Looking towards Pershing Square from Sixth and Olive Streets, 1965-2014


During its 1951-1952 overhaul, Pershing Square was rebuilt with a number of major design failures which would plague the park for several decades. Most egregiously, ramps to the park’s underground parking garage were built along each side of the park, leaving no sidewalks along its periphery. Pedestrian circulation was further impeded in the park itself; diagonal paths were eliminated, and its new central lawn was fenced off from the public (the design is well-illustrated in this aerial view).

Perhaps more problematically, the new Pershing Square failed to quell long-standing conflicts among the park’s users, which reached a boiling point in the early 1960s. Although the park had long been a refuge for central Los Angeles’ poor and elderly, their growing numbers were increasingly accompanied by vocal proselytizers and petty criminals. In response to a barrage of complaints to city officials and the press, the Department of Recreation and Parks took dramatic steps to restrict the gathering of Pershing Square’s “familiars.” All benches were removed in 1963, while plans were drawn for another renovation of the troubled park.

The top photograph shows Pershing Square roughly one year after its 1964 facelift, which saw the reintroduction of diagonal walkways, the installation of multi-globed lamps, and the recreation of a central plaza. In a drastic effort to maximize sight lines through the park, most vegetation along the park’s edges was removed, sparing only the trees in its center. Pershing Square was eventually renovated once again in 1984, and substantially rebuilt to its current appearance in the early 1990s.

1. Jardine, J. Earle Jr., Samual J. Sugarman, et al. “New design demanded for Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Jan. 1964. B4.
2. “Model gives preview of ‘new’ Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 22 Jul. 1964. A3.
3. “Part of Pershing Square’s garage will open Thursday.” Los Angeles Times. 25 Apr. 1952. 2.
4. Porter, Frederick. “Pershing Square bench removal called blow at old, unfortunate.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Oct. 1963. A4.
5. Smith, Jack. “Familiars filter back into Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Feb. 1965. A1.
6. West, Richard. “Hecklers fail to mar Pershing Square rites.” Los Angeles Times. 13 Nov. 1964. A2.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “6th Street and Olive Street.” 1965. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library. http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15150coll2/id/7658

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Looking east on Wilshire Boulevard from Wilton Place, 1960-2014


Although the top photograph was primarily taken to document Los Angeles’ experiment in painting cross street names in roadways, it happens to be a nicely framed view of Wilshire Center’s western border in 1960. Since then, a number of office towers and small commercial buildings have been built in the Western Avenue vicinity, complementing the Wilshire Professional Building and Pellissier Building, the tallest structures in the original view. At the sidewalk level, Wilshire Boulevard’s streetscape has been softened by a canopy of street trees, much of which was planted in the mid-1990s by Wilshire Center’s business improvement district.

The bottom photograph was taken during the most recent CicLAvia on Sunday, April 6, during the popular open streets event’s second foray onto Wilshire Boulevard. Spanning six miles from Fairfax Avenue to the Boulevard’s downtown terminus, the route is touted as CicLAvia’s most architecturally significant, and is even accompanied by a well-made guidebook, The Modernist’s Guide to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard.

The Modernist’s Guide to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard [CicLAvia]

Original photo: Snow. “New Los Angeles street signs, 1960 – EXM-N-12865-019~1.” 1960. Los Angeles Examiner Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll44/id/73303

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Southwest corner of First Street and Broadway, 1956-2014


In continuation of the previous post, the top photograph shows the southwest corner of First Street and Broadway in December, 1956. By then, most of the present block at the foot of Bunker Hill had been demolished in preparation for the State Office Building; all that remained were several buildings facing Second Street, including the 11-story Fashion League Building at Second and Hill Streets.

As evident from the present-day view, most of the surrounding area has been completely rebuilt in the past six decades. Bunker Hill was leveled during the 1960s, and the neighborhood has since been rebuilt with many of the skyscrapers that define Los Angeles’ modern skyline. The former site of the State Office Building is again under construction, this time for a federal courthouse designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Set for completion in 2016, the 625,000 square-foot facility will absorb the functions currently housed in the Spring Street Courthouse next to City Hall.

A 1956 view of the Fashion League Building on Second Street [USC Digital Library]
New United States Courthouse project page [SOM]

1. Evans, Donna. “Long-awaited federal courthouse breaks ground.” Los Angeles Downtown News. 8 Aug. 2013. Link.
2. Guzmán, Richard. “Cheers, concern greet new federal building plan.” Los Angeles Downtown News. 3 Jul. 2012. Link.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “1st Street and Broadway.” 1956. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library. http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15150coll2/id/7949/rec/24

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Looking south on Broadway from First Street, 1956-2014


The top photograph, taken in 1956 by Palmer Conner, shows one of Broadway’s oldest sections in its final days. Save for one surface parking lot, the west side of the block between First and Second Streets then housed eight buildings from the turn of the century, including the culturally significant Mason Opera House (1903), Los Angeles’ preeminent playhouse up through the early 1920s. The Kodachrome slide was taken just as the buildings were to be demolished for the State Office Building, which eventually razed the entire block bounded by Broadway, First, Second, and Hill Streets.

The State Office Building, found seismically unsound in 1994 and vacated in the late 1990s, was itself torn down in 2007 . Since late 2013, the 3.6-acre lot has been under construction for a new federal courthouse. Only two buildings in the original view have survived up through the present: the 13-story Public Service Building (1928) at the photograph’s center and the E-shaped Broadway Investment Building (1911) to its left. Both towers lost their original façades during their conversion to law offices in the late 1960s.

The Mason Theatre [Historic Los Angeles Theatres]
The southwest corner of First and Broadway in better times [Los Angeles Public Library]

1. “Among real estate owners and dealers: Market active with much buying for homes.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Feb. 1903. A1.
2. “Old Mason showhouse being razed: Work will clear ground for new state building.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Jul. 1956. B1.
3. Reich, Kenneth. “State to vacate and demolish quake-threatened office building.” 17 Mar. 1997. http://articles.latimes.com/1997-03-17/local/me-39180_1_office-building
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “Broadway south of 1st Street.” 1956. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library. http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15150coll2/id/7952/rec/21

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Howard Automobile Company Building, 356 South Western Avenue, c.1930-2014

WesternBuickc. 1930-2014

Deeply buried as it is within the chaotic streetscape of Western Avenue, the remains of one of Los Angeles’ most stunning car showrooms can still be seen at the avenue’s northeast corner with Fourth Street. Completed in 1930, the building at 356 South Western Avenue originally served as a Buick dealership for the Howard Automobile Company. As seen in the top photograph, the showroom boasted a striking Art Deco design centered around a stylized tower soaring to eighty feet. Its execution additionally reflected the emergence of a standard architectural form for automobile dealerships; the comparatively staid ground floor façade served to highlight its expanses of tall showroom windows. The innovative nature of its design becomes quickly apparent when compared to the Hudson and Essex showroom at Western Avenue and Sixth Street, completed only five years earlier.

Since then, the building has changed hands and uses several times. In search of a larger, more prominent space, the Howard Automobile Company moved its Wilshire District location in 1940 to Wilshire Boulevard and Mariposa Street. For some time after that, the building housed the city’s main offices of Lerner Shops, a New York-based fashion chain. Lerner Shops moved its offices in 1956, and the building was converted into a printing facility.

In its most recent incarnation, the former showroom has been rebuilt as a shopping center known as Cosmos Village, an unfortunate mess of gaudy Postmodernism and automobile-orientated design. While the tower remains largely intact, the building’s lower façade has been walled up and appended with thick pilasters, signboards, and fake fan windows. As is typical of late-century shopping centers, the building’s retail spaces are only accessible from the parking lot at the rear of the property.

A nighttime view of the original building [California State Library]

1. “Buick to have new home.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Mar. 1930. F5.
2. “General printing acquires Gartner.” Los Angeles Times. 7 May 1957. C10.
3. “Howard moves to new location on Wilshire.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Jul. 1940. E4.
4. “Pioneer auto concern celebrates birthday.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Nov. 1932. D6.
5. “Site purchased for service unit.”Los Angeles Times. 20 Mar. 1955. E17.
Original photo: Mott Studios. “Exterior full front view Howard Motor Company building, 4th and Western, Los Angeles.” Mott-Merge Collection. California State Library. http://catalog.library.ca.gov

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W. I. Hollingsworth Building, southeast corner of Sixth and Hill Streets, 1932-2014


The top photograph, one of the “Dick” Whittington Studio’s many gems, shows the busy intersection of Sixth and Hill Streets in its prewar heyday. In addition, the view prominently features the W. I. Hollingsworth Building at the intersection’s southeast corner. Completed in 1913, the office tower owed its name to its builder, W. I. Hollingsworth & Co., one of Los Angeles’ largest realty firms during the early half of the 20th century. Designed by Morgan, Walls, & Morgan, the eleven-story structure initially sported a bright Classical Revival design typical of its decade’s office buildings.

The Hollingsworth Building has remained in continuous office use for the past century, albeit with several changes to its title and appearance. The property was purchased in 1963 by Western Federal Savings & Loan, which had been headquartered in the building since 1936. Shortly afterwards, its façade was rebuilt in a rather somber rendition of Corporate Modernism, featuring granite piers, smooth brown spandrel panels, and dark tinted windows. Since 1979, the tower has been known as the Western Jewelry Mart, a retail and office building for the jewelry trades.

A larger view of the Hollingsworth Building, c. 1945 [USC Digital Library]
A recent comparison of the same intersection [Urban Diachrony]

1. “6th & Hill St. landmark bought for $1.7 million.” Los Angeles Times. 16 May 1963. B10.
2. “Fine block for Hill and Sixth.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Apr. 1912. VI1.
3. “New step told in ownership of noted firm.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Nov. 1954. E9.
4. Simross, Lynn. “Jewelry Lane: A street paved with gold.” Los Angeles Times. 27 Dec. 1979. E1.
Original photo: “Dick” Whittington Studio. “2nd floor of Hollingsworth Building, Southern California, 1932 – DW-1932-03-04-25.” “Dick” Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll170/id/48918.

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Richfield Oil Company Building and Atlantic Richfield Plaza, northwest corner of Sixth and Flower Streets, 1968-2014


When it comes to 20th century corporate architecture, arguably no street corner in Los Angeles has seen as many exemplary buildings as the intersection Sixth and Flower Streets. This then and now comparison features two of them, the Richfield Oil Company Building and its successor, Atlantic Richfield Plaza.

The top photograph shows the base of the Richfield Building, completed in 1929 as the headquarters of its namesake petroleum corporation. Designed by Morgan, Walls, & Clements, the 13-story tower instantly became one of the city’s most singular buildings due to its unusual color scheme. The steel-framed structure was principally clad in black terra cotta, highlighted by thin strips of tiles fired with lustrous gold leaf. Aside from the American Radiator Building in New York, the Richfield Building appears to have been the only all black-and-gold office tower completed in the United States.

In spite of its landmark status, the Richfield Building attracted largely negative critical opinion for much of its existence. At the time of its completion, Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier derided the tower’s design for its insensitivity to the region’s climate and architectural context, giving glowing praise instead to Bullock’s Wilshire. In his landmark book The Image of the City (1960), urban planner Kevin Lynch described the Richfield Building simply as “ugly.”

In 1967, shortly after the merger between Richfield and Atlantic Petroleum, plans were announced to redevelop the Richfield property with one of the largest office complexes on the West Coast. Despite some calls for the preservation of the existing building, the company countered that the 38-year-old structure had become only half-usable due to its obsolete utilities, and that its redevelopment was inevitable given the growth of Downtown Los Angeles’ office market. The top photograph, a Palmer Conner Kodachrome, shows the base of the building one week before the beginning of its demolition.

The building’s replacement, Atlantic Richfield Plaza, became one of the most ambitious construction projects in the city’s history. Between 1968 and 1971, the project leveled the entire block between between Fifth, Sixth, Flower, and Figueroa Streets, and replaced it with a pair of 52-story towers with 2.5 million square feet of office space. Designed by Albert C. Martin & Associates, the office complex is now regarded as one of Los Angeles’ defining works of high Corporate Modernism.

Now known as City National Plaza, the project is indeed significant for its comprehensive execution of Modernist urban design. The twin towers are joined by an open plaza, and the entire block sits above a cavernous subterranean garage and shopping center. From the present perspective, the towers’ dramatic effect is highlighted by their large setbacks and the abrupt widenings of Flower and Sixth Streets. The complex’s colossal scale becomes immediately apparent in comparison with the somewhat older Superior Oil Company Building (1956), just visible at the right edge of both photographs.

City National Plaza [Los Angeles Conservancy]
More images and detailed records of the Richfield Building [Library of Congress]

1. “Crews move in to dismantle landmark Richfield building.” Los Angeles Times. 13 Nov. 1968. SG1.
2. “Giant Atlantic Richfield Plaza dominates downtown skyline.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Feb. 1971. G8.
3. Hebert, Ray. “Admirers would save 1929 Richfield Building.” Los Angeles Times. 18 Aug. 1967. A6.
4. Hebert, Ray. “Plaza complex slated for Richfield block.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Mar. 1967. B1.
5. Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. 1960. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
6. Millier, Arthur. “Building reflects region.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Jun. 1929. 19.
7. “Plans revealed for 52-story shopping, office twin towers.” Los Angeles Times. 19 Sep. 1968. B1.
8. “Scientists aid architects.” Los Angeles Times. 14 Jul. 1929. D2.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “Last day of Richfield Building’s entrance.” 1968. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery. http://cdm16003.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15150coll2/id/7690

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