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Los Angeles Field Trip Report

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On October 11, 2014 along with 23 other classmates, we took a field trip to downtown Los Angeles. The purpose of this field trip was to observe and learn about the physical and the built environment, its interrelationship to each other, and to draw our own conclusions from everything that we saw and learned. Students provided information on a subject that they chose and provided handouts for everyone. We learned about different architectural styles, ages of buildings, what contributed to the demise to the first subway and to the Pacific Electric Railway, and what is currently going on to revitalize that area. Los Angeles was founded in 1781, and in the 1870s, Los Angeles was a village of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. By 1900, there were over 100,000 occupants in the city. Today downtown Los Angeles is composed of different areas ranging from a fashion district to a skid row, and it is the hub of the city’s Metro rapid transit system.

Banks, department stores and movie palaces at one time drew residents and visitors into the area, but the district declined economically and suffered a downturn for decades until its recent renaissance starting in the early 2000s: Old buildings are being modified for new uses, and skyscrapers have been built. Downtown Los Angeles is known for its government buildings, parks, theaters and other public places. There are five things that I have learned about Los Angeles; that John Parkinson was the major architect that gave Los Angeles new life, that the automobile was responsible for the demise of many businesses, of the 200 buildings that John Parkinson built that 50 still remain today, Saint Vincent Jewelry Center is still housed in a large 1923 building that was once a theater owned by Warner Brothers, and that Bunker Hill was an effort to revitalize downtown Los Angeles.

John Parkinson was the dominant architect over that time period when L.A. transforms from basically an outpost to a booming metropolis. Born in the United Kingdom he moved to Napa California in 1885, and moved to Los Angeles in 1894. Parkinson designed such elaborate buildings as the Alexandria Hotel, the Grand Central Market, Bullocks Wilshire/Southwestern Law School (Fig 1) and the Union Station. The style of architecture was Art Deco which was popular in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. Parkinson used Terra Cota tiles to decorate the outside of his buildings. Parkinson died in 1935 while designing the plans for Union Station with his son Donald.

In the 1920s, the city’s private and municipal rail lines were the most far-flung and most comprehensive in the world, even besting that of New York City. Union Station (Fig 2) draws thousands of admirers and travelers to its location per year. The purpose of Union Station was to unite the three major railroads in Los Angeles, the Santa Fe, the Southern Pacific, and the Union Pacific. Union Station was designed by father and son architects John and Donald Parkinson in the Art Deco style (Fig 3). Union Station opened in 1939 and was in full swing during World War II when it transported military members to their final destinations. By this time, a steady influx of residents and aggressive land developers had transformed the city into a large metropolitan area, with downtown Los Angeles at its center. Commercial growth brought with it hotel construction during this time period several grand hotels, the Alexandria (1906), the Rosslyn (1911), and the Biltmore (1923), were erected and also the need for venues to entertain the growing population of Los Angeles.

Broadway became the nightlife, shopping and entertainment district of the city, with over a dozen theater and movie palaces built before 1932. The Los Angeles Theater was built in 1931 in the French baroque style was famous for kits huge crystal fountain in the lobby and was considered one of the five finest movie palaces in the world. Other notables were the Orpheum, the Million Dollar Theater (Fig 4), the State Theater and the United Artists Theater. The Million Dollar Theater was in the style of Beaux Art which is plain in the middle, elaborate at the top and bottom of the building. Entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Judy Garland entertained the public in these theaters. Numerous specialty stores also flourished including those in the jewelry business which gave rise to the Downtown Jewelry District. Among these is the St Vincent jewelry store which is located in the old Warner Brothers Theater.

Following World War II, suburbanization, the development of the Los Angeles freeway network, and subsequently, increased automobile ownership led to decreased investment downtown. In an effort to combat blight and lure businesses back downtown, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the city of Los Angeles undertook the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project in 1955, a massive clearance project that leveled homes and cleared land for future commercial skyscraper development. This period saw the clearing and up zoning of the entire neighborhood. One site that was hampered during the clearing and up zoning was the Angels Flight a funicular railway. Angels Flight (Fig 5) was designed by Colonel J.W. Eddy in 1901.

The cable car goes up in an incline of 33.5 degree slope for a distance of 315 ft. Angels Flight closed in 1969 for redevelopment and resumed operation in 1996 for a period of five years, shutting down once again after a fatal accident in 2001. On March 15, 2010, the railway once again opened for passenger service following extensive upgrades to brake and safety systems. It was closed again from June 10, 2011, to July 5, 2011, and then again after a minor incident on September 5, 2013. The investigation of this 2013 incident led to the discovery of potentially serious safety problems in both the design and the operation of the funicular, and Angels Flight service has been suspended since and is currently being upgraded.

Bunker Hill is an effort to revitalize downtown Los Angeles. In 1955, Los Angeles city planners decided that Bunker Hill required a massive slum-clearance project. The top of Bunker Hill was cleared of its houses and then flattened as the first stage of the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project to populate Bunker Hill with modern plazas and buildings. When the height limit of buildings for Los Angeles was finally raised from 150 feet; developers built some of the tallest skyscrapers in the region to take advantage of the area’s existing dense zoning. In approving such projects, the city sought to project a modern, sophisticated image. Many of the older buildings and the early high-rises surrounding Bunker Hill are undergoing adaptive reuse from commercial to residential.

This trend began in 2000, when the Los Angeles City Council passed an Adaptive Re-Use Ordinance, allowing old unused office buildings to be redeveloped as apartments or lofts. Developers realized there was a high level of pent-up demand for living in or near downtown, by both artists and employees of various firms in the financial district and government workers in the Civic Center, and that they could profit by supplying housing to meet such demand. Buildings such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall (Fig 6) and Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral (Fig 7) are located in Bunker Hill.

In conclusion the purpose of the Los Angeles Field Trip was to learn about the many different architectural styles used in developing Los Angeles, to see some of the historical buildings that were built by prominent architects, what contributed to the demise of Los Angeles and to some of its historical landmarks, and what is currently going on to revitalize that area.

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