Aaron's Tour of Los Angeles - Part 1
El Pueblo Historic District, New Downtown, and Hollywood
The "new downtown" (or "Bunker Hill," or "financial district") in Los Angeles is largely the product of the efforts of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City. Beginning in the 1960s this agency coordinated the investment of millions of dollars to develop a "new" downtown with a tall skyscraper profile that would contribute to Los Angeles' world city status. Having major office buildings and hotels, today the area is a focal point for international capital and international travelers. Although it might seem logical to visit the "Old Downtown" after visiting El Pueblo, that tour is more extensive and demands its own day. Part 1 of the L.A. tour is meant to be more for of a panaromic view of the downtown area.
1. Pershing Square 2. Biltmore Hotel 3. Cal. Edison Building 4. Central Library
5. Bonaventure Hotel 6. Arco Plaza 7. Wells Fargo Museum 8. California Plaza
9. Angel's Flight 10. Grand Central Market 11. Bradbury Building  

1. Pershing Square

In 1886, this five acre plot of land was set aside for public use, surpassing the older plaza near Olvera Street in popularity due to the southwest population shift at that time. In 1918, the square was named for General John J. Pershing. Its postmodern redesign by Ricardo Legorreta, dedicated in February of 1994, is full of symbols of California life. A fault line runs from one corner of the park to the other and postcards are embedded in park benches. The dominant visual feature of the park is a 120-foot high purple tower. Be sure to read the interesting message on the back of the wall surrounding the waterfall. Walk across the street to the Biltmore Hotel.


2. Biltmore Hotel

The Biltmore Hotel was opened in 1923 at a cost of 7 million dollars. At one time, it was the largest hotel in Los Angeles with over a 1000 rooms. Today it is the ninth largest in Los Angeles, and the third largest in Downtown with 683 rooms. Designed by the New York firm of Schultze and Weaver, it has reddish brick, terra cotta roof tile, cream-colored stone, and three towers on the facade make the building instantly recognizable. In 1960, it served as the headquarters for the Democratic National Convention, at which John F. Kennedy was nominated for President. Over the years, the hotel has been refurbished numerous times, with special effort to preserve the murals and ceilings done by Giovani Battista Smeraldi, whose paintings are also in the Blue Room of the White House. A major renovation in the late eighties included a tower of 24 stories. Be sure to check out its four major ballrooms ­ The Emerald, Gold, Crystal and Tiffany rooms ­ as well as the two lobbies. Exit the hotel near the Emerald Room, and head over to the bank building that used to be the Old California Edison Building.


3. Cal. Edison Building

This beautiful building was the first all-electric office building and home to the California Edison Company, which provided power to the area and helped Los Angeles grow. Be sure to walk past the security officer's desk and down the hallway to see pictures of what the area looked like at the time it was built. Exit and turn right, notice the huge building you are walking by (the Library Tower) as it is the tallest building in Los Angeles, and the beautiful Bunker Hill steps to your right with water flowing down the center. Cross the street to the Central Library.


4. Central Library

After several locations since first being established in 1878, the Los Angeles Public library found a home in this specially-designed building. The building, designed by Bertram G. Goodhue, was dedicated on July 15, 1926. Goodhue's design was modeled after the architect's previous creation, the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln. (The latter, by the way, is much taller--40 stories and 432 feet tall--and is often referred to as "the penis of the plains.") For many years the library had numerous entrances, tide pools, and rolling expanses of grass. One by one these features were reduced due to the growth of downtown and the need for parking. In the eighties two arson fires damaged the building and tens of thousands of books, resulting in major renovation and the addition of the rear atrium. The building accurately resembles its original look, yet the new wing adds a post modern feel. The atrium also allows natural light into the building, much like the Bradbury Building, allowing visitors to escape the chaos of downtown. The air space above was sold to the developers of the Library Tower (across the street) so that they could build the tallest building between Chicago and Hong Kong.


5. Bonaventure Hotel

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel was built between 1974 and 1976. The hotel is designed as four cylinders surrounding one larger cylinder, and its elevators operate on the outside of the building on the upper floors. The predominately glass exterior reflects the blue of a typical Los Angeles' sky. Walk through the hotel and, if you can find your way, exit on the sixth floor and walk across the street on the pedestrian overpass. You will walk by the downtown YMCA. Hang a left and walk over the street to the Arco building. As you cross, notice how one of the Wells Fargo Towers (reddish stone) appears to be two-dimensional. Pretty cool, eh?


6. ARCO Plaza

Yes, ARCO helped ruin public transportation in Los Angeles, as was documented in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" It was Standard Oil at the time, and along with the tire companies and other car-related interests, it bought up the yellow cars and red cars, and shut them down. Los Angeles went from having one of the best public transportation systems to having no public transportation almost overnight. Feel free to picket outside the building. Once you are done with that activity, walk around its gardens, as this is where Julia Roberts read a book with Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman" and the building is where his business deals took place (recognize the red, metal sculpture in the front?). Next, walk across the street to the Court at Well's Fargo Center and find your way to the Well's Fargo History Museum.


7. Wells Fargo Museum

Once part of the Pony Express, the name says it all. If you are interested in the history of banking, this should be interesting. Also, there are a few neat maps inside detailing the early developments of Los Angeles and Pasadena. Next, walk through the Wells Fargo Towers and cross the street.


8. California Plaza

Construction of this project began in 1983,. The project was completed in 1992 and included two office towers (42 and 55 stories) with 2.4 million square feet of leasable space, the 469-room Hotel InterContinental, and 150 residential condominium units (The MuseumTower). An interesting water court is the product of a "one percent for art" initiative on new buildings that applied to much of the new downtown. Walk across the Plaza to Angel's Flight.


9. Angel's Flight

The Angels Flight funicular opened in February 1996. It provided transportation for the wealthy whom once resided at the top of Bunker Hill to the downtown area below. Angel's Flight was first opened on December 31, 1901 by one of Abraham Lincoln's friends. It was originally black and white (not orange), but it was repainted some years later. It was closed and dismantled on May 18, 1969 for "repairs," and the area at the top of Bunker Hill had fallen into disrepair. The victorian mansions that once stood at the top of Bunker Hill had all been relocated. A long-time symbol of the city, as demonstrated by posters of when the Olympics were in Los Angeles in the earlier part of the twentieth century, letters continued to pour into the city for twenty-seven years until the funicular was finally re-opened on February 24, 1996. The funicular was reopened a block away from where it originally operated, and it now serves the business men and women whom work in the skyscrapers built atop Bunker Hill. Be sure to watch how close the two counterbalanced cars come within one another! Take Angel's Flight down to the street, and cross to Grand Central Market.

Warning: There was recently an accident on Angel's Flight and it might be closed.


10. Grand Central Market

Built in 1917, the Grand Central Market is a cavernous European-style market under great overhead fans. It is the oldest of all concession type markets on the Pacific Coast, and was the first earthquake and fireproof building in Los Angeles. The Grand Central Market is an indoor bazaar that extends from Broadway to Hill Street. It is crowded, frenzied, and picturesque. The stalls and aisles overflow with exotic foods, from pigs tongues to passion fruit. Exit on the other side and cross the street to get to the Bradbury Building.


11. Bradbury Building

The Bradbury Building, built in 1893, is one of Southern California's most remarkable architectural achievements. Its plan was commissioned by real estate and mining entrepreneur Louis L. Bradbury who decided to build it just a few blocks from his home on fashionable Bunker Hill and not far from the base of Angels Flight. After rejecting a plan submitted by Sumner P. Hunt, Bradbury approached junior draftsman George Wyman. Wyman is said to have accepted the commission after consulting a ouija board. Wyman was influenced by Edward Bellamy's 1887 book that described a utopian civilization in the year 2000. The typical office building was described as being a "vast hall of light received not alone by the windows, but from a dome overhead." The interior of the court is flooded with natural light. In the true spirit of Los Angles, it has been featured in many movies, from DOA in 1946 to Blade Runner to Disclosure. Return to the Pershing Square Metro Station.



Take the MTA Red Line from Pershing Square to Hollywood/Highland Station, where the "Hollywood" part of the tour begins. (Click here or on the subway to continue the tour)


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