The Los Angeles Conservancy offers at least eight different walking tours around downtown L.A. It would be great to go on all eight of them, but we had to pick one so we went with the “Historic Downtown” tour. The tour takes you through Pershing Square, Grand Central Market, and Angels Flight Railway, and takes you to (and sometimes into) the Pacific Center, the L.A. Central Library, One Bunker Hill, the Million Dollar Theatre, and the Bradbury Building.
We met our tour guide, Kay, along with about 15 others at Pershing Square. Pershing Square was founded as a public “park” way back in 1781. The 5 acre plot of land has been through a number of different stages. It once served as a campground for travelers, and only decades ago, had fallen into a state of disrepair with a strong presence of homeless individuals. The square can still potentially be used as a campground (e.g. the Occupy movement), and is still populated by homeless individuals. The recent renovations to the square turned it into a concrete park fit with artistic displays. A large purple sculpture (and corresponding fountain) represents the aqueduct system that is essential for the L.A. water supply.
Our tour guide pointed out that the downtown buildings could typically be classified as being air “Art Deco” or “Beaux-Arts” styles, which were each popular in the early 1900’s. Art Deco buildings tend to be tall and pointy while the Beaux-Arts style is associated with a more horizontal design. The Biltmore Hotel, which overlooks Pershing Square, is an example of Beaux-Art. The Biltmore Hotel is a famous hotel in Los Angeles. It commonly houses celebrities, presidents, and royalty, and was formerly known as “the Host of the Coast”. We didn’t get to go inside the Hotel though, that is another tour.
The first building that we entered was the Pacific Center. The building features an impressive large marble lobby. Our tour guide pointed out that many of the old buildings still contain the original hotel directory within the lobby, giving an idea of the original layout and occupants of the building. She also pointed out a neat contraption that individuals used to drop letters from the upper floors down to the mailbox in the lobby. She commented that the “younger folks” have usually never seen one before.
Our next major stop was the L.A. Central Library. It turns out that the L.A. Conservancy was started in the 70’s for the sole purpose of preventing the library from being demolished. After sucessfully preventing it’s demise, the Conservancy is obviously still going strong. We did not get a chance to see much of the inside except for the bathrooms, but many individuals are impressed by the library. You can see the inside if you take one of the Central Library’s (free) independent tours.
One Bunker Hill was the biggest surprise of the tour. I had not heard of this place before, but it was definitely one of the top stops. The building was originally home to Southern California Edison, and contains an impressive internal design, including a number of large murals which look very impressive and likely symbolically convey something very profound.
We made our next epic stop at the Bradbury Building! The Bradbudy Building was famously featured in the movie Blade Runner, and was recently featured in the movie 500 days of Summer. (I am slightly puzzled why everyone likes the movie Blade Runner, perhaps I need to watch it again). I had seen pictures of the interior of the Bradbury Building before, but the pictures could not capture what you see when you see the place in person. The interior of the building contains tall rows of intricate stairs or elevators which are illuminated by the sun through the transparent ceiling. There is also a statue of Charlie Chaplin on a bench. We exited the Bradbury Building into Biddy Mason Park. Biddy Mason escaped slavery and went onto be highly productive and influential in downtown L.A.
We caught a glimpse of the Million Dollar Theatre, but we didn’t go inside, that is for another tour. We walked through the Grand Central Market on our way to our last stop at Angels Flight Railway.
Angels Flight Railway is a funicular railway serving the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles. The Railway operated at a nearby location from 1901 until 1969. It reopened in 1996 a block away from its original location, but closed again after a fatal accident in 2001. Angels Flight reopened again in 2010, taking individuals up the hill from the “Historic Core and Broadway” commercial district to Bunker Hill California Plaza. The railway cars go by the name “Sinai” and “Olivet”. I don’t know which one we rode up on. When you get to the top you may be able to spot the famous bench from the movie “500 days of Summer”. You can distinguish the 500 days of summer bench from the others by a plaque on the back. It is kind of silly.
Keep in mind that no two tours are the same, so if you go on a “Historic Downtown” tour it will be slightly different from the one that I described here. Life can be unpredictable like that.