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A City Lost--and Found

February 18, 1996|Jim Heimann | Jim Heimann is author of "Car Hops and Curb Service: A History of the American Drive-In Restaurant" (Chronicle)

By its nature, the architectural landscape of Los Angeles is in constant flux. Demands on land usage determine a landmark's value, and today's architectural gem could be tomorrow's vacant lot. In a city where change equals progress and any structure more than 25 years old is viewed with suspicion, there remains an impressive array of distinctive buildings, reminding us of what Los Angeles once was and still might be. Herewith a sampling of deceased structures (a) and their remaining counterparts (b):


1a) Pan Pacific Building, above, (William Wurdeman and Welton Beckett): A victim of bureaucratic snafus and civic neglect, the city's premiere example of streamline moderne was destroyed by arson in 1989. It was the centerpiece of a vibrant aerodynamic architectural style that flourished in L.A. during the 1930s and early '40s.

2a) Simon's Drive-In, Tiny Naylor's: Once indicative of L.A.'s preeminent car culture, the drive-in restaurant has been wiped off the city grid. Taking its place at well-traveled intersections is the ubiquitous mini-mall.

3a) Entertainment/Pleasure Piers: Once Santa Monica Bay boasted up to 10 piers, offering amusement park rides, ballrooms, cafes and a Pacific breeze to thousands of pre-Disneyland pleasure-seekers.

4a) Richfield Building (Morgan, Walls and Clements): Redolent of the oil revenue that built it, this black and gold Art Deco masterpiece was leveled in the '60s to make way for high-rises.

5a) Carthay Circle Theater (Dwight Gibbs): Surrounded by a plain of stucco houses, the theater's elegant tower beckoned movie stars out of the hills of Hollywood to the industry's A-list premieres. Though it was demolished in 1969, to make way for corporate headquarters, the surrounding area retains its name.

6a) Wilshire Brown Derby (Herbert Somborn): For all intents and purposes, the symbol of an anything-goes-L.A. is gone. In its place is a silver orb perched on the second level of a mini-mall.

7a) Pacific Ocean Park Entry (Fred Harpman Jr.): Built in 1958, P.O.P was the last remodel of a decades-old amusement pier. The entrance arch was a fluted six-finger design, reminiscent of a starfish, capped by rotating sea horses and plastic bubbles.

8a) Gilmore Stadium Complex (Earl Gilmore, developer): As part of a larger complex that included a baseball field, a drive-in theater, the Pan Pacific Auditorium and Farmers Market, the stadium was the scene of numerous sports activities. Its replacement, CBS Television City, made its demise palpable.


1b) Bullock's Wilshire (John and Donald B. Parkinson): Created a few years before the Pan Pacific, this Art Deco gem sits vacant, in pristine condition, awaiting its reincarnation. The grand porte-cochere at the rear of the building--so the most elaborate entrance opens on to the parking lot, not the street--emphasizes the automobile's powerful influence on Los Angeles architecture.

2b) Bob's Big Boy (Toluca Lake), Pann's, Ships: As heir to auto-restaurant dining, a few Googie-era coffee shops remain scattered throughout Los Angeles, lone sentries in a fast-food world.

3b) Santa Monica Pier (Charles I.E. Looff, et. al.): Although other piers in the South Bay exit, Santa Monica Pier is the last remnant of a bygone era in which concerts, food and amusement rides co-exist.

4b) Bradbury Building (George Wyman): Past the 100-year mark, this remains one of the city's grandest interiors. The stately center court, dappled by sunbeams flowing through the glass skylight, still has its original open-air elevator cages.

5b) Mann's Chinese Theater (Meyer and Holler): Hollywood's most enduring landmark is one of the last links to the glory days of the movie palace. Besieged by tourists who regard its forecourt of movie-star imprints as their Holy Grail, the theater's very existence offers a glimmer of hope that all is not lost in the city of dreams.

6b) Chiat/Day Inc. Advertising (Frank O. Gehry and Greg Walsh): Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's massive binoculars continue L.A.'s tradition of wacko roadside architecture--though Gehry's sleek buildings flanking the parking entrance provide a cool contrast.

7b) LAX Theme Building (Paul Williams): Heralding the arrival of commercial jet travel, this theme building of Los Angeles' airport is a lasting monument to the city's optimism.

8b) The Coliseum (John and Donald B. Parkinson): Upgraded and retrofitted, the grande dame of L.A.'s sports and events venues resides in quiet grandeur amid Exposition Park, awaiting its new role.

Future Saves

Kentucky Fried Chicken Outlet (Grinstein and Daniels Associates): By its nature, this is disposable architecture. A fast-food outlet that deftly serves a mobile Los Angeles, the Neo-constructivist gem at 340 N. Western Ave. is a prime candidate for preservation exemplifying late 20th-century urban-roadside architecture.

Mini-Malls: Fast-forward 30 years from now as most mini-malls self-destruct and it becomes apparent a few good examples should survive. The Post-Modern MM at 3rd and La Cienega deserves landmark status as a prime example of this architectural type.

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