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Rising Above It All

Two Los Angeleses have an unlikely architectural encounter

November 10, 1996

We've all heard the line, "L.A. has no sense of history." And a walk down our streets may seem to confirm it. Were this Europe we'd be passing buildings steeped in the centuries. Here we're more likely to encounter newly minted malls. There's a reason for this. While Gothic and Byzantine architects had five centuries to adorn St. Mark's in Venice, Los Angeles builders had little time to accommodate the nearly 1 million people who arrived between 1920 and 1930, tripling the city's population.

Most came by railroad, and many found work in warehouses hastily assembled near the tracks. With the rise of the service economy after World War II, however, there were fewer wares to house in these aging structures. Those left standing amid weeds and rusty rails did not exactly tear at the hearts of civic preservationists.

Then in 1991 architect Eric Owen Moss and developer Frederick Samitaur Smith saw a dream in the detritus of an abandoned rail corridor running through Culver City and Los Angeles. That dream has become a redevelopment project named Palindrome, which aims to integrate old and new Los Angeles.

Some of its ambitions--such as parks and elevated walkways along the rail corridor--have yet to be realized. But Moss and Smith have just completed work on a futuristic office building over two renovated warehouses. Called Samitaur, it was created for firms specializing in the so-called new media. The most striking features of Samitaur are sweeping clerestory windows and towering vista points.

The Los Angeles seen from there is not as charming as the old Spanish Mission Style architecture that has symbolized the city's cultural heritage ever since the beginning of the century, when Charles Lummis declared the "rosary bead" of missions along the Pacific coast to be "the best capital Southern California has." Nor is it an idealized version of the present, as typified in the work of Jon Jerde, the architect who designed Universal City's City Walk. It is, instead, an image of the old brick and corrugated metal warehouses from which most of Los Angeles' prosperity emerged, and of the newfangled office structures that we hope will ensure its prosperity in the future.t we hope will ensure its prosperity in the future.

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