Civic Center Tour

What makes this tour important? L.A. – a city of 4 million, is also the county seat for almost 6 million more. This makes the Civic Center the nation’s largest governmental hub outside of Washington, D.C. What’s more, it’s also the nation’s third largest cultural center. And the views from up here…nice!

Tour Starts: Civic Center station.  There are two subway exits: Temple Street and First Street. The tour begins at the Temple Street exit. See Map

Tour Ends: Civic Center Station

How to Get There: If you’re coming from any distance, there are 3 options:

  • By Rail: Take Metrorail! The tour starts at the Civic Center Temple Street exit, within view of City Hall. From the platform follow the signs to “Temple Street.” See for rail transit maps, fares, trip planner and station locations nearest to you. Metrolink and Amtrak trains provide easy connections to Metrorail via downtown’s Union Station.
  • By Bus: See for bus transit maps, fares, trip planner and stops nearest you.   
  • By Car: Parking is available but expensive at any time and any day except Sunday, when street parking is generally available and free. All major arts venues (Disney Hall, Music Center, etc.) offer underground parking. Rates vary.

Tour Length: Just about 2 hours – a bit more if you take time to take in the views atop City Hall or relax in the pedestrian-friendly courtyards.

Optional Side Trips: There are just three…

  1. City Hall Observation Deck (weekdays only): 20 -30 minutes
  2. High School for the Visual and Performing Arts: 10 minutes
  3. Fort Moore Memorial: 10 minutes

How Much Walking? About 1 mile total – most of it over relatively flat terrain. There is the issue of Bunker Hill but the tour beaks up those walks pretty well. This tour is wheelchair accessible.

Tour Cost: Once you’re downtown, nothing. 

When to Go: Most government buildings (City Hall included) are inaccessible on weekends so try to schedule your visit on a weekday. The neighborhood is especially quiet on Sundays but that may be just the way you like it. As with most WalknRideLA tours, the best time to begin the tour is mid- or late-morning between 10 am – 11 am with a mid-tour break for lunch or a snack.

Where to Eat: Click here for ideas and suggestions.

You Can Combine This Tour With:

  1. Union Station Tour: About 2 hours. Follow directions at the end of “The Tour.”
  2. Pershing Square Tour (Part 2): About 1.5 hours. Follow directions at the end of “The Tour.”

Civic Center Background

For some background on the Civic Center area -click here-



–> From the station platform follow the “To Temple Street” signs. Take the escalator or elevator to the street.

You’re standing where, in 1986, the first shovel of soil was removed for construction of L.A.’s first subway. That shovelful was followed by about 4.2 million cubic yards to complete today’s Red and Purple Lines.

Stop 1Civic Park. Rrios Clementi Hale Studios. Under reconstruction, opening expected mid-2012

You’re also standing where, in 2009, groundbreaking on the Grand Avenue Project was expected to begin. It didn’t. At this writing, the status of the Frank Gehry-designed, mixed-use restaurant, retail, residence and hotel center is stalled, in large part for lack of funding necessary to foot the $3 billion + price tag.

What is underway is the park portion of the project, a 16-acre site that will – finally – link the Music Center with City Hall via a four-block “Base Park” (the fundamentals come first; an “enhanced” update will follow as more money becomes available). A complaint of the existing park is that vehicular parking garage ramps and steep grade changes make it difficult to access. The updated park promises to soften the grade changes and give it a greener, more inviting presentation from the sidewalk.

For $56 million, highlights will include added focus on the existing Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain, more open space for festivals, farmer’s markets and picnicking, and more prominence for public art. Later, “enhanced” features will include an event pavilion, cross street traffic calming paving and a Broadway pedestrian bridge.

Still present, just east of the station escalator, is the “Court of Historic American Flags.” Check them out, all 18. If you thought the number of stars on the U.S. flag increased as new states were admitted but there were always 13 stripes for each of the original colonies, look again. A “Vietnam Memorial” (Frank Ackerman, 1973) is at the east end of the court. The base resembles a tombstone, and if fact, was carved by a tombstone manufacturer. The helmet is a replacement; the original was swiped years ago. Over its duration, about 230,000 Angelinos served in Vietnam.

–> Walk up Hill Street towards Temple Street.

The building to the right is the Hall of Records completed in 1962 by the noted home designer, Richard Neutra, and a partner, Robert Alexander. The 15-story structure is one of Neutra’s few high-rise efforts.  A short walk to the left down Temple reveals a reflecting pool and a mosaic wall sculpture (Joseph Young, 1962), both recently renovated. The building’s vertical louvers (image to the right) lessen air-conditioning costs and reduce office glare.

–> At the corner of Temple and Hill Street, cross Temple and then turn left and cross Hill Street. Continue up Temple to the entrance to the cathedral.

number 2Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. 555 W. Temple Street. José Rafael Moneo, 2002

This is the fourth largest cathedral in the U.S. (one in New York City and two in Washington, D.C. are bigger). But none of them are built quite like this one. Like City Hall, this cathedral rests on “isolaters.” In the event of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake, the 150 million pound building can “float” over two feet in any direction. For this reason, as well as its structural integrity, the edifice is designed to last 500 years. Look hard – there are virtually no right angles visible on the building’s exterior. It’s gold-ish color wasn’t painted on, it’s from golden sand mixed within the concrete.

The campanile, tall as a 15-story building, holds four bells that sound by swinging – versus being struck. Two of them are new and two came from St. Vibiana’s Cathedral on Main Street (visited on WalknRideLAs “Little Tokyo/Arts District” tour). One of those older bells first hung at the Mission San Juan Capistrano; the other was a gift to St. Vibiana’s  from the Dominguez family.

Thirty-six more bells are clustered here and there above the Temple Street entrance. None are new; one was meant to hang at William Randolph Hearst’s castle in San Simeon but ended up installed at St. Timothy’s in L.A. and the other 35 formed a carillon at Saint Monica’s in Santa Monica but were removed to storage following that church’s damage in the 1971 Sylmar quake.

–> Enter the 5.6-acre cathedral complex below the carillon wall.

Up the steps to the left is the cathedral itself, big enough to accommodate 3,000 within a main sanctuary reportedly one foot longer than St. Patrick’s in New York City.  The entrance to the sanctuary is below Robert Graham’s “The Virgin Mary,” her halo formed by circular skylight. Alabaster, rather than the more traditional stained glass, admits natural light within the sanctuary. Fountains flow throughout the spacious site, lending the courtyard a welcoming, altogether pleasant place to relax. A sculpture garden occupies one corner of the site; whether you’ve got kids in tow or not, visit it.

Controversy surrounded the new cathedral. When St. Vibiani’s (erected in 1876) was closed following 1994 Northridge quake damage, the church judged it too far gone to renovate. Plus, any renovation would not significantly add to its 1,000-seat capacity. So, plans were made to demolish the old structure and build a new, 3,000 capacity cathedral in its place. Preservationists objected and managed to stop the wrecking ball – already swinging at the site – from further destruction. Eventually the church deferred, secured the present site, and a private developer purchased the old cathedral. But controversy continued, hanging on its post modern (versus tradional or Spanish Colonial) architecture and its price tag – proposed at $150 million and eventually climbing to just shy of $190 million.

–> Return to the cathedral entrance on Temple Street, exit beneath the bells, turn right and walk up to the corner of Temple Street and Grand Avenue.

It’s a Fact…

Temple Street was named after John Temple who arrived town in 1827, one of the city’s first Anglos. He soon became one of the largest landowners within the city. Over the years, there have been no less than five attempts to change the street name; the last, in 1953, to “Civic Center Boulevard.”

Across the street is the Kenneth Hall Hall of Administration (Stanton, Stockwell, Williams and Wilson; Austin Field and Fry, 1960), named for the Second District County Supervisor who served for forty years, beginning in 1952. If you want to go inside, the lobby displays the County Seal and the County Flag – both designed by Mr. Hahn. Also are copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Side Trip - School for the Visual and Performing Arts

Side Trip! Bet your high school never looked like this one!
What you’ll see: Central Los Angeles High School #9, with some of the most imposing architecture. It’ll take about 10 minutes.  Click here to see the “Central Los Angeles High School #9 – School for the Visual and Performing Arts Side Trip.

–> Continue up Temple Street to Hope Street. Turn left, cross Temple and continue to the John Ferraro Building on the right.

John Ferraro Building (fomerly DWP Building).111 North Hope Street. A.C. Martin and Associates, 1964

Here it is: the country’s largest city-owned utility! Almost 1.5 million residential and commercial customers get electricity from here and most everyone in the city gets their water from the DWP. Named for the longest-serving Los Angeles City Council member (35 years), this 16-story International-style building fairly caps Bunker Hill.

Before crossing the bridge over the pool surrounding the building, notice the sunken gardens on either side. Each is planted with drought resistant species, each identified with nearby signage. Steps from Hope Street provide access to the gardens

–> Cross the “bridge” to the John Ferraro Building entrance.

Rising from the pond is the 6-ton bronze sculpture “Colpo d’ala” – “Beat of the wing” (Arnaldo Pomodoro, 1988), presented by the Italian govenrnment on the 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, thanking the U.S. for its $1.5 billion in post-war assistance. The artist felt the sculpture would be enhanced if placed over a reflecting pool. The City of Los Angeles – after doing structural tests on the pond (there’s a parking garage beneath it) chose this site for the piece. That garage, incidentally, appeared in chase scene in the movie, “The Terminator.”

Within the building are exhibits tracing the evolution of the city’s on-going search for water and power. The wall-size images are particularly impressive.

Restrooms are located beyond the elevator lobby.

It’s a Fact:

Los Angeles gets less than 15 inches of rainfall each year, qualifying the city as a “near desert.” So, when you turn on the faucet, where does the water come from? About 89% comes from hundreds of miles away, delivered courtesy of the Los Angeles, California and Colorado Aqueducts. About 10% comes from local groundwater and 1% is from recycled water (used mostly for crop irrigation, recreation and industrial purposes).

–> Exit the building and take in the views from the plaza.

L.A.s streetplan “grid” does not run exactly north/south, east/west; it’s skewed slightly to the northeast, so don’t be pulling out your compass or GPS.

East: Look for City Hall, six blocks to the east. If the day is clear, beyond City Hall rise the San Gabriel Mountains, below which is the city San Gabriel Mission.  It was from there, in 1781, that 44 settlers set ou off on a 9-mile walk to found the pueblo of Los Angeles.

South: The sunburst atop the Central Library should be visible four blocks to the south. Around and beyond it are the bulk of skyscrapers of L.A.’s “new” (post World War II) downtown. Closer in is the unmistakable Disney Hall.

West: You may be able to make out the “Hollywood” sign from here. Once a separate municipality, Hollywood – when it was still mostly a farm and citrus region – agreed to annexation with Los Angleles in 1910 so as to gain access to the city’s water.  If it’s really, really clear you may able to make out Santa Monica Bay, 16 miles away.

North: In the distance are the Santa Susana Mountains, reportedly about a foot taller since the 1994 Northridge quake. The quake’s epicenter, about 20 miles to the northwest, was a result of the action of tectonic plates: the Pacific Plate (on which you stand) grinding past the stationary North American Plate. In fact, all the mountains within your view are the results of those crushing forces. Speaking of “crushes,” closer in you may be able to make out ramps and overpasses of L.A.’s celebrated “Four Level Interchange.”

Today, newer freeway interchanges out-wow it but keep this in mind: the four-level (often lovingly called the “four-hour”) interchange is over 60 years old. As the photo at left confirms, the interchange was finished before the freeways feeding it! While waiting for its traffic to come (and brother, did it come), the interchange managed to star in the 1953 sci-fi flick, “The War of the Worlds” (“Amazing!  Terrifying! The most savage spectacle of all time!” read the tagline). Thanks to Hollywood special effects – for which the film picked up an Oscar – the interchange was vaporized before it even opened.

It’s a Fact:

Did you feel that? Probably not. On average, the Pacific Plate you’re standing on is moving about as fast as your fingernails grow.

–> Cross Hope Street at the mid-block crosswalk and walk up the steps to the Music Center.

4Music Center. Bunker Hill. Welton Becket and Associates, 1964-1967

The idea of a “performing arts center” had been bounced around for decades before becoming reality on December 6, 1964. The city’s first theater (the Merced) squeezed 400 seats into a second floor venue atop retail shops and below the owner’s apartment. Over the years, larger and grander theaters came – and went – often doubling as venues for churches, conventions and sporting events.

Three factors came together to create today’s center: the post World War II surge of population, the designation of Bunker Hill as a redevelopment zone, and Dorothy Chandler. It’s quite likely that were it not for an economic downturn in the late 1950s, the center would have been located in today’s South Park neighborhood, a few blocks from Staples Center. While plans were delayed, the Bunker Hill site became an option and when the economy improved Mrs. Chandler pushed for, and got, the site. She also pushed for, and got, three venues: a home for the philharmonic, a theater and a forum. The latter two opened in 1967. With the completion of Disney Hall in 2003, the fourth building in the complex, the philharmonic orchestra and chorale moved into their new digs, freeing space in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for opera and dance.

It’s a Fact…

Welton Becket and Associates, the architects of the Center (and of the Capitol Records Tower in Hollywood, the Theme Building at LAX and the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium) did more than just design the three original Music Center buildings. They also designed the buildings’ light fixtures, furniture, interior walls and floors – even the dinnerware in their restaurants.

–> Tour the Music Center buildings and plaza. From left (north) to right (south):

Ahmanson Theatre: The rectangular 1,400 – 2,000-seat venue presents major theatrical and musical performances. The Center Theatre Group operates the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper Forum next door and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. Howard Ahmanson was a financier (Home Savings of America, for instance) and his support and contributions to the arts and sciences – and construction of the Music Center – earned him a theater. A 1994 re-design brought audiences closer to the actors, improved acoustics and allowed for a variable seating arrangement. It opened in 1967 to “Man of La Mancha.” 2010 performances included Mary Poppins, Dreamgirls and South Pacific.

Mark Taper Forum: The circular-shaped building was designed for experimental theater. It seats 739 in an intimate, semi-circular fashion. A 2007 update improved acoustics and amenities, including added stalls (now 16, count ’em!) for the ladies restroom. Mark Taper was a real estate developer and philanthropist whose $1.5 million helped fund construction of the forum. Opening in 1967 with “The Devils” starring Frank Langella, the forum hosted world premiere productions including “Angels in America.” Look though the glass doors and you should be able to spot the iridescent abalone tiles on the wall. Exterior murals (detail left) depict movement in dance.

Restrooms are available next to the forum.









Peace on Earth” (Jacques Lipchitz, 1969) is in the site line of City Hall, reportedly making this the most photographed spot in Los Angeles. A reflecting pool was replaced by the water feature you see today. Installed by WET Design in 1989, they’ve done other installations here in L.A. – and the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, too. The plaza also includes “Dance Door” (Robert Graham, 1978, installed 1982), the same artist whose “Virgin Mary” you saw earlier at the cathedral. So, Take your pictures, play in the fountain, walk through the “door” and then squish on over to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: Opening as a concert hall in 1964, the colonnaded structure – the entire center, in fact – recalls New York’s Lincoln Center and Washington’s Kennedy Center. It’s no surprise; all three are products of the late 1950s/early 1960s “monumental style” favored by architects, city planners and the public.

No question about it – Dorothy has a beautiful building in her name with its elegant granite, honey-colored and onyx walls. Glistening chandeliers hang below a gilt ceiling. Zubin Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic on opening night but the venue also hosted the Academy Awards two dozen times – more than any other. The Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, the Academy’s purpose-built venue, won’t top the Pavilion’s record until 2026.

–> From the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, locate the steps leading down to the corner of Grand Avenue and First Street (in the direction of Disney Hall).

Across the street to the left is the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, (Paul Williams, 1958) named for the longest-serving justice on the California Supreme Court: 37 years!  Probably due to its sloping site, the building competes with the Westin Bonaventure Hotel as among the city’s most confusing layouts – not what you want to hear if you’re reporting here for jury duty. The three sculptures (Albert Stewart, 1956) are, from left to right: Moses representing Mosaic Law, King John holding the Magna Carta and Thomas Jefferson doing the same with the Declaration of Independence.

–> Step to the corner of Grand Avenue and First Street. Cross First Street and enter the Walt Disney Concert Hall lobby.

Stop 5Walt Disney Concert Hall. 111 South Grand Avenue. Frank Gehry, 2003

Listed here as a separate attraction, “Disney Hall” is part of the four-building Music Center complex. It’s home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Lost Angeles Master Chorale, as well as the separate Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater (REDCAT).

Gehry designed the hall from the inside out, giving first priority to the musicians’ comfort and their essential ability to hear one another. Secondly, he wanted an intimate venue, one that would connect the musicians to their audience – a tough challenge given its 2,265 seats. Finally, he wanted a distinctive structure, one that would tie all the otherwise chaotic pieces together (the concert hall, its foyer, support rooms, parking garage, an outdoor amphitheater and a park) with the center and the city.


By virtually all accounts, he succeeded. From the street, the building is a symphony of movement with swoops, dips, rises, pauses and crescendos. Its exterior appears erratic with little form or structure yet within the hall (the remarkable design by Yasuhisa Toyota) it’s a surprisingly symetrical, organized space. The acoustics are excellent – so excellent that when all is quiet, the sound of a crackling candy wrapper carries across the hall. So excellent that Salonen, the hall’s first conductor, caught incorrect notes written in the musicians’ scores – errors never noticed before.

It’s a Fact:

While most of Disney Hall’s stainless steel exterior panels are polished to a matte finish, portions on the west side sported a mirror-like finish. So bright were those panels (especially the concave sections) that they reflected and focused the afternoon sun onto nearby condominiums causing sizzling sidewalks and skyrocketing air-conditioning bills. The high-tech solution? Sandpaper.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall (its official name) already stands with City Hall and the Hollywood Bowl as the most recognized structures in the city. An upside: Tours of the Walt Disney Concert Hall & other Music Center venues are offered most every day. A downside: Tours cannot access the concert hall interior (and those French-fry-like organ pipes) due to a heavy practice and performance schedule. But you’ll see most everything else. If you decide to skip the tour you can still check out the concert hall lobby on your own.

Only seven years old and the concert hall already has a long list of movie and T.V. credits including “Iron Man,””Get Smart,” “The Soloist,” “American Idol,” NUMB3RS,” and in cartoon form in “The Simpsons.”

If you didn’t take one of the free tours of the hall, at least take a look into the park that hugs the west side of the structure. Steps lead up from the sidewalk into the park. Plants and trees within the park were chosen to bloom throughout the Philharmonic’s performance season. You can’t miss the Lillian Disney Memorial Fountain – “A Rose for Lilly.” Walt’s wife loved Delft porcelain and she loved roses so the fountain is shaped like a rose and covered with pieces of Delft porcelain. Tiles and vases were broken down and fitted on site. Just around the corner, past the fountain, are the  two amphiteaters – also worth a look-see. If you’re feeling adventurous, locate the exterior stairways past the amphitheaters that lead up the Grand Avenue side of the building. Great views views of town!

–> Continue through the park and down the steps to Grand Avenue. Turn right and continue along Grand Avenue. Cross Second Street.

On the right, below the bridge (Grand Avenue has both an upper and lower level, the latter  mostly for service vehicles) is a parking lot. One day it will be a parking garage, and above it, a major art museum.

Broad Collection. Grand Avenue. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, completion scheduled for 2013

Here’s that same lot, but now with a $130 million art museum housing Eli Broad’s collection of contemporary works. That collection is estimated at about 2,000 pieces, 300 of which will be on display at any one time in the 35,000-square, honeycomb-clad exhibition space. Also included will be offices for the Broad Art Foundation. For out-of-towners, Eli Broad (rhymes with “road”) is a housing developer-turned billionaire philanthropist who a decade back helped spur construction of the then-stalled Disney Hall project. The announced construction of this museum will, hopefully, also push construction of the now-stalled Grand Avenue Project mentioned earlier on the tour.

–> Continue down Grand Avenue to Third Street. Turn left and cross Grand Avenue and walk left to the entrance plaza at MOCA.

Museum of Contemporary Art. 250 South Grand Aveneu. Arata Isozaki, 1986

This museum opened in 1986. But while under construction, in 1983, MOCA opened the doors of its “Temporary Contemporary” in Little Tokyo. Housed within what was once a hardware store turned city warehouse turned LAPD car garage (Frank Gehry worked his usual magic on the space) the “temporary” was so well-received, it remains today (see it on the WalknRideLA “Little Tokyo/Arts District” tour).  An additonal venue is within the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

OK, if it is exceptional artwork executed after 1940 its eligible for presentation here at MOCA. Works by Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Ed Ruscha, Willem de Kooning, Piet Mondrian, David Hockney and Jackson Pollock are part of its permanent collection. But you don’t have to go inside to enjoy your time here. The plaza includes public art and it’s a great place to relax and snack mid-way in your tour.

Tickets range from $5.00 – $10.00; free on Thursdays after 5 pm; closed Tues. & Wed.


–> Walk down Grand Avenue (towards Disney Hall).

On the right, you’ll pass the Colburn School (Hardy Holzman and Pfeiffer, 1998). The school’s mission statement is “to provide quality performing arts education in an optimal learning environment.” Well, with a concert hall, a music pavilion, a theater, and a forum just up the street and a contemporary art museum next door, the Grand Avenue “environment” makes for a good start! The complex includes theaters, classrooms, studios and practice rooms, a library, student housing, and even the studio of Jascha Heifetz, designed by Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) and re-assembled here.

–> Continue down Grand Avenue to Second Street. Cross Second Street and continue to First Street.

–> Turn right and walk down First Street.

As you turn to go down First Street, look across to the corner. That’s Abraham Lincoln staring back at you. Records show that our sixteenth president is the nation’s most “monumented” figure but he’s almost hidden from view here. Maybe that’s because L.A.’s electorate chose presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas over Lincoln in the 1860 race? The 564-lb bronze bust (Merrell Gage, 1961) was originally installed within the courthouse; he was moved to the street in 1988.  

–> Cross Olive Street and continue down to Hill Street.

The parking lots to your right are slated for mixed-use developement under the Grand Avenue Project. The project is stalled (save for the park component, which broke ground in July, 2010) pending additional funding. Stay tuned.

–> Cross Hill Street and then cross Broadway.

Los Angeles Times Building. 202 West First Street. Gordon B. Kaufmann, 1935

As noted in the Los Angeles Times website, when this Art Deco/Moderne structure opened in 1935 it was “…the largest  building in the western U.S. designed and occupied entirely as a daily newspaper publishing operation.” Well, there you have it.

 The newspaper was founded on the city’s centennial year of 1881. It stumbled during its first year of operation until one Harrison Gray Otis stepped in and turned the paper around. He also turned it into an ultra-conservative, anti-labor journal, prompting union terrorists to dynamite the paper’s building in 1910. Twenty employees died in the blast. New headquarters were rebuilt on the same site and then rebuilt a block east at today’s location, replacing the once-classy Nadeau Hotel (first four-story building in town and the first to serve those floors with an elevator). The eagle atop the clock tower survived the 1910 explosion.

Erected during the depression-era years of the Works Progress Administration, the building’s architecturural style is often labeled “WPA Modern,” a look that’s typically strong and monumental – precisely the look owners would want to convey during troubled times. To wit:Kaufmann also designed Hoover Dam, opening the following year. Above the entrance are three limestone sculptures crafted by Merrell Gage: Father Time (note the hour-glass), Spirit of the Times (a knight defending liberty), and Johannes Guttenberg (the guy who introduced moveable type to Europe).

An addition (down Spring Street to the left) was added in 1948 (Rowland H. Crawford) and an extension – there is a difference, you know – was tacked on to the building’s right in 1973 (William L.Pereira and Associates). Like the original building, the addition has sculptures, too. Go inside to view the lobby murals painted by Hugo Ballin – who also did the murals at Griffith Observatory and at One Bunker Hill (Southern California Edison Building). An early-1960s “update” of the lobby once covered some of the murals with aluminum panels. Also within the lobby is a timeline that traces the paper’s history. Below the central globe is a relief (Harold F. Wilson) depicting important events in local history.

The paper is no longer printed here. Since 1990, the local edition has been printed at a plant south of downtown. Printing factory tours, which originate here, can be reserved. Click here for more information.

–> On exiting the building, turn right and walk to Spring Street. Turn right again and walk one block to Second Street.

The Los Angeles Times Building Extension is in the Corporate Modern style of the times – something of a cross between Art Deco and more boxy, Corporate International style soon to follow. If you look up you should be able to spot those sculpted figures on the side. Left to right: Culture, Justice, Faith, Progress, and Equality (sculpted by Harry D. Donato Company and Ivan L. Adams).

Now look on the building’s corner for a bronze plaque. Quite the historical site, this is. Here on this corner was L.A.’s first brick (as in permanent) school, “school #1.” A few years later the site served as the offices and corral for the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. With the onset of the Civil War the office went to the U.S. Quartermaster and the corral to camels from Ft. Tejon. Later, the camels were sold at auction, the building leveled and up rose the old City Hall.

–> Return to the corner of Spring and First Street. Turn right and cross Spring Street.

LAPD Headquarters. 100 West First Street. AECOM, 2009

It took about three years and $437 million but Los Angeles now has a big (500,000 sq ft.) spanking new police headquarters. Some controversy surrounds the building’s current location and future name, hardly a surprise given its next door neighbors: City Hall and the Los Angeles Times. The new building consolidates offices formerly spread out in several different buildings.  About 2,300 LAPD officers and civilian employees work here.

See what you think of the animal sculptures (Peter Shelton, “sixbeaststwomonkeys,” 2009) lining the Spring Street side of the building.

Parker, Parks, Park – all are catchwords linking some of the L.A.P.D.’s building controversies. The previous police headquarters was named for Chief William Parker. It was during what many called a heavy-handed tenure that the 6-day Watts Riots erupted in 1965. Bernard Parks, LAPD Chief from 1997 to 2002 (during the Rampart Division scandal) nevertheless suggested the new headquarters maintain the Parker Center moniker – which to date, it hasn’t. And finally, the city had originally promised to build a much-needed downtown city park on the site. As you can see, it didn’t.

–> Cross Main Street to 100 South Main Street.

It’s unlikely you had trouble finding #100, the Caltrans District 7 Building. The building incorporates that street number into the façade lending a “Hollywood” sign-like prominence to the place. This gray building is green; exterior panels along its Main Street side open and close automatically, timed to reflect or absorb the sun’s heat. The Second Street wall is faced with photovoltaic cells producing 5% of the building’s energy. Over 2300 Caltrans andLADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) employees work here.

If you look down Main Street, past Second Street, you’ll see St. Vibiana’s (Ezra F. Kysor, 1876). When it was built, Los Angeles was still a frontier town loaded with saloons (about one for every 50 residents), weekly shoot-outs, and the occasional public lynching. Yet Pope Pius IX himself named the cathedral and the remains of the recently-sainted Vibiana – a 3rd century Roman martyr – were sent from Rome to California. The cathedral was condemned following the 1994 Northridge quake and Vibiana’s remains were stored and then moved to a crypt beneath the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the building you saw early on this tour. Saved from the wrecking ball, St. Vibiana’s is now “Vibiana” – an events venue for fund raisings, cocktail parites, fashion shows, weddings and wedding receptions.

–> From the corner of First and Main Streets (Caltrans Building) cross First Street.

Ever wonder about the city’s street numbering and naming scheme? At this corner, you’re standing at the city’s street naming/numbering epicenter – its “ground zero.” North of First Street, all city streets take on the “north” prefix; South from here they start with “south.” Main Street divides east from west. Generally, each block outward adds a hundred to the steet number; Caltrans is at 100 South Main, Vibiana’s is 214 South Main, and so forth (even numbers on the east and south, odd on the west and north).

The sign at the northeast corner of this intersection marks the city’s “Sister Cities” and their distances and directions from our epicenter. Who knew Split, Croatia and Berlin, Germany – among over a dozen others – are Sister Cities to L.A.?

Just a half-block up the street on the right, within a pocket park next to City Hall East (a busy little place during City Hall’s long renovation), is the “Eleanor Chambers Memorial Fountain,” (Howard E. Troller, Hanns Scharff, 1974). Eleanor was a popular Deputy Mayor in the 1960s, affectionately nicknamed “Mother.” The fountain is affectionately nicknamed “Dandelion,” for obvious reasons. The park makes a nice spot to sit and break from the tour.

–> Return to the corner (the “Sister Cities Sign”). Cross Main Street and turn right, walking up to the Main Street entrance to City Hall. Enter the through the “Visitors” door.

City Hall. 200 N. Spring Street (public entrance from Spring Street). John C. Austin, A. C. Martin, John and Donald Parkinson, 1928. 

It’s rumored, though not confirmed, that the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – was the inspiration for City Hall’s tower. You decide – both are shown here.

The 1920s was L.A.’s decade; the city had just surpassed rival San Francisco in population, construction cranes filled the sky and the metropolis was getting a new City Hall – far bigger than the state’s capital, it was noted. Possibly to signal the city’s “arrival,” sand from each of  the state’s 58 counties and water from each of its 21 missions was added to the concrete mix that forms the tower. There was a limit to the budget, however. The lower floors are sheathed in granite but the upper floors are finished in money-saving, looks-like-granite terra cotta. You can’t tell the difference.

Although a 150-foot height limit was already in place (not because of earthquakes but to preserve a low-rise appearance) voters approved a special allowance (see “It’s a Fact,” below). City Hall exceeded the limit by a whopping 300 feet and remained the tallest building in town for decades. The height limit was lifted in 1957 and within a decade or two, dozens of buildings exceeded its height.

Sadly, most Angelenos have never set foot in this, their city’s most important structure. Some aren’t even aware that from its 27th floor observation are the best views of downtown. Its third floor rotunda is just as impressive. And if your visit coincides with an earthquake, know this: the 95,000-ton structure is supported by 526 “base isolators” allowing it to move independently of the ground. It’s designed to sustain an 8.1 quake.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew alone, nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. A year later, with the 26-year old aviator in attendance, President Calvin Coolidge threw a switch in Washington, lighting the “Lindbergh Beacon” atop the spanking new Los Angeles City Hall. Thus went a 3-day celebration (produced by none other than Hollywood’s Sid Grauman) that included marching bands playing and Irving Berlin singing. Like a lighthouse, the beacon identified L.A.’s tallest building, its beam completing six rotations a minute.

Probably because of World War II blackout restrictions, the beacon was removed to a city warehouse – and forgotten. A few years before the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the beacon was found and repaired. Then, after the $299 million renovation and seismic retrofit of City Hall was completed in 2001, it was put back where it belonged – atop the 454-foot tower. It operates just fine, though only for certain events. Want to see what the beacon sees? Click here for a view from City Hall’s peak! 

Side Trip - City Hall's Observation Deck

Read about the best view in Los Angeles – click here.

–> Stroll through the Rotunda and exit the building on the Spring Street side. Walk down the steps, through the forecourt to Spring Street.  Turn right and walk up to Temple Street.

It’s a Fact:

Spend a few minutes online and you’ll read all sorts of myths circling around on L.A.’s City Hall height. To wit:

  • For decades, no building in L.A. could be taller than City Hall.” Not true. When City Hall went up, L.A. already had a height limit of 150 feet. By voter approval, City Hall was granted an exception to the limit. The 18-story, 257-foot U.S. Courthouse (1940) exceeded the 150-foot limit but because it was a federal building, it was exempt from the municipal height restriction. The 150-foot limit remained until 1957.
  • Until 1957, no building in L.A. could be taller than 150 feet. Not true, either. The ruling restricted leasable office space to the 150-foot limit. Mechanical rooms, smokestacks, signage, etc. could exceed that height. As a result, particularly during the spire-loving Art Deco period (think Empire State Building)  L.A. buildings customarily climbed well above the limit. Thanks to a beautiful neon clock tower and buttressed smoke-stacks, downtown’s Eastern Columbia Building (1930) soars 264 feet above the street;  the now-demolished Richfield Building (1928) stood 371-feet tall, sporting an oil-derrick-like sign tower. The building exceeded the limit by a factor of two!

Stop 11U. S. Courthouse.  312 N. Spring Street. Gilbert Stanley Underwood, 1940.

The imposing 18-story structure presents a late “Art Moderne” style, something of a cross between the Art Deco that preceeded it and the Corporate International style (think of “the box”) that followed. The base is polished granite, the rest is faced in terra cotta. As mentioned in the “It’s a Fact” above, this building, along with City Hall, were the lone exceptions to the city’s height limit for leasable office – 150 feet.  It’s the city’s third federal courthouse – the second on this site.

This “New Deal” building wasn’t built by the Works Progress Administration but by the Public Buildings Administration. An important difference was that with the latter, a mandate required 1 percent of the construction costs be devoted to artwork and design embellishment. That concept was a forerunner to today’s “Percent for Art” programs embraced by cities, including Los Angeles.

It’s a Fact…

Here, in the U.S. Courthouse in L.A., paternity suits filed against Charlie Chaplin and later, Clark Gable, were heard. Bette Davis filed a breach-of-contract suit against Warner Brothers Studio and during the “Red Scare” of the early 1950’s, it was in this courthouse where Hollywood stars presented their testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Some were black-listed. Daniel Ellsberg and the “Pentagon Papers” case was heard here, too, as was that of John DeLorean (the guy who designed the gull-wing, time-traveling car depicted in “Back to the Future“). Accused of using drug money to salvage the troubled DeLorean car company, he was acquitted.

–> Turn right and walk one block to Main Street.

At the corner to the left, accessed by the pedestrian bridge above Temple Street, is Fletcher Bowron Square, named for L.A.’s tough-on-corruption mayor of 1938-1953. The square is adjacent to the ill-fated the Los Angeles Mall and the equally ill-fated “Triforium.” Meant to create a shopping, dining and people place for nearby office workers, the mall never took off, at least in part because it’s hidden from the street and its access is confusing.

Like the mall, the “Triflorium” sculpture (Joseph Young, 1975) was well-meaning. But from the start, it was the sculpture everyone liked to take poke fun at. An integrated computer program was to create a sound and light show emanating from the tower – the world’s first such public art application – but it never really worked. Art experts derided it, politicians labeled it “Trifoolery,” and the few pedestrians who wandered by wondered what the heck it was. It’s dedication by Eddie Albert and Burl Ives proved its high point. In all fairness, it’s likely even Michaelangelo’s “David” would suffer at the obscure location.

To most, what was here is more interesting than what is. The city’s first newspaper, the “Los Angelas Star” (a Spanish language insert “La Estrella” was included) had its offices here from 1851 till it shut down in 1879. The three-story Baker Building was here, too, a Second Empire structure with cast-iron Corinthian pilasters. It’s believed the city’s first telephone switchboard was located here as was the city’s first elevator. The elevator wasn’t powered by steam or electricity; immigrant Chinese muscle-power raised and lowered the apparatus.

Also within the block was the Bella Union Hotel. Built as a private adobe home in 1835, it was purchased by Governor Pio Pico and served as Alta California’s last capitol during the relatively short-lived Mexican era. In 1850, after serving time as a saloon, it began life as a hotel. A second floor and then a third were added. It changed its name to the Clarendon Hotel, then to the St. Charles Hotel. In 1940, its name became “parking lot.”

In 1858 the Bella Union Hotel opened a depot for the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage. Mail was the priority but passengers took the 2,333-mile, 21-day journey from St. Louis. The “Bella” was hardly a class act but to someone arriving L.A. by stage it must’ve looked like the Ritz. (Riders continuing on to San Francisco faced 4 more days of dust and bumps.) Ship travel to L.A. was longer, more costly but more civilized. On “steamer days” the Bella Union and the Lafayette, a competing hotel across the street, met arriving ships at San Pedro. Each line promised the “fastest” run up to Los Angeles and out-and-out races took place, with downtown merchants and residents waiting in the street to wave in the winner. You have to wonder what the passengers thought.

–> Return back up Temple, past the U. S. Courthouse on your right. Cross Spring Street and continue up Temple Street.

To the left is the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, a mouthful, so the building is still called the Criminal Courts Building (Adrian Wilson Associates, 1972). It’s here where in 1995 one O.J. Simpson faced Judge Ito during a nine-month double murder trial – the longest jury trial in California history. More recently, the building is where record producer Phil Spector was sentenced for murder, following an earlier mistrial.

Hall of Justice. 210 W. Temple Street. Allied Architects of Los Angeles, 1925

The building on the right side of Temple is no less famous for bad behavior. The formidable Beaux-Arts Hall of Justice, the oldest building within the city’s Civic Center, was closed due to damage from the 1994 Northridge quake. It’s now believed the closure was unwarranted. Look up to the columned floors; a closer inpection reveals bars over the windows. That’s the jail where Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan spent time. The building’s basement included the County Coroner’s morgue. Autopsies on both Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe were performed here.

On a lighter side, the T.V. shows “Get Smart,” “Dragnet” and “Perry Mason” featured the Hall of Justice. Despite a money crunch, the tough economy has also brought down construction costs, renewing talks of restoration.

–> Continue up Temple Street, crossing Broadway to Hill Street.

You’re back in familiar territory; to the left is the Hall of Records Building you saw earlier on your tour. Straight ahead is the Music Center (left) and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (right).

Side Trip

Want to See L.A.’s best-known forgotten memorial?  Click Here.

–> Turn left and return to the Civic Center station.

Your WalknRideLA “Civic Center Tour” ends here at the Civic Center station. Thanks for walking along with us!

If you’d like to add either the WalknRideLA “Union Station Tour” or either Part 1 or Part 2 (the whole tour would be too long) of the WalknRideLA “Pershing Square Tour” to your day, follow these directions.

  • Union Station Tour: By subway – Enter the Civic Center station. If you bought a Metrorail Day Pass, you’re covered. If not, purchase your ticket at the vending machine. Proceed down to the next level and wait on the “To Union Station” side of the platform. When a train comes, board it for Union Station and then follow that tour.
  • By foot – Walk from Hill Street (where you are) to Union Station. Just follow the map and allow about 15 minutes for the walk.
  • By bus – If it’s a weekday, pick up the DASH “A” bus (35¢) on Temple Street, out front of the Criminal Courts Building. Three stops puts you at Union Station.


  • Pershing Square Tour: By subway – Enter the Civic Center station. If you bought a Metrorail Day Pass, you’re covered. If not, purchase your ticket at the vending machine. Proceed down to the next level and wait on the “To Wilshire and Western” / “To North Hollywood” side of the platform. When a train comes (doesn’t matter which one), board it and get off at the next Station – Pershing Square. If you want to do Part 1 of the Pershing Square Tour, follow the exit sign “To Pershing Square” and then follow that tour. If you’re up for Part 2, take the “To Angels Flight” exit. At street level, you’ll easily spot Angels Flight, just a half-block up Hill Street. Follow the Part 2 of the tour from there.
  • By foot – If you prefer to walk to Pershing Square – it’s easy. Walk four blocks south on Hill Street to Angels Flight (for Part 2) or continue another block to Fifth Street (for Part 1). Allow about 15 minutes for the easy walk.