Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Architecture in Downtown LA - Part I

One can visit Los Angeles and never go downtown. Other attractions beckon louder. The beaches, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood, the Sunset strip. Looking for architecture, you're more likely to ferret-out Gehry in Venice, Wright in the hills, and the Greene brothers in Pasadena. What reasons are there to go downtown? Well, I attended a conference sponsored by Dwell magazine at the downtown Marriott and was forced to go downtown for the first time in decades. I carved out some free time to revisit old sites and see what was new and what, if anything, had changed. The self-guided walking tour was full of discoveries.
1. One of many forlorn theaters.
My first impression was that nothing has changed. That was because I walked down Broadway and found the same derelict theaters, discount stores, and joyerias ("se venda oro!") that have dominated the street as long as anyone can remember. It was unchanged and uninviting. Sure, there were obvious attempts to revitalize downtown with new anchors at its extremities.  There are the cultural icons of the Chandler Pavilion and Disney Concert Hall on the north. On the south side of downtown are Staples Center, the convention hall, and L.A. Live. This includes the Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels. Like plates on a dumbbell, these are weighty ends to downtown, but the stuff in between is light in juxtaposition to these renewal efforts. However -- and this is a strong however -- there are signs of new life. Go a block off  Broadway to Spring Street and find many old financial buildings reborn as lofts. Sprinkled on the edges of the district are new contemporary loft-style buildings as well. Downtown L.A. is tentatively participating in the urban renaissance that has swept many inner cities. Trendy shops and restaurants have not have followed, yet. But that may happen with a little more time. It is still a dicey proposition. Between the lofts are handsome, but abandoned, buildings that teeter between life and death. Some sport marquees that plead for a cameo in a movie, re-mindful of the would-be starlets that parade their assets on Sunset Boulevard a few miles up town.

2. On Broadway.

3. Derelict deco.

A big-time contribution to the possible salvation of downtown Los Angeles cannot be ignored: the new metro system. Actually, it is not all that new. Comprising five lines and 79 miles of track, the bulk of the system debuted in the 1990s. Today Metro Rail carries a ridership of 350,000 daily weekday boardings. To my mind, this is what makes downtown L.A. ultimately viable. I have visited the city many times since the rails were inaugurated, but had no idea how extensive it is. From downtown you can easily get to Hollywood, Long Beach, Pasadena, and elsewhere. It would even be possible to make a viable tourist trip to L.A. without ever renting a car (surprise!) and it is possible to live downtown without feeling isolated. In my explorations I used the downtown subway lines several times. It was cheap and clean.
4. The five lines of Metro Rail.
As it turns out, my first impression of today's downtown was wrong. Broadway may be it shabby, but there are signs of renewal and hope pressing in. My previous blog entry explored one new work of architecture in downtown L.A.: the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The next few entries will explore more architecture in downtown Los Angeles. In sum, they make downtown a not-so-bad place to visit and a possible place to actually live. Stay tuned.
5. Auditioning for a role.

Photo credits:

1. MJK
2. MJK
3. MJK
4. RickyCourtney
5. MJK

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