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Downtown LA Art Deco

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The Los Angeles Conservancy offers guided walking tours of various of parts of LA. The Conservancy has brought back their summer walking tours due to their popularity and today was the first part of 4 week series which repeats again next month and covered the Art Deco period of architecture which took place mostly between the two World Wars. We met at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel at 5:30pm and then walked across the street to Pershing Square to get a brief introduction to Art Deco, which is a contemporary term for what was then known as "Style Moderne." Art Deco became known to the world at the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes and with its strong geometric patterns and designs was strikingly different than the curvaceous and fluid Beaux Arts style which graces the facades of many of pre-World War buildings of Downtown LA.

Style Moderne actually started inside the buildings as a new style of interior decorations and soon made its way to the outer faces of the new buildings that were sprouting out of the ground in LA despite the Depression. The first building we stopped at was the Oviatt Building at 617 S. Olive Street, which on the outside is of the Italian Romanesque style, but on the inside is beautifully decorated in the Art Deco style with rich french oak paneling, ornate brass doors and imported Lalique glass throughout.

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Our tour guide took us up the middle elevator to the penthouse level which was lavishly decorated with period pieces and which is available for rent at $15,000 a month or $5,000 a weekend. It was interesting to note that the elevator went up to the 13th floor.

The next building was not as elegant, but were good examples of the Art Deco style which draws the eye up, up and away unlike the Beaux Art style, with its overhanging roofs. One building of note, although not Art Deco style, was the Commercial Exchange Building that at one point was moved in a few feet from Olive to allow the street to run in a straighter direction. This feat was accomplished by removing one section of the masonry and one column of windows then moving the detached section over with brute man and mule power and then once moved the masonry was rebuilt in place. According to the old newspaper article the occupants didn't even notice the operation, but the guide was quick to point out that the workers, mired in the Depression, were glad to work in a building whether or not is was moving while they were in it.

Passing the Golden Gopher we gazed up at the vast Garfield Building which supposedly has a very impressive lobby which is currently closed to the public. The building seems like it would make for great lofts or condos, but it remains to be seen what will become of it.

We continued on down to blue, green and gold terra cotta encrusted Eastern Columbia Building which was built in only 9 months in 1930. The gold tiles contain more than $25,000 of gold leaf by 1930s prices and still shine brightly in the sun. The windows are separated with intricate copper spandrels like many Art Deco buildings in Downtown. The clock tower on the roof has recently been fixed to actually tell the time and is now lit every night, another sign of the current Downtown Renaissance.

Around the corner we saw two Art Deco buildings sitting beside one another on Hill Street. The Los Angeles Fur Mart Building was decorated with eagles and masks of varied expression along with elegant brass spandrels, now corroded green with age.

The adjacent Sun Realty Building is green not with age, but from the terra cotta tiles that encase its outward face. We crossed the street and entered the beautifully decorated lobby of the Sun Realty Building, beautiful if you only pay attention to the elevator doors and the mail boxes which are the only remaining original features inside the building, although it is rumored that the fine marble and moulded plaster ceilings still exist beneath the drywall the walls currently consists of.

The LA Conservancy is LA's oldest and largest Historical Society, the largest this side of the Mississippi and their docents are well informed historians who enjoy leading the tours as much as we enjoy taking them. The next tour is scheduled for next week and covers Downtown's Evolving Skyline, RSVP here and maybe we'll see you there on the street.

The complete set of photography can be found here.