We’ve had some fun at L.A.’s expense this week and, we admit, it was all a bit too easy. We’re certainly guilty of picking low-hanging fruit by complaining about L.A.’s car culture. It’s not like L.A. traffic is something new, or novel. In fact, we were reminded recently that Steve Martin parodied some of the same issues more than two decades ago in L.A. Story, only he did it better.
To make amends we thought we’d leave our cars behind and show L.A. from a more unusual perspective: through the eyes of a pedestrian. What follows is an easy two mile loop of downtown L.A. that explores some of the city’s most impressive architecture.
Bradbury Building (304 S. Broadway)
Despite our best efforts, L.A. would not relinquish its stereotypes easily. We had the misfortune of visiting the 120 year old Bradbury Building at a time when a crazed gunman was targeting the L.A.P.D. Typically open from 9 to 5, seven days a week, we found the building closed due to a “High Alert.” Through the glass we could still see a bit of the five-story center court, with its open cage elevators and ornamental wrought iron, that is the building’s main draw.
Angels Flight (Hill Street btw 3rd and 4th)
Dubbed “The Shortest Railway in the World” this 298 foot-long funicular is a colorful part of Los Angeles’ past that also prophesied its future. Built in 1901, Angels Flight was built so that residents of fashionable Bunker Hill didn’t have to walk the short, steep, slope between Hill and Olive streets. We’ll skip the obvious L.A. Story analogies and instead point out that for a mere 50 cents visitors can ride the refurbished railroad to its terminus at California Plaza where a grand city fountain and seasonal performances await.
Wells Fargo Building (333 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles)
The razor’s edged Wells Fargo Tower makes my architectural walking tour cut mostly because it reminded me of a familiar face from home: New York’s famed Flatiron Building.
Walt Disney Concert Hall (11 S Grand Ave)
The Frank Gerry designed concert hall is probably one of the most unique buildings we’ve ever seen: wrapped in gleaming, curved stainless steel without, and warm, soaring Douglass-fir within. The Hall’s Grand Lobby and gardens are open and accessible through a variety of guided and self-guided tours during normal business hours. But don’t expect to see its nearly acoustically perfect main auditorium and unorthodox pipe organ on any tour. Visitors are kept at bay to prevent disruption of the almost constant recitals staged in the Hall. To see and, more importantly, experience these things plan a return trip; perhaps to catch a performance of the famed Los Angeles Philharmonic who calls this incredible building home.
Central Library (630 W. Fifth Street)
The design elements of Los Angeles’ Central Library are as varied as the tomes on its shelves. Egyptian-style marble Sphinxes patrol one area while panel carvings of Robin Hood and Mother Goose grace another. The central rotunda’s classic stone arches and spectacular mosaic contrasts sharply with the modern steel and glass of the adjacent Bradley Wing Atrium.
But for all this apparent conflict, a central theme binds together the eclectic mix of style and form. Throughout the entire structure rich symbolism pays homage to knowledge and learning. More than a mere rotunda, the mosaic forms a celestial heaven from which a one-ton globe hangs as chandelier. Similarly sized chandeliers in the atrium celebrate natural phenomenon and ethereal ideas.
Everywhere lanterns symbolize the dual meaning of the word illumination but most prominently at the building’s apex. Resting atop a pyramid emblazoned with the sun, a golden hand holds aloft the light of learning; by which Plato and Dante, along with all library patrons, find their way.
The Biltmore Hotel (515 S. Olive Street)
Fancy hotels are, by definition, fancy. But the beauty of these beauties is that you don’t usually have to stay in one to appreciate their best qualities. In fact, the Biltmore’s Renaissance Revival and Beaux Arts facade can’t even be appreciated from inside one’s room; so why bother getting one? The same is true for most of the murals and carved marble fountains that adorn the interior.
Grand Central Market 315 S. Broadway
After a long day of walking and gawking you’re bound to be hungry so it’s a good thing that the 85 year old Grand Central Market is right back where we started the tour. Celebrating Los Angeles’ vast ethnic diversity you’ll find everything here from Hawaiian barbeque to pupusas to bento.
EverywhereOnce’s Downtown L.A. Walking Tour