom the mosque is named. The mosque, however, is more than a symbol. Its minaret is a landmark for Angelenos and a beacon for Southern California’s Muslim community. The building covers 63,000 square feet and can accommodate 2,000 worshippers. It is not only a place of worship, but a true community hub. Inside are classrooms, meetings halls, research centers and a bookshop, all of which are entirely supported by local donations. The mission of the mosque, however, extends beyond its walls. Active in the interfaith community, the mosque has sought to promote understanding and with broad community engagement, counter the prejudices that sometimes attach to Islam. Also, tours for people of all faiths can be arranged through its website. President Ford once called the mosque a gift – and both its architectural beauty and place in the faith community of L.A. County make it so.
Baldwin Scenic Overlook
From the start of our web feature on architectural gems in the Second District, we’ve taken an unorthodox approach to selecting sites. We have profiled landmarks such as the lovely Clark Library, the cool Coca Cola bottling plant and the space-age styled Pann’s Restaurant. We also, however, have waxed poetic about places and spaces that stretch the definition of “architecture,” including the Exposition Park Rose Garden, the giant donuts at Randy’s and Dale’s, and the elegance of a freeway overpass (The Marilyn Jorgenson Reece interchange). Here we go again: our choice this month is the urban oasis nestled between Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights and Culver City – the Baldwin Scenic Overlook. Its 511-foot peak offers a panoramic view of Los Angeles, from the Pacific to the mountains, with walking trails and a center that tells the story of the site, from its previous existence as the site of oil drilling to its current-day iteration as a restored nature preserve filled with sage bush, butterfly plants and other drought tolerant plants. Along the trails, as humans huff and puff the pounds away, nature is busily at work with butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and ladybugs restoring the landscape to its natural state. The state purchased the site in 2000, closed it to build a visitor’s center and trails, then reopened it with what has become a favorite amenity of locals: a set of 282 concrete steps. The top is easily accessed by car with a turn on to 6300 Hetzler from Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City, with a fee to park at the top, but the Culver City Stairs provide a heart-pumping, leg pounding experience that makes gaining the top – and the sweeping vista from downtown Los Angeles, to the Hollywood Hills and into the Santa Monica Mountains– all the sweeter. It’s safe to say that the stairs now rival nearby Kenneth Hahn State Park as a favorite workout site for locals. And really, with the ocean to one side, the mountains on the other, a sweeping view of the city and a terrific place to workout in the mix, what could be more L.A.?
The building stands out in the heart of downtown Los Angeles as a bright white beacon of hope for the homeless. The Star Apartments for the Skid Row Housing Trust at 6th Street and Maple Avenue, built in December 2013, already have become local landmarks, winning two prestigious awards for their visionary and pleasing architecture as well as for being a breezy and modern space for people in need.
The design, created by the lauded Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan, seems to float above the street level like white stacked Legos with a base firmly planted on the ground. It is both playful and functional, offering services for a community in need while giving off a decidedly non-institutional vibe.
It boasts retail stores at the street level, while a second story is reserved for community programs; four terraced floors with 102 apartments hover above. Not only do previously homeless people live here, but also on the premises are services for substance abuse, mental health and assistance with employment searches to help residents move back into the mainstream of life.
The building itself, at 95,000 square feet, is a text book example of how to build in tight quarters. Instead of tearing down the existing structure, the architects decided to build on top of it, with prefabricated modules lifted into place—a clever move that saved both money and time. It is also a model for sustainability with a Gold LEED certification. All told, the Star Apartments benefit not only those who live there, but – as does all good architecture – they elevate the design quotient of the entire neighborhood. Maltzan’s work is eclectic, ranging from work for museums to a new pier in St. Petersburg, Florida to stunning private residences for the privileged. His Star Apartments, however, as well as other transitional housing projects in the Skid Row area, set a new standard in permanent supportive housing, bringing the very best of design to those who, at least for a time, have the least.