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Monday: Downtown Trudgery

Our Los Angeles trip report continues.

  • Monday — We set aside an entire today to do an architectural walking tour of downtown. Lots of research online and through Charles Moore’s wonderful book Los Angeles: The City Observed taught me that there’s an overabundance of great buildings around here, from the public library to Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall. We wanted to see it all, and so we got an early start. Our first stop was the furthest away — the Eastern Columbia Building, tucked away several blocks to the south. I was a bit leery about walking that far on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, but it was totally worth it. This building is a total Art Deco vision in shades of periwinkle and teal. I would have loved to have seen the giant clock all lit up at night. We walked down Broadway towards breakfast, checking out the mixture of fellow walkers along the way. This area used to be a swanky destination; now it’s a mixture of the homeless, Hispanic shops and upscale condos. There’s also a lot of old theaters in various states of disrepair. We arrived at our next site, and breakfast at the famed Clifton’s Cafeteria. This eatery used to be a chain; the Broadway location is the last remaining one. I took a ton of pictures in this kitschy delight, starting with the delightful terrazzo tilework in front. The woodsy-themed dining room was a bit worn down, but totally charming. We got our trays, filled with run of the mill but tasty food, and settled down upstairs (I wonder if they have a lot of stair-related accidents there?). After finishing, we noticed a third floor, closed off to diners. Being the braver one of the two, Christopher decided to venture up there despite the floor being completely dark. We found a great little museum of Clifton’s memorabilia. An employee found us looking around. Instead of getting angry and kicking us out, he offered to turn the lights on for us! At least it gave us an opportunity to see things better. Bellies filled, we continued walking Northward towards the Little Tokyo district. There were a few independent bookstores I wanted to check out, but it was still early and they were closed. In Little Tokyo, there was a Japanese bookstore called Kunokuniya that looked intriguing. Luckily once we got there they were open for business. What a place! Shelves of manga, books on every kind of Japanese subject imaginable, and tons of beyond cute stationery, craft supplies and (my favorite) toys. We spent 80 bucks there. From here we walked towards City Hall and took more photos. This was the tallest building in L.A. when it was erected in 1928, and even today it impresses. Strangely, it never occurred to us that you could tour the building until a gentleman seeing us staring brought it up with Christopher. We got our passes and took a succession of elevators all the way to the top, where open balconies allow you to see the city vistas from all four sides. It was wonderful, and we had that whole top floor to ourselves! The building contains a lot of neat Deco-era details everywhere, making it the highlight of the day. Out of City Hall, we were getting ready to head back to the hotel when we suddenly remembered two other L.A. landmarks that still needed seeing — the Bradbury Building and Angels Flight. The Bradbury isn’t much to look at from the outside, but the interior central court is justifiably famous for its beauty. I’ve dug this building ever since seeing it in Blade Runner, and experiencing it for real was a genuine pleasure (as seen in the photo above). Angels Flight came next. Unfortunately, this famous hillside trolley is closed indefinitely — but that didn’t stop us from snapping a few pics of the bright red boxcar. By this time, it was mid-afternoon and our feet were getting tired. We went back to the hotel for a rest and change of clothes. Not for long however, since our next stop was Disney Concert Hall. This place was gorgeous, especially with a second floor garden winding around the back. I loved how the interior was such a complete design, right down to the custom font used on the lobby’s donor wall. We took the hour long audio tour, which was apparently popular since there were lots of other tourists wandering around the place carrying those unique audio wands that day. I took several shots of Gehry’s famous undulating walls on that perfectly sunny afternoon. Our final stop that day was the Los Angeles Public Library, thankfully located close to the Westin. This is another gorgeous Art Deco structure, although by this time we were too tired to fully appreciate it. The library happened to be hosting a show of drawings and sketches by the architect Richard Neutra, so we spent a good 45 minutes or so looking at that. Anyone in the area should check that out. Feet and backs aching, we trudged back to our hotel — tired but happy that we had such an eventful day.

5 Thoughts on “Monday: Downtown Trudgery

  1. I am so glad you got to Clifton’s before it’s too late.

  2. Brad In Worcester on October 13, 2009 at 4:31 pm said:

    Sounds like you had a great time and saw some really cool, off the beaten track things!

    Let ME take you next time– we’ll head over to the Max Factor Museum (little rooms labeled “For Redheads Only”, and “For Blondes Only”– 40’s Superluxe… dripping with caste and sex)…

    Next up is the Motion Picture Archive (I’m not sure if that is the Official title–Google, Brother!) at UCLA, an ugly little series of caged rooms that have things, like, ummm, early “Blade Runner” script drafts, Erte designs for 30’s musicals, treatments and fragments from Arlen to Everybody Else. Call ahead to get a pass. Schmooze the bored Grad Assistants to get to the Good Stuff. Drool. Repeat.

    Then we’ll pop into the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art (LACMA) for its permanent collection of mid-20th century American masters— upscale tokens and little gems that define this uniquely Western (i.e. adamantly NON-East, NON-NYC) society (I’m thinking Pene Du Bois’ smudgy evocations of Mestizo storefronts and neighborhoods and those fab Stuart Davis “Burning Gas Stations”– compare those with, say, Eddy Hopper’s East Coast ennui– so much more the formalist egg-head and stuffy in comparison…) Must See: Ed Ruscha’s “Guacamole Air Lines” is, to my mind, the most California mindset ever put to canvas. So Zen, so empty, soooo El Lay.

    We’ve done The Industry Thang, We’ve done the Artsy Thang. We’re hungry. Which means we head to Cantor’s Deli off Fairfax.
    I’ve seen EVERYBODY here (I used to spend about 5 hours a day here in the 80’s when I lived but two blocks away) and you will too—IF you arrive late. After shows close or sets are done or shoots are wrapped, say, after one AM, you will be cheek by jowl with tubloads of b-listers and a smattering of a-listers.
    Gawking, discreetly, is ok.
    The best seats are the naugahyde banquettes in the back room, near the restrooms–you can perch and stalk best there…

    When can we go guys?


  3. Christopher on October 13, 2009 at 5:57 pm said:

    Brad: Max Factor’s has been closed for many years. (We did the tour of it about 10 years ago when it was still open.) Now, it is a Hollywood museum of some type.

  4. We drove by that. What’s more, they’ve spoiled the lovely Max Factor building exterior with tacky plastic banners. Oh the humanity.

  5. Brad In Worcester on October 15, 2009 at 8:52 pm said:




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