In the 1920's downtown Los Angeles hummed
with prosperity and the psychic rush of living in the city of the future. It was an amazement that the place had been built
and 'dressed to the hilt', starting with dusty pueblos and sagebrush, in less than 40 years.
Sidewalks teemed with folks dressed for
business. Cafes, drugstores, banks, and major department stores were crowded with busy, starry-eyed, and ambitions immigrants
from 'back east.'
Fashionable mansions surrounded the city
center, from Bunker Hill to the Adams district. Pacific Electric cars whisked riders to, from, and around downtown. The Richfield
Oil building gleamed in black and gold deco. Newcomers streamed from the Union Train Station.
Stately office buildings along Broadway
and Spring Street welcomed workers with ornate marble lobbies staffed by white-gloved doormen and elevator operators. And
City Hall was the only skyscraper in town.
Today, City Hall, still iconic in movies,
and carefully restored with a seismic retrofit, looks somehow forlorn. Even IT looks misplaced in what is now a fragmented
domain of 4 million people in 500 square miles. What happened?
Gone are the great homes, streetcars,
and stores. L.A. residents famously brag that they haven't been downtown in years (except for maybe a concert at the Dorothy
Chandler or an auto show at the Staples Center).
Money continues to be dumped downtown
in hope of revival. The cardinal built a massive cathedral on Temple Street, pushed up against the freeway 'stack.' The 'new'
Pershing Square sits atop a multi-story garage.
In spite of huge investments in office
buildings, condo towers, public art, and fountains, the place is an uninviting, downright spooky, place for a Sunday
afternoon stroll. Profiteers are buying up condo units before they're built, and reselling them. Guess they don't want
to live there.
By persistently forcing new development
downtown, city planners really missed the mark. If the "traditional downtown" functions had instead been stretched westward,
along the natural spine of the city, Wilshire Boulevard, it's easy to imagine that Los Angeles would by now be a 21st
century world showplace.
But, after all, this is Disney land.
Childish dreams won't die, and it's hard to distinguish between illogic and fantasy. Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall
in downtown L.A., with its relentlessly optimistic swoops, swirls, and sails, is deeply `Angeleno,' and, also, strangely misplaced.
Tower of Los Angeles City Hall, 1927.
Architect: John Parkinson.