Architecture in Los Angeles: Downtown

Los Angeles translates into ‘the Angels’ and it is often called the City of Angels, although the city rarely gets its full name and is regularly called by its initials, LA. Whatever your preference, LA is the second biggest city in the United States with a population approaching four million people. It’s also big in terms of mileage and covers just over five-hundred square miles.

As you’d expect in such a big city, there are plenty of public transport systems to help you to get around and visitors can choose from a wide variety of airports, national and regional train lines, including Amtrak, as well as the LA Metro, which mainly runs underground. In addition, there are a number of Greyhound stops throughout the area and there are also ferries and cabs.

Downtown Los Angeles - Flickr CC sgt_spanky

That said, LA is not famous for its public transport, however effective, and in this city, the car is still king so you might want to think about hiring a car if you’re headed LA way. In terms of car rental, Los Angeles will leave you spoilt for choice so you should have no problem finding your ideal automobile. California is famous for its enormous freeways and a hire car will help you to get around under your own steam. Although the City of Angels is a very modern city in many ways, it is steeped in history and plays host to some wonderful architecture, both old and new. Here are five buildings that you must see.

Starting in the Financial District, the Continental Building (often also known as the Braly Building), was tagged as the city’s first skyscraper when it was built at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts architectural style which later influenced so much of America’s architecture. The upper storeys of the building are particularly ornate and if you look up at the cornice on the very top of the building, you will notice eleven lion heads peering majestically down at you.

Moving to the Theater District, pause to admire the Million Dollar Theater which is an early movie palace, so-called because of the enormous expense of building it. It features Churrigueresque architecture which is an extremely elaborate architectural movement. In keeping with this baroque style, the spectacular arched entrance is richly embellished with various ornamental terracotta flourishes, statues and gargoyles.

For a more modernistic take on LA architecture, go no further than South Grand Avenue in Downtown LA. There, you will find the newly-built Walt Disney Concert Hall which was completed in 2003. This fantastic building houses both the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and the LA Master Chorale. Frank Gehry designed the concert hall in a perfect example of his post-structuralist style (he is perhaps better known as the architect of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain).

Also new in town is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels which is one of the newest cathedrals in the world, completed in 2002. Not only a mammoth place of worship, the cathedral is also a shining example of post-modern architecture which has been built to withstand damage from earthquakes. For example, rather than stained-glass windows, this cathedral features tapestries instead, although there are older stained-glass windows in the mausoleum.

Finally, outside of Downtown, but definitely worth a visit, are the Watts Towers in the Watts District. These towers are really a sculpture created by Simon Rodia in the style of non-traditional vernacular architecture. The towers comprise thousands upon thousands of found objects such as broken glass and seashells, making them an inimitable work of art.

Unsurprisingly, art also plays a huge part in downtown LA and even the most ardent art fans will struggle to take everything in during one stay. You can make life a little easier on yourself by visiting Gallery Row which acts as a local art cluster. If your visit happens to coincide with the second Thursday of the month, then you’re in for a treat as the monthly Downtown Art Walk takes place then. Over fifty galleries stay open late and thousands of people flock to the area to appreciate the art and soak up the atmosphere.

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