Downtown Architecture Walking Tour, Los Angeles

Downtown Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), Los Angeles

Los Angeles means many things to many people, but it undoubtedly has some of the most significant architecture in the world. The city of LA was one of the centers of the art deco movement and features a great number of amazing historic houses, monuments, as well as modern buildings. Take this self-guided tour to explore the most beautiful buildings in Los Angeles.
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Downtown Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Downtown Architecture Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Los Angeles (See other walking tours in Los Angeles)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: ashley
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
  • Los Angeles City Hall
  • Bradbury Building
  • Million Dollar Theatre
  • Grand Central Market / Homer Laughlin Building
  • Millennium Biltmore Hotel
  • US Bank Tower
  • Los Angeles Central Library
  • Fine Arts Building
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

1) Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and holds the seat of the Archbishop. It is a Roman Catholic Church unlike any other you will see in the city.

The church was built in 2002 to replace the Cathedral of St Vibiana which was damaged during an earthquake in 1994. The plans to demolish the old cathedral to build the new were stopped by conservationists, who wanted the new church incorporated into the old. This was impossible if the building was to meet with seismic laws, so a new site was found.

Built by the architect Rafael Moneo, the church is startlingly postmodern, with no right angles and a base isolated structure. The windows are of alabaster instead of stained glass and the doors are in sculpted bronze. The interior is softly lit and you can admire tapestries of the Communion of Saints by John Nava, a postmodern statue of the Virgin Mary by Robert Graham and a huge pipe organ, 60 ft high and set 24ft off the ground. The 6019 pipes include many from the 1929 organ from the Cathedral of St Vibiana.

The church stands on a 6-acre plaza with gardens, fountains, a mausoleum with 1270 crypts, a gift shop, a cafeteria, and a conference center.

Do go in – they have wonderful music, and you might be fortunate enough to have an organist give you a recital!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 6:30am-6pm; Sat: 9am-6pm; Sun: 7am-6pm
Los Angeles City Hall

2) Los Angeles City Hall

A lot of tourists visit the Los Angeles City Hall, not to see the mayor, but to visit the observation point on the 27th floor, which will give you a wonderful view out over the city – and even Catalina Island on a clear day.

The building, which stands on North Spring Street, was built in 1928 to designs by Parkinson, Austin and Martin. Its Art Deco/Art Modern façade is 138m high and has 32 storeys. Apart from the mayor’s office, it also houses the Los Angeles City Council Chambers and offices.

The tower is built of concrete symbolically made from sand taken from each of California’s 58 counties and mixed with water from the state’s 21 Spanish missions, which spread the Christian faith among the Native Americans between 1769 and 1823. The topmost part of the tower was inspired by the description of the Mausoleum of Mausolus in Halicarnassus.

In 1994, after the Northridge earthquake, the curtain wall terracotta and granite façade was restored. Between 1998 and 2001, the building was given a seismic retrofit and 526 base isolators were fitted, making it the tallest base isolated structure in the world, capable of withstanding an earthquake of up to 8 on the Richter scale.
Bradbury Building

3) Bradbury Building

While you are walking along South Broadway, you might pass the Bradbury Building with barely a second glance at its simple Italian Renaissance Revival façade. If you have, turn around and go back, or you will kick yourself later for missing one of the gems of this city.

The exterior isn’t really very interesting, but the interior is quite simply breath-taking. The building, the oldest commercial structure in Los Angeles, was commissioned in 1893 by self-made mining and real estate millionaire, Lewis Bradbury.

Bradbury first approached Sumner Hunt to design it for himself, but he wasn’t pleased with the results. The project was given to Hunt’s draughtsman George Wyman, who had no architectural experience. According to legend, during a séance on an Ouija-board, Wyman’s dead brother told him to take on the project. Wyman was inspired by “Looking Forward”, a book by Edward Bellamy, who gave his idea of how an office building would look in the year 2000.

The five storey interior is centered round a “courtyard”, naturally lit by the glass roof far overhead. This courtyard isn’t particularly wide, but it is amazing, with its pale brick walls and Mexican-tile floor. There are two open-cage elevators with wrought iron gates. At each end of the building, geometric staircases lead to the floor above. The staircases and walkways overlooking the court are a delight of wrought iron filigree and highly polished wood.

The interior has been used as the backdrop of many TV series and films, notably “Blade-Runner”, as a poster on the wall proudly claims. Visitors are welcome, but only to the lobby and the 1st floor. The staff in the lobby are helpful and will give you details about the building, which is now used as private offices.
Million Dollar Theatre

4) Million Dollar Theatre

The Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles is one of the first movie palaces built in the United States. It opened in 1917 with the premiere of William S. Hart's The Silent Man. It's the northernmost of the collection of historical movie palaces in the Broadway Theater District and stands directly across from the landmark Bradbury Building. The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Million Dollar was the first movie house built by entrepreneur Sid Grauman. Grauman was later responsible for Grauman's Egyptian Theatre and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, both on Hollywood Boulevard, and was partly responsible for the entertainment district shifting from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood in the mid-1920s.

Sculptor Joseph Mora did the elaborate and surprising exterior Spanish Colonial Revival ornament, including bursts of lavish Churrigueresque decoration, statues, longhorn skulls, and other interesting features. But many think its interior is even better than the exterior, beautiful and classic. It is said that the theatre cost over a million dollars to build, hence its name.

Million Dollar Theatre has had an eventful life over the past century, even being the home of a church for some years. Nowadays the theatre is home to special movie screenings that feature historic theatres in the Broadway district of Downtown Los Angeles.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Grand Central Market / Homer Laughlin Building

5) Grand Central Market / Homer Laughlin Building (must see)

The Grand Central Market (or GCM as the regulars call it) is a rare place in Downtown LA (DTLA) which serves both as a watering hole for locals and an authentic piece of LA's architectural history for tourists. Opened in 1917, it has been continuously in operation ever since!

GCM's stated mission is lofty: "to celebrate the cuisines and cultures of Los Angeles … to preserve the legacy of a historic downtown landmark … to gather the city's many communities around a shared table" – and it does a very decent job of all that, across 30,000 sq ft of space that encompasses a food emporium and a retail marketplace.

The landmark building that houses the market was commissioned by retired Ohio entrepreneur Homer Laughlin and was the city's first fireproofed, steel-reinforced structure when finished in 1898. Originally built in the Beaux Arts style, it underwent subsequent modifications that drastically changed its appearance, including the addition of a tile façade in the 1960s which hid the second-story windows. Along with the adjacent Million Dollar Theater Building, it underwent a major renovation in the 1990s in the course of which residential units were added, creating DTLA's first true mixed-use developments in decades.

GCM's original vendors were Jewish delis, fishmongers, greengrocers, and butchers, with additional stalls for coffee, cheese, baked products, dry goods, eggs, and so forth. As DTLA continued to evolve, the market kept pace, now offering a wide range of cuisines – Mexican, Thai, Peruvian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Mediterranean – as well as desserts and beverages, including ice cream, coffee, pressed juices, beer, wine, and a lot more.

Among the well-known names presented at GCM, you can find McConnell's Fine Ice Cream, Belcampo, Roast-To-Go, Eggslut, Sarita's Pupusaria, Horse Thief BBQ, and Wexler's Deli.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–10pm
Millennium Biltmore Hotel

6) Millennium Biltmore Hotel

The Millennium Biltmore Hotel is a luxury hotel located opposite Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles. In 1969 the Biltmore Hotel was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles.

The interiors of the Biltmore Hotel are decorated with: frescos and murals; carved marble fountains and columns; massive wood-beamed ceilings; travertine and oak paneled walls; lead crystal chandeliers; cast bronze stairwells and doorways; fine artisan marquetry and mill work; and heavily embroidered imported tapestries and draperies. Most notable are the frescoed mural ceilings in the main Galleria and the Crystal Ballroom, which were hand painted in 1922 by Italian artist John B. Smeraldi, known for his work in the Vatican and the White House.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
US Bank Tower

7) US Bank Tower

The US Bank Tower isn’t open to public tours, but you should go and see this wonderful building anyway, which is one of the city’s icons and is the 47th tallest building in the world.

The building, also known as the Library Tower, stands on West 5th Street in Los Angeles’ business area. It is 310 metres high, with 73 storeys and two underground parking levels. Built of glass and steel with a white granite curtain wall, it was designed to resist an earthquake of up to 8 on the Richter scale. Its architecture of overlapping spirals and cubes make the building both circular and square. It was built in 1989 by the architects Pei Cobb Freed and Partners.

On top of the building, in accordance with building laws, there is a heliport – the highest in the world. The glass crown on top of the tower is illuminated at night; the colours vary depending on the day, the season and even on which of Los Angeles baseball or basketball teams is playing in the city.

You will probably recognize the tower, as it has been used as the backdrop of various films – it has the distinction of being the first building destroyed by the aliens in Independence Day!
Los Angeles Central Library

8) Los Angeles Central Library

The historic Central Library Goodhue building was constructed in 1926 and is a Downtown Los Angeles landmark. The Central Library was designed by the architect, Bertram Goodhue. The Richard Riordan Central Library complex is the third largest public library in the United States in terms of book and periodical holdings.

Architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue designed the original Los Angeles Central Library with influences of ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture. The central tower is topped with a tiled mosaic pyramid with suns on the sides with a hand holding a torch representing the "Light of Learning" at the apex. Other elements include sphinxes, snakes, and celestial mosaics. It has sculptural elements by the preeminent American architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie, similar to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska, also designed by Goodhue. The interior of the library is decorated with various figures, statues, chandeliers, and grilles, notably a four-part mural by illustrator Dean Cornwell depicting stages of the History of California which was completed around 1933. The building is a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fine Arts Building

9) Fine Arts Building

The Fine Arts Building on West 7th Street is aptly named. Not because its 12 storeys house Fine Art – they don’t, they are offices – but because the building itself is unique in Los Angeles.

Built in 1926 by the architects Walter and Eisen, the façade is Romanesque Revival with a two storey Romanesque arch over the main entrance with decorative artwork over the doors featuring griffons, gargoyles and birds. On the jambs you will notice carved figures that look like saints so you might be forgiven if you think you are about to enter a church. On each side of the main arch are reclining statues of Architecture and Sculpture. Other sculptured figures can be seen near the top of the building.

The lobby is quite amazing. It is two-storey and decorated in terracotta and tile with a tiered ceiling and arches. In the centre of the lobby is a small fountain with two statues kneeling in the water and another in the middle that reaches towards the ceiling. Around the walls are figures representing architecture, ceramics, painting and textile arts. There are also the original 1928 showcases, which were destined to hold exhibition pieces. Over the three elevators are the original dials to indicate the floor numbers.

The building was renovated in 1983 and carefully restored to its original beauty by the developers Ratkovich and Bowers and the architect Brenda Levin and is classed a Historic Culture Monument.

Walking Tours in Los Angeles, California

Create Your Own Walk in Los Angeles

Create Your Own Walk in Los Angeles

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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El Pueblo and Little Tokyo Walk

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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Movie Studios Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
Chinatown Walking Tour

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LA Downtown Walk

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The history of Los Angeles – "a bright and guilty place," as Orson Welles described it – began on September 4, 1781, when a group of 44 Spanish settlers established a hamlet on the territory of present-day Downtown LA which they called “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels” (El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles).

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles
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Beverly Hills started to gain prominence in the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles

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