Tag Archives: architecture

LA’s Greatest Landmarks: Union Station

Ah, the romance of the rails. Union Station in downtown Los Angeles is a gorgeous reminder of a time when travel was slower, more deliberate and perhaps a bit more civilized. Union Station is a great cathedral of modern life, a hushed but bustling place.

Built in 1939 for $11 million (which is about $168 million today) and originally known as LAUPT, or Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, the Spanish Mission style station was actually a bit late in the history of Grand Railroad Terminals. But Los Angeles was booming, having had a large population influx starting in the 20’s. LA needed a major terminal and the LAUPT was built to combine two local railroad terminals and three trainlines: the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.

Now LAUS, also referred to as LAX (no really!), Union Station sees approximately 1.5 million travelers a year and generates over $55 million in ticket sales.  With Amtrak, bus lines and local train service running through it, Union Station is full of city life. And this being LA, it gets used as a set or backdrop in many a movie and tv show.

Part of the original Station plan was the Harvey House Restaurant. Fred Harvey started opening restaurants at railroad stations after the Civil War. He made a deal to partner with the Santa Fe railroad and “civilized the west.” Harvey Houses were the first to employ women as servers as Mr. Harvey found them more reliable then the wild men out in the west. Harvey House Restaurants served good food at reasonable prices in elegant surroundings. And when you peek in the windows at the former HH, or are lucky enough to be invited to a private party there, you can see how swell of a place it must have been in it’s heyday. (Our own Lucinda Michele wrote about it a while back.)

I highly recommend an afternoon in the area, you can shop and eat at Olvera Street, then have a cocktail (and/or dinner) at Traxx Restaurant and Bar, then head over to Chinatown. (We had a great time at Union Station during Classic Eats #2 in 2009.)

Even more highly recommended is to take the train from Union Station somewhere. (I mean, if you aren’t already a regular commuter…) I was fortunate enough to take the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle last summer. Seeing LA from an angle I don’t normally get to see was fascinating.

All photos by me and lots of research done with help from Great American Stations and the Harvey House site.

L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks: Griffith Observatory

That one of L.A.’s most prominent landmarks is perhaps most prominent because of a movie says a lot about L.A.  Way before I had ever been to Los Angeles, heard the term “Art Deco,” or knew the significance of the Griffith Observatory, it was embedded in my consciousness due to the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause.”  The Griffith is one of the movie’s “stars,” from the famous knife fight involving James Dean outside and planetarium-watching inside early on, to Sal Mineo‘s death scene at the end.

But after moving here, I discovered that the Griffith Observatory is the Swiss Army Knife of Los Angeles landmarks.  It has numerous uses, and appeals to people for different reasons beyond its starring role in “Rebel” (and its lesser role in “The Terminator“):

1.  The Architecture

In a city full of art deco designs, the Griffith is perhaps the standout.  That may be because the gleaming three-domed concrete building literally stands out, maybe more than any structure in Los Angeles save for the Hollywood signIt has been called “the hood ornament of Los Angeles,” an apt term for our car-obsessed city.  The Griffith, constructed during the Great Depression and formally opened to the public in 1935, can be approached and explored from many angles.  As often happens with art deco structures, I discover some new detail — a nook, carving, door, or viewing perspective — every time I go.  Last time I was there, after our fabulous Donut Summit, I hiked on the trails around the Griffith and enjoyed seeing it from a distance as well.

2.  The Planetarium and Telescope

The Griffith is, after all, an observatory, and many schoolchildren are taken there primarily for this purpose.  The Observatory was closed for renovations, including an underground expansion, in 2002 and reopened in early November 2006, coincidentally, just a few days before I arrived here.  Now it is as popular as ever, with its renamed Samuel Oschin Planetarium redone with state-of-the-art projectors and equipment.  A nifty, industrial-design cafe was added during the redo, subtly sunken below grade on the side, with a long terrace outside.  I happen to think the cafe is a tasteful and tasty addition to the Observatory.

3.  The View

It is perfectly rational to come to the Griffith and not set foot inside.  In addition to the architecture, the views from the Griffith are captivating.  I didn’t realize that L.A. had several separated clusters of tall buildings (downtown, Century City, Wilshire Corridor) until I viewed them from the Griffith.  But then turn in another direction, and you’ll see modern and classic Spanish style homes, Jacaranda trees (depending on the time of year), and usually arid hills that dominate this part of the city.  And of course, the Hollywood sign.  Turn a few degrees more, and, on a clear day, you’ll see the ocean.

I would also be remiss in not mentioning that the Griffith Observatory is nestled near the edge of the fabulous, 3,000 acre Griffith Park.  From picnicking (and Donut Summiteering) to the Greek Theater to the hiking trails, one can easily branch out from the Observatory to enjoy its surroundings.

4.  The Democracy

As befits an important city landmark, admission to the Griffith and surrounding park is free.  Parking is free.  Telescope viewing at night is free.  The planetarium will set you back, but not very much.  On any given day, you’re likely to find a mixture of locals, tourists, schoolchildren on field trips, and a tv actor walking his Great Dane (although you’ll have to be there with someone else, as I was, who has the radar to spot these stars under their baseball caps).  Folks I know enjoy the place at twilight, for hiking or picnics and drinks under the emerging stars.

Ultimately, then, what is so appealing to me about the Griffith Observatory is its versatility.  Angelenos and tourists alike can go to this magical-looking place, named after the fantastically named Griffith Griffith and located on top of the appropriately named Mount Hollywood, to pursue their own wishes, from architectural exploration to hiking to viewing the city from above to star-gazing, both celestial and celluloid.  What could be more L.A. than that?

(See the rest of the “L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks” series here)

Theme Building At LAX To Reopen July 10

After three years of refurbishment, the Theme Building at LAX will officially reopen this Saturday July 10. The most exciting part? The Observation Deck, closed to the public since 9/11 will also be open. If you are an airplane nut like me, this is COOL!

Three years ago a large chunk of the stucco fell from one of the arches onto the roof of the building and inspections revealed a few problems. The building was closed, scaffolding erected and fixes were made. Encounter Restaurant was closed for a about eight months while construction continued. Now the building is scaffold free and all gussied up for the reopening.

The Theme Building opened in 1961 and was designed by three different firms: Pereira & Luckman and Associates, Welton Becket and Associates, and Paul R. Williams. (Paul Williams also designed one of my other favorite buildings:  La Concha Motel in Las Vegas. I stayed there not long before it was moved to it’s final resting place.)

The observation deck will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 8-5. It is free to go up, though you must pay for parking and there are security checks. I personally look forward to being there in the not too distant future.

(Photo by x-ray delta one used under CC license.)

How the hell did I miss Postopolis! LA: Bloggers, Media, Arts & Design Converge

In Downtown Los Angeles for the remainder of this week, at the Standard, the rest of Postopolis! will be going down–an event I probably heard about six weeks ago & promptly forgot or overlooked–criminally so. This event is hella more interesting than this short descriptive quote would seem to infer: “A live 5-day blogathon of back-to-back discussions, interviews, panel talks, slideshows, films and parties with scheduled and unscheduled guests, themed around landscape and the built environment.” Baroo?densityfieldsmaterialsandapplications

Let me explain. Last night I missed Fritz Haeg, whose Edible Estates replaces front yards–the classic American symbol–with fruit & veggie gardens (and who’s now transferring that idea into the animal realm with Animal Estates–very cool). Dwayne Oyler of OylerWu stopped by–they’re responsible for “Density Fields” at Materials & Applications in Silver Lake (pictured). I also missed Michael Dear, a professor of geography at USC, whose research delves into urbanism in LA, its proximity to Mexico, and homelessness in the city.

The good news: it goes on for four more days. Don’t miss the peeps behind the Fallen Fruit Collective, Mike The Poet, folks from curbedLA, GOOD Magazine & DWELL Magazine, and more. Stop in for a full day, or just for one talk. Full schedule behind le jump.

Continue reading How the hell did I miss Postopolis! LA: Bloggers, Media, Arts & Design Converge

Urban archaeology dream destinations…

Brand-new "vault lights," as those sidewalk grids of mini glass panes are called. Click the photo for more info.

So I was having dessert with a friend the other night and we got onto this great riff talking about the hidden parts of LA we’d love to explore, all the places we’re intrigued by.

For example, I want to explore the swap meet that’s across Broadway from the Orpheum. It clearly used to be some big old theater, but now all you see is a little glimpse of baroque architecture hidden behind the dropped ceilings of the subdivided knockoff-t-shirts booths.

Or the grids of thick glass squares on the sidewalk in downtown: when I was a little girl my family was taking a touristy tour through downtown Seattle and those glass grids were actually the skylights in the old town’s “underground.”

So those are the things I want to explore, but I bet each & every one of you knows a place that’s always intrigued you. Now’s your turn to tell me your dream urban archaeology trip! Have you ever wanted to explore the dark cobwebbed skeletons of L.A.’s past? You know, original things are disappearing all over our city every day. Maybe we should think about exploring these traces before they become permanent history.

Update: Save a Silver Lake Landmark

Just got another email, which I’m copy-and-pasting here. This is a follow-up to my previous update to my original post about the last art deco gas station in Silver Lake about to meet the wrecking ball.

We managed to get Tom LaBonge to throw this issue back to the Cultural Heritage Commission, which is good. But it also means there’s more to do. If we fail they will build a four-story office building on this tiny corner!

Can you show up at a meeting at City Hall on Thursday? THEY NEED TO SEE BODIES or they will rule against us!

For parking please e-mail [email protected] . Give her the make, plate # of the car the name of the driver and the time you will arrive. So far only one person has called. Please do this!

Here’s the email I got:
Continue reading Update: Save a Silver Lake Landmark

Landmark about to get demo’d – please send an email

Just got this email about the neat art deco gas station at Glendale and Rowena – it’s the last art deco station in Silver Lake and it’s scheduled for demolition. The good news is you don’t have to be in this district to send your objections to the demo.

Please send our pal Tom Labonge an email asking him to stop the demo – the residents have been fighting this for some time but the developers seem to know every loophole. Deadline is TOMORROW so please take a moment and do this asap.

Too lazy to write your own email? No problem – here’s text for you to copy and send to Tom LaBonge. Remeber to include your name, address, and phone in your email.

Send email to: [email protected]
cc: [email protected], [email protected]

And thank you!

Here’s the letter I got, with the stuff to copy in it (plus a little background):
Continue reading Landmark about to get demo’d – please send an email

Random Valley Front Yard Returns: Son of Random Valley Front Yard

randomfrontyard.jpgYes, it’s true: I am attempting to get back on the bus I left idling a few months back. The bus of Random Valley Front Yards.

The point of the RVFY is to find a yard that’s aesthetically interesting (does not have to be appealing, just interesting) and analyze it like a work of art. I got a very-fun-and-totally-impractical degree in Art History and only use it maybe twice a year, and probably to win Jeopardy from the comfort of my couch while yelling at the tv screen. But with these RVFYs, I can break down & dissect the aesthetics of the average* Angeleno front yard. It’s fun for me, and I’ve gotten a lot of complaints that I stopped doing it, so I’m firin’ it back up.

Here is our RVFY for today. Click thru for a bigger image and the breakdown.

Continue reading Random Valley Front Yard Returns: Son of Random Valley Front Yard

Architectural High: The Long Goodbye

The first time I caught a film at Cinefamily was last Friday. The film was Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. I scurried over Hollywood from Burbank after work to meet a friend at the excellent repertory theater on Fairfax (also known as The Silent Movie Theater) and spent the next hour and a half realizing why people gave me such hell for never having seen it.

Great script, great acting, great fun (and a pants-less cameo by California’s governor,) but what really blew me away was Gould’s Hollywood Hills pad, which had so much personality and presence, with its spectacular views and free-standing elevator tower, that it became a character all its own. My friend Maria, companion for the evening and old coworker from my Rocket Video days, told me she used to live on the same street. That was the only clue I needed. The next day, because I do that sort of thing, I went exploring in the hills until I found it. It’s on Hightower Drive. (another monster pic after the fold)

Think it’s rent-controlled?

The Long Goodbye

Continue reading Architectural High: The Long Goodbye

Sunset & Vine Tower Vision Holds

Sunset & Vine

It’s hard to believe that it’s still going on. I thought for certain that when I returned to L.A. the Earthquake Building would be done and populated by rich young Hollywood whelps. But no, the windows are still going in. And you know what? I’m glad. I think I’ll be disappointed when they finally finish this beast. It’s been such a part of my Hollywood lifestyle for so long, I don’t want it to stop.

I also want to say that it’s impressive how true to vision the project has been. Click on the image above to see the side-by-side comparison. On the left is how it looked yesterday at 2:14 PM. On the right is a photo taken by The CIM Group of the completed project using their special Pentax time-travel lens. Nice job, folks.

Oh, and for the record? The building isn’t leaning.

For more evidence of my Sunset & Vine obsession, see more photos after the jump.

Continue reading Sunset & Vine Tower Vision Holds