That the monumental Los Angeles City Hall has been selected as the first project in a joint public and private effort to restore historical public buildings is altogether fitting.
Since its completion in 1928, the neo-classical styled, pyramidal-topped tower dominating the civic center downtown has been the city's most prominent public structure. Indeed, until the late 1950s it was, at 28 stories, the city's tallest structure.
With its granite-based exterior exuding civic solemnity and its richly detailed interior projecting a more fanciful mood, it is still very much an architectural delight, despite the increasing display of the ravages of time and neglect.
"Just think how much nicer, how much more spectacular, city hall would be if we would repair the water damage, clean and repaint the ceilings, throw out the cheap acoustical tile, polish the bronze doors, replace the tacky furniture and improve the lighting," said Katherine Moret as we explored the nooks and crannies of the building recently.
Moret, who is executive director of the nonprofit Project Restore effort, described such details as the sculpted door panels at the building's main entrance in the arcaded forecourt off Spring Street. Through a haze of grit, the six panels commemorate major events in the history of the city.
She and aide Jean Creswell also called attention to the Byzantine motif of the central rotunda, the exquisitely decorated domed ceiling ("Look closely at the symbolic characters there"), the monolithic marble columns ("Each are of a different marble"), the hanging bronze lanterns ("See the silhouettes of the patterns and figures") and the designs in the floor ("I love the bronze boat and green marble waves").
Everywhere we went--into the ornate chambers of the City Council and Board of Public Works; the vaulted elevator; south, east and Main Street lobbies, and up and down the halls--Moret and Creswell pointed out the obvious care and pride that went into the original $5 million construction.
"But then we have this," Moret added, pointing to the dirt and grime, the worn carpeting, the raw garbage cans and makeshift signage encrusting the Main Street lobby. "To think that dignitaries, or just anyone, has to come through here makes me so ashamed. How do we expect citizens to have pride in the city when we keep our City Hall like this?"
Heritage at Stake
Not waiting for an answer, Moret went on to describe the organizing and fund-raising efforts of the project. "It is going to be expensive--just doing a study of what needs to be done to restore City Hall is going to cost $200,000--but it must be done. At stake is our heritage."
Chairing the project board of directors is architect Albert C. Martin, whose father, Albert C. Martin Sr., was one of the building's designers. Other members of the design team were John Austin and John and Donald Parkinson. Involved in the interior design were Austin Whittlesey, Herman Sachs and Anthony Heinsbergen.
Meanwhile, the building with all its warts is very much on display Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There also are free, escorted tours, which can be arranged by calling (213) 485-4423 or by visiting the tour desk in the east lobby.
At the end of my tour, Moret handed me a brochure describing the project. On the cover was the statement that "the creation of great architecture is a measure of a culture's genius--the preservation of these monuments is a measure of a culture's character." It seemed an appropriate challenge.
"Maps? What maps?"
The self-guided tour maps of local architectural landmarks mentioned in last week's column, alas, proved nonexistent. They were to have been made available to the public at the Assn. of Collegiate Schools of Architecture conference, promised by the chairman of the host committee, Robert Harris, dean of the USC School of Architecture.
Harris said with regret afterward that there were only a few hundred annotated lists of the landmarks available and these were quickly depleted early Saturday morning.
When an additional 300 or so persons (including myself) descended upon the association's desk at the Biltmore Hotel downtown, there were no maps, or lists.
Harris said the association simply had not anticipated the demand by the public for such materials, and he apologized for any inconvenience.
For those who contacted me and others still hungry for guides to the eclectic architecture of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Conservancy sells a variety of annotated tour maps to specific areas, including Hollywood, downtown and the Miracle Mile. For information on how to obtain the guides, please call the conservancy at (213) 623-CITY.
There also are several books that could serve as a basis for self-guided tours. These include "Architecture in Los Angeles: A Compleat Guide," by David Gebhard and Robert Winter (Peregrine Smith), "The City Observed: Los Angeles," by Charles Moore, Peter Becker and Regula Campbell (Vintage) and "LA/Access" by Richard Saul Wurman (Access Press). Enjoy.