Historical Downtown Los Angeles

When people think of Los Angeles, they think of glitz and glamour, expensive cars, palatial McMansions, beaches and sunshine. But rarely do they think “historical.” In fact, there’s a surprising amount of history here in LA. The city was being built up quite rapidly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the result is a city of hidden Beaux Arts, Modern, and Art Deco treasures.

This past weekend the hubby joined me on an LA Conservancy tour I have been meaning to take for quite some time, and I’m so glad we finally went. It was a walking tour, close to two and a half hours, that took us through some of LA’s greatest architectural achievements, ending in a finale of sorts at the Bradbury building, considered LA’s single most important work of architecture.

Here are my favorite highlights of the tour. If you are in the LA area, I highly recommend you take one of the conservancy’s tours on your own. They have a bunch to choose from. I personally plan to hit as many as I can over the coming year.

The Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel (not actually associated with the national Biltmore you may have heard of, but using the same name nonetheless) is a pretty perfect example of Beaux Arts architecture. With it’s columns and ornamentation at the base floors of the building and ornamentation at the very top, the architects left the majority of the center of the structure relatively simple, as is typical for Beaux Arts design. To me, this looks just like buildings you might see in a city like New York or Chicago. The Biltmore is a gorgeous hotel, and they even offer a traditional afternoon tea for a truly Victorian experience.

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exterior Biltmore Hotel

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ornamentation at the top level of the building, typical of Beaux Arts architecture

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original front entrance
(today, you would likely enter from the other side, an addition to the building from the 1980’s with a covered drive-up area and parking garage)

Pacmutual Center

This building was originally built when Pacmutual was still the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company. Also in the Beaux Arts style, the ornamentation pattern is similar to the Biltmore. The building still holds most of it’s original charm and decorative detailing, making you feel like you have stepped into another time altogether while you wander through the lobby.

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front entrance to the Pacmutual Building

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this was the original Pacific Life Mutual Insurance Company crest, which still sits atop the entrance

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ceiling ornamentation in the main lobby area

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the building still has it’s original marble staircases

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this is also the original mailbox put into the lobby when it was built in 1908

Los Angeles Central Library

The library is one of those places I have always loved and appreciated. Sadly, we’re no longer technically City of Los Angeles residents, so no more checking out books from this magical place! But it’s still a public building, so anyone can visit. Although the architect refused to admit to building in any particular style, the library was built during the beginnings of the popularity of Art Deco, and it shows. He had also just returned from a trip to Turkey, and the tile work and murals throughout clearly reflect that influence.

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the library sits amongst the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles

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tile detail on the library’s pyramid-shaped top

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the US Bank Tower behind the library was once called “Library Tower” because it was built by purchasing air rights from the library; the library would have been torn down were it not for the money generated by this transaction
(Library Tower’s sunburst-shaped top mimics the sunburst on the library’s tile top)

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on the other side of the building, philosophers welcome the library’s patrons as they enter

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this mural has been cleaned, but never restored , so it remains in it’s original (albeit a little faded) form

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the mural on the ceiling of the rotunda is a near perfect replica of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque

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more details mimicking the Blue Mosque in Turkey

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this globe hangs from the center of the rotunda

The Edison Building (now called One Bunker Hill)

This is another Art Deco treasure that makes you feel as though you have entered another era when you walk inside. The lobby boasts an incredible amount of beautiful marble work and lots of original details including carved wood elevator interiors and inset ornamentations on the ceiling. Plus, there is a mural painted by Hugo Ballin, the same artists who painted the amazing murals in the rotunda at the Griffith Observatory.

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the Edison Building has had a few additions and updates, but mostly remains in it’s original form

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gorgeous marble work and decorative details in the lobby

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mural by artist Hugo Ballin

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the original wood detail still remains in the elevator interiors

Angel’s Flight and Grand Central Market

Angel’s Flight was recently re-opened to the public, and is a treasured piece of Los Angeles history. It was originally intended as transportation for the residents of the exclusive Bunker Hill (now populated by skyscrapers and performance theaters, and no longer residential) so that they could easily go from the top of the hill to the bottom. At the base of Angel’s Flight is Grand Central Market, which was bustling with activity just like I imagine it has since it opened in 1917!

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Angel’s Flight

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Angel’s Flight in action

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the hustle and bustle of Grand Central Market

Bradbury Building

This was the building we all had been anxiously awaiting our arrival to. You may recognize this one from movies such as Blade Runner and 500 Days of Summer, among many others. The Bradbury Building doesn’t look like much from the outside, but is an incredible feat of architecture on the inside! No one actually knows exactly who the architect was, but Lewis L Bradbury commissioned it at the end of his life so that he may leave a legacy to Los Angeles. He never saw it in it’s finished form, but it certainly is a legacy. The glass ceiling allows light to travel into nearly every corner of the building, and incredible iron work and wood panelling details cover the space unlike any other place I’ve ever seen.

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exterior of the Bradbury Building

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interior Bradbury Building

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incredible detail in the iron work throughout the building

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one angle of the open elevator shafts

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the glass ceiling allows plenty of light to flood into the building

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a front view of one of the elevator hafts

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beautiful wood panelling details covers the walls and ceilings

I’m hoping to jump on LA Conservancy’s Art Deco tour next, but there are so many to choose from!

Do you have a favorite LA architecture gem? Or a favorite from your own city?

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7 thoughts on “Historical Downtown Los Angeles

  1. Pingback: Paleo Challenge Update: Week Two | The Anecdotal Goat

  2. Fantastic! I already loved LA, but since starting this blog I am realizing just how much I love it! There is never a shortage of things to do here, and I also love finding out about new things from other people so suggestions are more than welcome!

  3. Saaame here! Blogging has really made me want to explore as if its my ‘duty’ as a writer 😉 Whereabouts are you? I love doing things with fellow bloggers, so hit me up if you ever want to do a LA adventure! 🙂

  4. Pingback: 10 Ways to Prepare for an Epic Vacation | The Anecdotal Goat

  5. Pingback: One Day in Sunny San Diego | The Anecdotal Goat

  6. Pingback: Dinner at Terroni, Downtown LA | The Anecdotal Goat

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