Saturday, July 3, 2010

Downtown Art Deco

Los Angeles has a rich collection of Art Deco buildings because the city underwent a period of expansion in the 1920s and 1930s. Last month, I went on the L.A. Conservancy's downtown Art Deco walking tour and this post includes pictures of some of the buildings that we saw on the tour.

The Eastern Columbia Building (849 S. Broadway) was built by Architect Claude Beelman in 1930 as the headquarters and retail center for the Eastern & Columbia clothing and furniture companies. The building was converted into luxury residential condos in 2007. Bright blue terracotta tiles and gold trim decorate the building's exterior. The facade includes many zig-zag and chevron ("v" shape) patterns typical of the Art Deco style:

Art Deco architects sought to emphasize verticality as a symbol of modernity and progress. Strong vertical lines dominate the Eastern Columbia Building's facade and extend all the way up to the clock tower:

A turquoise and yellow terracotta sunburst decorates the vestibule over the front entrance of the building. The vestibule's ceiling also includes more of the ubiquitous Art Deco chevron patterns:

The Sun Realty Building (629 S. Hill St.) is another 1930 Claude Beelman building clad in colorful terracotta tiles and dominated by strong vertical lines:

Art Deco designs often drew inspiration from Mayan and Egyptian art and architecture. Here is a detail of the green terracotta tilework on the Sun Realty building that was inspired by an Egyptian papyrus motif:

Most of downtown L.A.'s Art Deco buildings are less brightly colored than the vibrant Eastern Columbia and Sun Realty Buildings. The Title Guarantee Building, located on the northeast corner of Pershing Square at 411 W. 5th St. and built by John and Donald Parkinson in 1929-1931, is clad in stone-colored terracotta tile:

The Title Guarantee Building's rooftop tower looks like a modern version of a Gothic structure and even includes stylized flying buttresses:

Architects Allison and Allison built the Southern California Edison Building (601 W. 5th St.) in 1930-1931. The building's octagonal entrance is topped with beautiful bas-relief friezes by artist Merrell Gage. Below the reliefs are more of the common Art Deco zig-zag patterns.

Here is a detail of the frieze depicting hydroelectric power. The flow of water from the urn is so stylized that it is almost a zig-zag:

Although this semi-nude figure in the central panel looks classical, his torch is illuminated with a modern light bulb rather than a flame:

The architectural details in these Art Deco buildings are beautifully designed and crafted. Here is a detail of the glass doors to the Oviatt Building (617 S. Olive St.), designed by architects Walker and Eisen in 1927-1928:

The exterior marquee and the interior of the Oviatt Building are decorated with glass made by French glass designer Rene Lalique. Here is a detail of a frosted glass panel from the interior of the building:

The terracotta grillework over the front entrance to Claude Beelmans' 1929 building at 850 S. Broadway uses stylized flower and vine motifs that were popular in Art Deco designs:

A detail from the beautiful bronzework over the front entrance to the William Fox Building (608 S. Hill St.) built by S. Tilden Norton in 1931:

Below is a map of the buildings included on the L.A. Conservancy's downtown Art Deco walking tour. The Art Deco tour leaves from Pershing Square at 10 AM every Saturday. The tours cost $5 for Conservancy members and $10 for non-members. If you participate in the tour, you also receive an excellent pamphlet produced by the Conservancy from which I obtained much of the information in this post. I highly recommend the tour for anyone interested in Art Deco architecture or downtown Los Angeles. I also recommend that people who are interested in historical preservation and conservation join the L.A. Conservancy (basic membership is $40).

View Downtown Art Deco in a larger map


  1. Absolutely amazing - the detail is stunning.

  2. I can't wait to see these sights with my own eyes!

  3. I never knew I was missing so much by hating LA. Thanks.

    1. Well it is fashionable so to do and has been for some time; dating back to the big traffic snarls and smog of the 1980s.

  4. thanks very much.. i need this for my report this afty... thnks for the interpretatioons of the structure of the buildings.. exaclty what im looking for!

  5. Thank you , Thank you , Thank you.
    I have long adored this big brawling, quirky, beautiful 'sub-rosa' town.
    You highlight one aspect of it that is not well known. Los Angeles architecture, and building arts (tile etc) are not well know, but they are so exhilerating ! It's just stunning when you stand in the middle of the Bradbury Building for the 1st time, or notice that amazing clock in the turquoise Eastern building.
    Again, thank you, you have a finely calibrated artists eye.

  6. Thanks for your comment Trudi. I agree with you that LA's buildings are under-appreciated. Before I moved here last year, I certainly did not realize what a rich architectural history LA had.

  7. Your posts are rich, interesting, and informative. I appreciate the education, as I really love my city! What a wonderful site to stumble upon! I will take this tour as soon as possible! Did you know there are also food tasting tours of Los Angeles? I think that's such a lovely way to get to know a city. If you Google it, you will find many. Thanks again, and enjoy!

  8. very nice pictures

  9. i am from san bernardino, and i cant remember the name of the large building just on the west side of the los angeles river as we came into town on the san berdoo freeway(the 10). all i can remember is it had one of those huge, old lighted style signs on the roof. anybody got any info on that?

  10. Wow!!! amazing photos!!! Please let me invite you to my blog with photos of buildings and monuments in Buenos Aires.

    Regards, Andres

  11. Im blown away to happen upon you. I lived in LA for years and fell in love wih all the deco. Have you checked ou the friezes at Holywood High? A;so between LaBrea and Crescent Heights off Wilshire are stunning old apartment bldgs. You can spend all day driving around Hollywood and see so much. How about Bullocks Wilshire(the old original one) ..just gorgeous. You are very lucky to have lived in the bay area and now Lalaland. I feelIve found a kindred spirit. I can't wait till Im alone to read all your blogs. Thank you so much for caring. I have the "Adam & Eve" DeLampicka picture on my wall...I would never have thought anyone who liked art would have misinterpreted it to be vile. Hope to see more of you. Regards, Payntlips

  12. Hi Vanessa

    I recently spent a few days in LA and your blog was a great source of inspiration. I loved the downtown Art Deco buildings and also the Gamble House. Thanks a lot for your efforts.