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Futuristic Malls of Days Past

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History often proves unkind to ideas and plans once touted as the wave of the future. Take much of Downtown LA, such as the elevated walkways and segregated vehicular/pedestrian zones.

And then there’s the Civic Center Mall. LAist found ourselves strolling through this partially subterranean development located northeast of City Hall that contains a subterranean parking, restaurants, mix of retail operations, miscellaneous amenities (e.g. shoe shine booth), and City operations (DOT). Plus lots of unflattering florescent lighting and beige tile. This development was also the erstwhile location of the Children's Museum.

The most captivating element is hidden behind mustard yellow curtains -- the Triforium Control Room. This controversial relic of the future by intriguing artist Joseph Young was noted for its pioneering use of new technology to incorporate static sculpture with light and sound, and even contained a quartz glass carillon. We tremble with excitement at the prospect of someday gaining access into what must look like a 1970s sci-fi movie set.

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The troublesome legacy of the redevelopment era in Downtown LA engenders cynicism about this commercial and retail environment. In addition to the lack of linkage to the physical fabric of downtown and wholesale demolition of what connected the site to the area's history, most noticeable now is its rejection of the street. It’s all too painfully obvious how scared of cities people were during the 1960s and 70s. And because of some major environmental design deficiencies and social miscalculations, many of these anti-urban developments rightly failed.

However, we were surprised to see plenty of downtown workers -- predominantly public employees, presumably -- eating lunch at the numerous food outlets (mostly chains), and running errands at businesses like the now shabby yet almost quaint B. Dalton bookstore. (What happened to parquet floors being the default floor treatment of bookstores?)

We're now becoming quickly coddled by faux-town centers such as the you-know-what on Fairfax, with the profusion of colors, assaults on senses, and an architectural pastiche that looks backward without much introspection or concern for contextual complexity. So awkward modernist spaces including the Civic Center Mall shouldn't be categorically written off, since they do reflect a distinct attitude towards planning and design in LA at a certain point in time. After all, what should be preserved or demo'd in the future is awfully hard to prognosticate when the history is still a tad fresh.

We hope improvements might be brought to the Civic Center Mall to establish a stronger reciprocal tie with the life of the street. And we never thought we'd say this, but leave those beige tiles intact, please.

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