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The Modern Architecture of Los Angeles

The latest in a series of articles about architecture. The last one was about Chicago.

20th Century Architecture is present in every city, as there is always a need for new buildings due to fires, earthquakes, changes in tastes and 100-foot tall monsters. While Los Angeles traces its roots back many years as a great place to stay for people and animals alike (just look in the tar pits), because it is a relatively new major city, the construction of many of the buildings didn’t occur until the 20th century. So, for a look at modern architecture, here is

Randy's Donuts

Randy's Donuts

a tour of the Los Angeles area.

As you get off the plane at LAX, grab your rental car, drive east to La Cienega Boulevard and then north to Manchester where you will encounter a perfect example of programmatic architecture, Randy’s Donuts. (Programmatic architecture is making buildings to resemble the restaurant name or what it sells. So, if you were to use programmatic architecture in the San Fernando Valley, there would be a lot of buildings that look like boobs and penises.) It’s also a perfect place to fill your personal tank with coffee and doughnuts before exploring the rest of L.A.

Now, to get to your next destination, you’ll be lucky enough to experience that which is truly L.A., bad traffic. For that, all you have to do is take Manchester a little to the east for the 405 entrance, and nine times out of ten, no matter what time of day, you’ll find a traffic jam. You are now experiencing Los Angeles. After an hour on the 405, the 10 and the 110 to get 17 miles, you can get off on the 9th street exit to head to Broadway where you can see the Eastern Columbia Building, an example of Art Deco architecture. (Art Deco started in the years following World War I, as the need to spend money on the war was gone, the buildings could be more lavish.) How will you know which building it is? Look for the turquoise one. It will be pretty obvious. (To look around inside, maybe you should inquire about buying a loft.)

From there, you can continue up Broadway to 5th street and across the street from the building blown up in “Independence Day,” is the Los Angeles Central Public Library which was built in 1926. Ancient Egyptian influences (which during the 1920s, thanks to King Tut, also inspired many art deco styles) are visible throughout, especially the mosaic pyramid that tops the library’s tower. Inside, a quick trip up to the second floor, you will find the interior of this tower, the beautiful Lodwrick M. Cook rotunda, with a permanent exhibit devoted to Hollywood treasures just off

LA Central Public Library

LA Central Public Library

to the side. After just soaking in the cool second floor, you can go back downstairs and revisit your youth with the Sesame Street illustrations until April 2011.

After feeling a bit smarter by going to the library, head northeast on Grand and prepare to feel awed by the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This Frank Gehry designed structure (you probably saw a similar version on The Simpsons) was finished in 2003 and is an example of Deconstructivism. (The best description of this style that I found is “controlled chaos.” However, it makes me want to see “uncontrolled order.”)

From there, you should return to Wilshire Boulevard which has a couple more art deco buildings – Bullocks Wilshire, Pellissier Building and Wiltern Theater – as well as the remnants of one of the most famous programmatic structures, the Brown Derby restaurants. If you time it right, you’ll be stuck in Wilshire traffic so that you have plenty of time to look at these buildings without having to even look for parking.

Now, it’s time to head to Hollywood for drinking, dinner, and another art deco building, the Hollywood Post Office. Other than just checking out the place, you could really go back in time to when the building was built and send someone a letter.

To end your tour, I would suggest that you should head up to the Griffith Observatory. Not only is it another art deco example, it’s an astronomy museum, it’s the location from movies like “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Rocketeer” and it’s a great place to look back over this city that you’ve been exploring during the day. Take the time and just watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean and  as the sun disappears, you’ll see all that makes the city of Los Angeles what it is. A lot of brake lights.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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