The Renovated Glendale Central Library

GL 01 Wide

Months ago I was walking through Glendale and came to the corner of Harvard and Louise, where I saw something that freaked me out. The Glendale Central Library was surrounded by chain link fencing covered with green fabric. I knew that meant construction crews were working on the building, and I expected the worst. I love libraries, and the Glendale Central Library has long been one of my favorite places in LA. This brutalist beauty was designed by Welton Becket & Associates and opened in 1973. Its severe concrete exterior contains a wonderfully spacious interior that I’ve wandered through many times. I have fond memories pulling a few books off the shelf and sinking into a cozy chair in the ground floor reading area. When I saw they were remodelling it, I immediately expected the worst. I knew they were going to wreck the place.

But I was wrong. I have to give credit to the City of Glendale, and everyone else involved with the project. The renovated Central Library is total success. While there are a number of changes, they took care to respect the character of the original building. The entrance used to be from the parking lot on Louise. Now there are two entrances, one on Harvard and one at the rear of the library. In addition to upgrading the auditorium and the teen space, several new components have been added, including a Maker Space, a Digital Lab, and a Remembrance Room.

GL 11 Ent Harvard 2

The main entrance has been moved to the Harvard side of the library.

GL 12 Ent Terrace

An open area has been added adjacent to the new entrance.

GL 14 Front Lndscp 2

New landscaping on Harvard.

The City of Glendale chose Gruen Associates to oversee the renovation, and Debra Gerod headed up their team. Historic Resources Group was the preservation consultant. There were numerous others involved with the project, from City staff to individual contractors, and I hope they’ll forgive me for not mentioning them all by name.

GL 20 Ent Back

Another entrance was added at the rear.

GL 22 Stairwell 2

While the entrance on Louise has been closed, no alterations have been made to that side of the structure.

GL 30 Int Low

Here’s a shot of the lower level.

GL 32 Int Up

And here’s a shot of the upper level.

Renovating a historic building is a complex undertaking. Glendale wanted to take their 40+ year old Central Library and bring it into the 21st century, making sure it remains a relevant and useful part of the community. They did a beautiful job. I’m impressed.

GL Front Landscp 1

Don’t Destroy the Past

W&B in W Hlwd

This is pretty last minute, but I just found out about a historic building in West Hollywood that could be demolished as part of a proposed development. I hadn’t heard anything about it until I opened up my e-mail this afternoon. A friend forwarded a message to let me know that this structure, designed by Wurdeman & Becket back in the thirties, might be wiped off the map unless we take immediate action.

The building, located at 9080 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, was originally the Jones Dog and Cat Hospital. Architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket created a classic example of the streamline moderne style to house the veterinarian’s practice. As a firm, Wurdeman and Becket were active in the thirties and forties, their most famous creation being the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, which burned to the ground many years ago. After Wurdeman’s death, Becket’s new firm, Welton Becket & Associates went on to design some of the city’s most striking structures and played a huge role in defining the look of mid-century Los Angeles.

For more info about the building, click on this link.

Los Angeles Conservancy

And then if you decide you want to tell the West Hollywood City Council how you feel about this, here’s another link. See the left hand column for contact info.

Save the SMB Streamline Moderne

LA has made great strides in preservation over the last several years, but we’re still losing important parts of our past. The recent demolition of a building by Morgan, Walls & Clements on La Brea was a shock, and should be reminder to those of us who care about our city’s culture that we need to be vigilant and vocal.

Hollywood Journal – Preservation Prevails

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

I spent a good part of 1998 freaking out over Pacific Theaters’ plans for “renovating” the Cinerama Dome. The initial proposal involved gutting the auditorium, removing the curved screen and putting a fast food restaurant in the lobby. The film and preservation communities protested loudly. To their credit, the people at Pacific met with the opposition and made a number of important concessions.

If you’re not into film, and if you don’t care about Hollywood history, you might be mystified by the uproar. So let me offer a little background….

Cinerama was a process that revolutionized the production and exhibition of films back in the early fifties. Three strips of film were projected in perfect synchronization to create the illusion of a continuous widescreen image, accompanied by stereophonic sound playback. The image was shown on a huge curved screen to produce an early version of what we now call immersive entertainment.

In the early sixties, Cinerama, Inc. unveiled an ambitious plan to create hundreds of Cinerama theatres based on a radical new model. They would construct geodesic domes using prefabricated panels, which would supposedly allow them to build a theatre in half the time and for half the cost of using conventional methods. They purchased a site on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and hired the firm of Welton Becket and Associates to design what would become the Cinerama Dome.

The premiere of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

The premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

Becket’s company was one of the major architectural firms in the city at that time, and played a large part in setting the look and tone of mid-century Los Angeles. To my mind the Dome is something of a companion piece to one of their earlier signature creations, the Capitol Records Building, which is just a few blocks away on Vine. Together these two icons helped to define space age architecture.

Of the theatres that were constructed to show films in the Cinerama process, only a handful are left today. The Dome is a unique creation designed by one of the most important architectural firms in the city’s history. That’s why so many of us got so crazy when we saw the initial plans to renovate it. I will always be grateful to Pacific for listening to the community and preserving the Dome.

The two pictures above are from the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive. The first shows the dome under construction. It was taken by Howard D. Kelly in 1963. The second shows the premiere of the film that the Dome opened with, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It was also taken in 1963, but no photographer is credited. Below are some photos I took of the Dome and the area surrounding it back in 1998. Sorry that the quality isn’t better. They were taken with a disposable camera, and have faded over the years. A couple of photos were taken from Morningside Court, which used to go through to De Longpre, but was closed off with the construction of the Arclight parking structure.

February, Nineteen Ninety Nine

For weeks I’ve been meaning to write abut the latest on the Cinerama Dome. Here it is.

Apparently the people from Pacific Theaters sat down and talked with the preservation people, and the end result was Pacific gave up a lot of the changes they were going to make. As I recall, these are some of the things pacific agreed to.

The entrance will remain at the front of the theatre.

The layout of the seating will stay basically the same, though they will be putting new seats in.

They won’t alter the ceiling of the auditorium.

And —

They’ll keep the curved screen.

I’m actually really grateful to Pacific for giving in on all this stuff. I doubt they understand why the Dome is such a great piece of architecture, so from their point of view the preservationists are going crazy over nothing.

Of course, we still don’t know what the Dome is gonna look like when they’re through. But at this point I’m cautiously optimistic.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west.  The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west. The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

A Walk Around Downtown

As many people have pointed out, LA is different than most major cities. New York, Chicago, and San Francisco all have suburbs surrounding them, but people still go downtown for work, shopping, entertainment. Years ago that was also true of LA. When I was a kid my dad worked downtown, and we went there regularly for one reason or another. But over time the suburbs kept spreading farther outward, and many of them gradually became self-contained communities. There are a lot of people who live in LA who have never been downtown. What’s more, they don’t ever want to go there.

I love downtown LA. I go there often. Last month I made a couple trips downtown with a camera. What follows is a record of my ramble through the city center. So if you’re too busy or too tired or too scared to make the trip yourself, this will give you a taste of what you’re missing.

I started by taking the subway to Union Station. The photo above shows the main entrance. I was hoping to include a link with photos of the interior, but I couldn’t find a single site that did it justice. You can, however, just search for images of Union Station. There are many of them on the net. Trust me, it’s worth taking a look.

Olvera Y

Right across from Union Station is Olvera Street. Sure, it’s a tourist trap, but it’s the coolest tourist trap I know of. You may have to fight your way through the crowd, but there are some restaurants that are worth the trouble. And it’s part of the historic core of LA. Among other things, you’ll find the Avila Adobe, the oldest building in the city.

Plaza Y

Right next door to Olvera Street is the plaza that sits at the center of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, a state historic park. The plaza is surrounded by a number buildings that date back to the nineteenth century, when this was the center of activity in the city.

Chinatown 1 YIt won’t surprise you to learn that Chinatown got its name because it was home to a large Chinese community. These days, though, the name may be misleading since the area seems to be mostly drawing immigrants from Vietnam and Thailand. Now the largest Chinese communities are located in the San Gabriel Valley. Walking along Broadway, I have to say my impression was that the area is past its prime, but I see that some interesting events are taking place there in the next few months. Maybe I just caught Chinatown on a slow day.

Musician YThis is an image of a woman playing traditional Chinese music. I passed another street musician, an older man, singing songs that sounded like they must have come from the old country. Sadly, these people are part of a dwindling minority. My impression is that even in China traditional music is quickly being forgotten as people rush to embrace pop, rap and techno. It’s frightening how Western pop culture buries everything it can’t market. When this older generation dies off, will there be anyone left to sing the old songs?

Tents

A tent settlement on Spring Street. Homelessness continues to be a problem all over LA.

LT First

Little Tokyo is one of my favorite places to go, partly for the food, but I also just like the vibe. This is a row of shops and restaurants along First Street. And just around the corner….

LT Plaza 2

….is the Japanese American National Museum. The building on the left is the historic older building which I believe houses the museum’s offices. The newer building on the right is the exhibition space, and I have seen some very cool shows there.

St V Sign 2

As I was walking down Second, I looked up and saw St. Vibiana. It’s one of the oldest buildings in the city, and we’re lucky it’s still standing. During the nineties, the Archdiocese made a deal with the City of LA to tear the cathedral down. The process was stopped by preservationists, who managed to get a court order which halted the demolition. Today it serves as a performing arts center and event venue.

StairsI was walking down Broadway and passed this doorway and it caught my eye. The stairs lead up to an organization called SHARE! which provides services for people dealing with a variety of issues. I looked up their web site and found this.

SHARE! empowers people to change their own lives and provides them a loving, safe, non-judgmental place where they can find community, information and support.

Walking through some parts of downtown there is definitely a sense of desperation. While gentrification is rapidly turning some neighborhoods into upscale enclaves, just around the corner you’ll find people living in total despair. I guess happening across this stairway I felt like I’d found an unexpected message of hope.

Bradbury 1I fell in love with the Bradbury Building years ago, and I try to visit it whenever I can. It has been standing at the corner of Third and Broadway since the end of the nineteenth century. The interior is gorgeous, but unfortunately these days only people who have business with one of the tenants can go above the first floor.

The Bradbury Building was designed by George Wyman, and the story of how he got the job is pretty unusual. To learn more about how it was created, and to get a glimpse of the inside, click here.

Broadway used to be the original theatre district in LA. In the photo below, the Bradbury Building is on the left, and on the right hand side you can see the Million Dollar Theater, which is where Sid Grauman set up shop when he first came to LA back in nineteen eighteen.

Broadway
Grauman didn’t stay on Broadway long. In a couple of years he moved to Hollywood, where he first built the Egyptian and then the Chinese.

LA Theatre 3Farther down Broadway you’ll find the Los Angeles Theatre. This spectacularly gaudy movie palace was designed by S. Charles Lee, who designed many other theatres during his career. The first film to play there was City Lights. I’ve been inside only once, years ago, and I have to say it was pretty amazing. The lobby alone was worth the price of admission.

Unfortunately, it’s only open for special screenings these days, but if you get the chance I urge you to check it out. The Los Angeles Conservancy sponsors a series every summer called The Last Remaining Seats, during which they show films at some of the old movie palaces. The bad news is that this year’s screening of All About Eve at the Los Angeles Theatre is sold out. But you can check out photos of the interior on the theatre’s web site. Use the menu on the left to see images of the lobby, auditorium, etc..

Restaurant
This was taken at the corner of Sixth and Main. Upscale restaurants seem to be proliferating rapidly downtown.

People Street
Meanwhile there are still plenty of people who can’t even afford a cup of coffee. These folks don’t even have tents.

MC 1
The Music Center is another mid-century classic by Welton Becket and Associates. It’s comprised of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum, and was completed in nineteen sixty seven. Becket believed in “total design”, meaning that he encouraged his clients to have the firm create not only the structure, but also furniture, carpeting, signage, dishes and flatware. Originally the Music Center did have an amazing unity of design, but in recent years there have been a number of additions to the plaza, and I feel like they’ve messed the place up. Still, the individual buildings are stunning. In nineteen ninety four, Ellerbe Becket Architects supervised some alterations to the Ahmanson, and the end result actually works pretty well.

Library 1
And this is where I ended up, as it was getting close to seven pm. The western entrance to the LA Public Library. I took this photo, then got back on the subway and went home.

The Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

The CapitolRecordsTower is a Hollywood landmark.  It is totally unique, and helped set the stage for the era of space age design.  But it’s not just the look of the structure that makes it significant.  It’s one of a number of buildings designed by Welton Becket and Associates within the city of LA.  Becket was involved in creating some of the city’s most distinctive buildings, including the Pan-Pacific Auditorium [destroyed by fire] and the MusicCenter.  His work helped to define the look of mid-century LA.

Capitol Records is one of two Becket buildings that have become Hollywood icons.  The other is the Cinerama Dome, located just a few blocks away.  In light of the threat that the Millennium Hollywood project poses to the status of the former, it might be useful to review the recent history of the latter.

Cinerama Dome

Cinerama Dome

In the late nineties, Pacific Theaters presented a plan for redeveloping the Dome.  There was a huge public outcry, because in its initial form the plan would have meant ruining the Dome and building a nondescript mall around it.  To Pacific’s credit, they listened to the community, went back to the drawing board and came up with a far better design.  Not only did they refurbish the Dome and restore it to its place as a Hollywood landmark, they also added a beautiful state-of-the-art multiplex which includes a restaurant, bar and patio.  The completed complex was a welcome addition to the community, and it offers the best experience you can have in a commercial movie theatre.

It’s doubtful that the developers behind the Millennium Hollywood project will reconsider their plans, which would erase Capitol Records’ presence on the Hollywood skyline.  I like to think that the LA City Council might actually listen to the community and reconsider their support for the project.  But maybe that’s too much to hope for.