The endless sun, the brilliant stars, lofty dreams and hallowed heights, the city of Los Angeles is perhaps best known for its skyward-facing attractions. However, it’s on the street level where this city truly shines. In a city ever looking towards the next big thing, it’s architectural scene manages to contain a mix of the timeless and the futuristic, making these iconic buildings and structures just one of the indelible signs that LA is a place like no other.
Open since 1935 on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, here stargazers and skyline watchers alike can get their fill of LA enjoyment. Created by the last will and testament of landowner Griffith J. Griffith, this Depression-era building served as a training site for West Coast-based pilots and NASA astronauts. The observatory underwent a thorough renovation from 2002 to 2006, enhancing it’s exhibit space while restoring and preserving the building’s timeless Art Deco charms.
The 1930s weren’t just a Golden Age for the movies, they gave Los Angeles some of its most cherished and timeless buildings as well. Coming half a decade before the Griffith Observatory, this fellow Art Deco masterpiece sits in the famed Historic Core of the Broadway Theater District in Downtown LA. Here, preservation efforts have paid off mightily, keeping this iconic site’s turquoise terracotta facade and majestic clocktower standing just as tall as they did on opening day in 1930.
Built by a solitary Italian immigrant using scrap metal, the Watts Towers have stood watch for generations over their namesake neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Over a period of 33 years, Sabato “Simon” Rodia, a construction worker by trade, gathered metal, concrete, and found objects in his spare time, aided by neighborhood children who brought him additional “building materials.” Rodia left the area soon after the towers were finished, but thanks to careful preservation efforts by the community as well as the National Register of Historic Places, these mighty structures look to stand as L.A. originals for many more decades to come.
Although some might argue it’s too young to be an icon, 2003’s Frank Gehry masterwork has made a century’s impact on Los Angeles’ streetscape in a relatively short time. The LA resident, dubbed “the most important architect of our age” by Vanity Fair, put his signature so-called deconstructivist style to great use in this structure in Downtown LA. Part of the larger Los Angeles Music Center complex, the Disney hall on Grand Avenue merges cutting-edge acoustics with audacious structural design, exactly the kind of forward-thinking combination that has served LA well throughout the city’s history.
The oldest commercial building in Downtown LA, the Bradbury building went up in 1893 and has a rich history in film and commerce in the heart of the city. Much like a lot of Los Angeles, deeper investigation reveals unexpected character and fascinating detail. While the Italian Renaissance Revival facade of the Bradbury is aesthetically pleasing in its own right, the interior is where the building truly shines. The intertwining wrought-iron and wood, naturally lit central atrium is a sight to behold, with a mood that changes as the sun rises and sets each day.
No list of iconic LA structures would be complete without this unmistakable construction just north of Hollywood and Vine. The thirteen-story tower, built to resemble a stack of records, is Capitol Records’ West Coast headquarters as well as home to Capitol Studios, where an innumerable amount of great albums were recorded by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Iron Maiden. The first record label HQ on this side of the country, Capitol leadership decided to show their LA pride with a red light blinking “HOLLYWOOD” in Morse Code at the building’s apex. That light hasn’t gone out since 1956, a beacon of regional brilliance with a strong foundation beneath.