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Itinerary: Gargoyles


Gargoyles never seem to go out of style. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks placed animal-headed statues and masks of the deities on building rooftops. In Medieval Europe, they were more functional-as waterspouts, or downspout covers. It's those odd, grotesque and comically scary gargoyles that continue to pop up in 21st century design.

Robert Bartlett, professor of medieval studies at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and editor of the book "Medieval Panorama," says that while art from the Middle Ages is often seen as profoundly religious, "Everywhere there was a spare space a different spirit prevailed. High up on the edge of rooftops, threatening monsters or comic grotesques looked down, perhaps intended to scare off demons, certainly prompting a laugh or shudder as well as usefully channeling rainwater away from the walls below."

Gargoyles started appearing in the U.S. during the Gothic revival movement at 19th century universities and colleges. Caricatures of college deans and presidents can be found on many college rooftops. Gargoyles reared their ugly heads in Los Angeles during the 1920s, where they were purely decorative additions to Gothic Tudor-style private homes and public buildings.


Nestled among the bikini and surf shops in Marina del Rey is the bastion of all things French, 12 Washington Restaurant (12 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey, [310] 822-5566). The exterior of the restaurant resembles a charming French country house. But in the middle of the front wall, a grotesque mask leers over the street.

Above the entrance, tiny gargoyles cavort in various positions. The west wall also features a gargoyle painting, in case you don't get the point. Chef Jean Guy Couture's menu features French food specialties such as escargot but offers some good California dishes as well. The interior is a cozy, well-lighted comfort zone popular with locals.

Koreatown is probably the last place you'd expect to find gargoyles, but there's a whole gaggle of them inside the popular nightclub Le Prive (721 S. Western Ave., [213] 381-7007). Designed by Young Lee, Le Prive has a huge dance floor surrounded by Maya-inspired Frank Lloyd Wright-style columns topped by big winged gargoyles that stare down at the dancers. Dress fancy at this club. The bouncers can be scary but no match for the Gothic monsters inside.


Hollywood is a bastion of Gothic revival architecture. Across Highland Avenue from the new Hollywood and Highland complex stands a 1927 Meyer and Holler bank building (6777 Hollywood Blvd.) that features some great gargoyles near the top of the building. Architects Meyer and Holler were no strangers to the theatrical, having also designed the Egyptian and Chinese theaters.

Getting past the big winged dog gargoyles may be easier than getting past the bouncer at the entrance to the Gate (643 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, 8:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., [818] 342-2171 for information. No cover before 11 p.m.). This chic club offers four bars and two smoking patios. Celebrities have been known to hang in the VIP lounge. The rest of us can dine to the music choices of DJ Chris Paul.


In 1929 in Southern California, the 16-story Villa Riviera (800 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach) was second in height only to Los Angeles City Hall. Dog, bear, eagle and griffin gargoyles grace all sides of the building, which was once owned by Joseph M. Schenk and his then-wife, actress Norma Talmadge. Designated a city landmark, the building was an early condominium and still houses private residences, so the gargoyles are best seen through binoculars.

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