Posts tagged DTLA

During my lunch breaks I’d set out to inspect the beautiful sidewalk paving designs lining the Historic Core of Downtown Los Angeles. All photos by Wendy Chan.

Our firm has recently been given the opportunity to submit a proposal for a new pedestrian linkage project. It’s an exciting design opportunity, one integrating art as an expression to link pedestrians with the history and culture of their community.

The pedestrian linkage project inspired research of various other examples where art was used as a way-finding and informational element. I looked at the Freedom Trail in Boston, a project which leads pedestrians through historically significant sties with a red-lined brick inlay on the sidewalk, alongside other historically significant districts in cities using pavement design to represents the local history and culture.


The terrazzo paving design in front of the Garfield Building mimics the bright marble sunburst on the underside of the entrance canopy. The sunburst might be a literal expression of the original building occupants, Sun Realty Company.


Beautiful colored ceramic tiles inlay by artist Frank Romero, commissioned by the CRA/LA to activate the sidewalk as part of the Broadway Pedestrian Amenities Project in 1984. The tiles are located along Broadway and 7th Street. The artist incorporated cultural patterns to represent the various ethnic groups that shopped on Broadway (e.g. geometric designs taken from Persian rugs), alongside the the building’s tenants at that time.


This ornate terrazzo art is located in front of Clifton’s Cafeteria and was done by artist Arthur D Pizzinat, Sr. in 1935. The designs have 12 medallions representing  areas of Los Angeles, including the city’s beaches, missions, oil farms, film industry, and the La Brea Tar Pits.


The terrazzo pavement entry leads visitors into the Baroque French Renaissance lobby of the Los Angeles Theatre.


My favorite sidewalk is located on the corner of 5th and Hill in front of the Art Deco Title Guarantee & Trust Building. I have fond childhood memories of Thrifty Drug Store; although it’s no longer a Thrifty store, I still appreciate the remnants of its history.

The beautiful pavement designs of Downtown Los Angeles act as a captivating threshold, linking passerby to the historical significance of the buildings. Although these individual designs aren’t directly linking together to form a cohesive narrative, they can be pieced together to offer us a glimpse of the history and architectural trends of the time, reminding us how sidewalks can act as a network of stories enhancing the pedestrian experience.

Creative Commons photo by Danny Thompson (CC BY 2.0)

The Sparks of Downtown LA’s Boom – What launched DTLA’s transformation?: “The year 1999 was a watershed for DTLA’s redevelopment, beyond just the passing of the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance. That same year also witnessed the completion of STAPLES Center, a sporting arena and events venue in DTLA that may have done as much as anything to spark DTLA’s development boom.”

Mapped: 21 projects rising along the LA River: “The plan to ecologically restore an 11-mile section of the Los Angeles River has put a big, national spotlight on the waterway. Anticipating a revitalization, city and real estate developers have paid attention to the flood channel for years now. The result has been a steady stream of projects—parks, bridges, residential, adaptive reuse, mixed use, and even some glitzy projects by big-name architects.”

Landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander on why it should be easier to be green: “My passion is to be with nature and introduce people to it from all levels of society. I believe in the therapeutic effects of greenery on the human soul.”

How Designers Can Build for Diversity: “The only way to do really good location-specific work is to spend a lot of time in the research and discovery phase, figuring out the DNA of the place and how your design can tell that story, not a story that can go anywhere else. As designers, we’re able to be the storytellers, to find ways to create places that include everybody’s story and that provide opportunities to learn and be inquisitive and curious about people whose stories differ from our own.”

Visiting this famous Frank Lloyd Wright home? For some fancy wine, you (maybe) can: “The owners of a famous Frank Lloyd Wright home in California are sick and tired of architecture aficionados walking up to their property to glimpse the beauty within. But, with the right bottle of wine, the Millard House’s residents may let curious visitors have a look around.”

Quiet Mornings: Art x Mindfulness at MOCA
Quiet Mornings is a one-of-a-kind event, pairing a guided meditation exercise with the opportunity to experience a truly unique, immersive artwork. After an acclaimed run at MoMA in NYC, our partner Flavorpill is bringing the inspiration to LA. Join us for Quiet Mornings LA on Saturday, March 10 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo. Enjoy The Theater of Disappearance, Adrián Villar Rojas’ powerful site-specific work, and a group meditation session led by artist Noberto Rodriguez.
When: March 10 at 9:30am
Where: The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N Central Ave, Los Angeles, California CA 90012

History of Coffee in Southern California Panel Discussion
A lively panel of Southern California coffee experts discuss important developments in the region’s coffee landscape, beginning with early settlers who packed green coffee in their covered wagons and roasted the beans over a nightly campfire to sustain their difficult cross-country journeys. Topics include the rise of local commercial and specialty roasters and coffee houses spanning the 20th century. Finally, the panelists explore the arrival of coffee’s Third Wave and highlight the proliferation of espresso bars and cafés that dot the map of Southern California today.
When: March 10, 2018, 10:30am
Where: Los Angeles Public Library, 630 W 5th St, Los Angeles, California 90071

Eastside Babylon
On the Eastside Babylon tour you’ll discover fascinating, little-known neighborhoods and the grim memories they hold. Come visit Boyle Heights, where the Night Stalker was captured. Roam the hallowed lawns of Evergreen, L.A.’s oldest cemetery and home of some most unusual burials. Visit East Los Angeles, where a deranged radio shop employee made mince meat of his boss and bride–and you can get your hair done in a building shaped like a giant tamale. Explore the ghastly streets of Commerce, where one small neighborhood’s myriad crimes will shock and surprise. Visit Montebello, to get your heart broken by a horrifying case of mother love gone haywire. All this, and so much more on Eastside Babylon, Esotouric’s exploration of L.A.’s most horrifying forgotten crimes.
When: March 10, 2018, 11:30am
Where:The Daily Dose Cafe, 1820 Industrial Street, Los Angeles 90021

Huell Howser’s Lost California’s Gold Episode: The Ghost Mountain…
In 2010, the late, great television personality Huell Howser telephoned filmmaker John McDonald to make an unprecedented request. Howser had seen McDonald’s documentary, The Ghost Mountain Experiment, a story about a family who lived off the grid for seventeen years in San Diego County’s Anza-Borrego Desert, considered this story to be quintessential California’s gold and wanted to make an episode based both on the Souths and on McDonald’s fine documentary. Due to Howser’s unexpected illness and untimely death as well as the cancellation of California’s Gold, Howser instead gave McDonald the unedited video master of this episode. McDonald completed the editing of Huell’s work and he will screen share with us this last nugget of California’s Gold!
When: March 7th, 2018, 7pm
Where: Arts & Culture Downtown Central Library, 222 East Harvard St, Glendale CA

Union Station Art & Architecture Tour
Discover art, architecture and spaces not generally open to the public in an exclusive free tour of Union Station Los Angeles. Begins at the information booth inside the Alameda Street entrance to historic Union Station. The tours are free. No reservations required.Led by Metro Art Los Angeles Docents, the tour covers Union Station art, architecture and spaces not generally open to the public, including the Historic Ticketing Hall. Additionally, the tours explore artworks located in the Gold Line Portal, Union Station East and inside the Metro Headquarters Building.
When: March 11th, 2018, 10:30 am -12:30 pm
Where: Union Station Los Angeles, 800 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, California 90012

One of my first goals after moving to Downtown Los Angeles was to memorize the lattice of streets traveling west to east (alongside several cross streets stretching north to south). Figueroa. Flower. Hope. Grand. Olive. Hill. Broadway. Spring. Main. Los Angeles. These ten streets downtown are its most prominent, in sum making up the majority of the city’s historic core.

Photo: Brett Miller

With perpendicular streets numbered, wayfinding across Downtown is fairly simple, with each street reflecting its own particular and unique vibe. But of those numerous streets connecting Downtown Los Angeles, it’s the theater-lined Broadway I remember best.

Photo: Brett Miller

During the roaring 1920’s, vaudeville venues were being constructed almost annually along Broadway. And when I say “theater”, I don’t mean a movie theater, or a simple unimaginative entertainment center. Think exorbitant, ornate exteriors with equally grandiose interiors: Parisian tier fixtures, artisan stone/plaster work, vaulted decorated ceilings, and thick red curtain theaters to greet patrons for the evening. Bestowed majestic names like The Palace, The Orpheum, The Rialto, The Tower, and my favorite, the Los Angeles Theater (not to mention the numerous theaters demolished over the years), these gilded auditoriums hosted a roaring entertainment landscape, their illuminated signs glowing across Downtown Los Angeles for decades.

The Rialto Theater along Broadway back in 2008, before its conversion into a gentrified retail space in 2013. Creative Commons photo credit.

While some theaters dropped off the map sooner than others, many of these masterpieces of architecture began to close their doors to the public during the 80s and 90s. The momentum of development across Los Angeles had moved westward away from Downtown, and thus the lights across Broadway eventually dimmed, their audiences long gone, their grandeur somehow forgotten. Being new to Los Angeles, I previously did not recognize a connection between Los Angeles and Broadway at all. The association was a connection typically reserved for New York, or perhaps Chicago.

Photos: Brett Miller

But Downtown has gone through a vigorous rebirth over the past 10 years. Some credit belongs to Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose initiative, Bringing Back Broadway has helped bring economic and cultural revitalization to the diminished landscape of Broadway. This past January, Downtown LA’s theaters reemerged to host artists, musicians, food, drink, and even roller derby and dodge ball as pop-up installations, bringing tens of thousands of people down to the evening event. What began in 2014 with just 3,000 visitors, the 2018 event now known as Night on Broadway reportedly brought over 80,000 visitors downtown.

In September I investigated the impact temporary installations can have upon a landscape, alongside how these installations could be used in response to community needs, problems, or simply the public’s desire for communal space. Night on Broadway meets all of these goals. By creatively reusing our city’s existing resources, Los Angeles was able to fill one of its most historic corridors with color, music, and energy, breathing new life into an evolving and storied community. The event was temporary, its effects more permanent.

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A view of South Park, DTLA, in all its glory. Photo: Gary Lai

This is the final post in a series which follows my move to Downtown Los Angeles.

Looking back, two things stand out: 1.  I haven’t made clear the connection between these observations with landscape architecture and urban planning, and 2. I’ve focused primarily on the positive aspects of living in Downtown Los Angeles.

Postwar, Los Angeles became a template for the future of American cities.  American logistics and engineering know-how had helped win two world wars; the expertise and the optimism that came with winning helped bolster confidence during peace, entrenching the idea we could engineer our way through any problem imaginable. Los Angeles would prove to be the perfect place to test this theory. Growing by leaps and bounds from the war-production years, Los Angeles needed infrastructure.

The city had plenty of space, and consequently the planners and engineers of Los Angeles would set out to prove their theories: constructing freeways would solve our transportation needs, building concrete channels would solve our flooding problems, air conditioning would address challenges related to climate, and massive aqueducts and dams would deliver water to quench the thirst of city’s growing population.

While individually every one of these solutions would prove successful to a certain degree, the large infrastructure projects attached to these solution inevitably delivered equally large and pervasive problems associated with their creation.  Freeway-only construction caused urban sprawl, horrendous traffic, and air pollution.  Channelizing the Los Angeles River caused an ecological crash and seasonally dangerous water flow conditions. The ubiquity of air conditioning across the city caused a spike in energy consumption, while the California Aqueduct system caused an over-reliance on imported water to support our growing population across Southern California.

Fast forward to today, and we’re left dealing with an infrastructure that doesn’t work and causes more problems than it solves.

Modern urban planners and designers are looking at a new paradigm: multi-modal transportation systems, housing densification and green infrastructure.  In plain language, this means modern planners are looking for people to move back into the cities from the suburbs, use different modes of transportation besides the car, and create natural systems to process the by-products of urban living. Current trends show millennials are moving back to America’s downtowns, a trend apparent to anyone who has visited DTLA in the last few years.

Being an advocate of this new form of urbanism, my wife and I decided to move into the urban core when we sold our house.  This would be the truest test of our beliefs. Would children of the suburban age like us enjoy urban, downtown living?  The answer is yes…but, not overwhelmingly so.

The aforementioned posts documenting our move and life in Downtown Los Angeles already spells out the benefits enjoyed since moving. But what are the cons? Here are a few honest observations about what we don’t enjoy about life downtown:

  1. Noise: Downtown is very noisy. Cars roar past with their stereos on full blast and emergency vehicles blare sirens regardless of hour.  People will yell at each other either in anger or in drunken celebration with similar frequency.
  2. Pollution: While air pollution throughout the LA Basin is widespread and not overly worse in downtown, our surrounding neighborhoods are visually dirtier.  Litter is everywhere. There is so much litter the street cleaners and neighborhood hosts cannot keep up.  This issue is complicated by our city’s worsening homeless population.
  3. Spiraling homeless problem: For the last decade, we have let the streets of LA become the catch-all location for mental illness, abject poverty, substance addiction, and plain bad luck. The challenges associated with the homeless are complicated – socially, economically, and politically. We will unlikely solve this problem anytime soon. But one should accept, for now, living in high-density areas in Los Angeles County means living with the homeless.
  4. Space: Living downtown also means trading the space of suburbia for smaller accommodations.  Housing in Downtown Los Angeles offers little to no outdoor spaces for single-family-owned properties.  This fact alone might be a deal-breaker for most Americans who equate the “American Dream” with a yard.

I don’t believe post-war planners meant to create the monstrosity known as modern day Los Angeles.  I believe these planners initially were guided by good intentions and informed assumptions about how the world would work in the future. The identifiable mistake was arrogantly doubling and tripling down on these initial strategies, even after data began trickling in proving their assumptions wrong.

My hope is the next generation of planners do not to repeat these mistakes of the past.  If we believe densification is the answer, planners and designers must acknowledge both the positives and negatives associated with this type of living by adopting the lifestyle themselves. In other words, we must practice what we preach. Only then can we make informed decisions to improve the lives of future Angelenos who will follow our footsteps back into the city.