Art Deco Bunker Hill Side Trip

Side Trip! See the Art Deco City Hall, L.A.’s “first skyscraper” and the Walt Disney Concert Hall!

This Side Trip is not wheelchair accessible.

–> Take the escalators up to the top of Bunker Hill.

(Weekend visitors will need to walk the 100 or so steps as the escalators are operative on weekdays only).

–> At the top, pause, turn and take in the views. 

You’ll have one of the best views possible of the Los Angeles Central Library’s pyramid and its “Torch of Knowledge” atop. The bronze sculpture and fountain next to you is entitled “Source Figure” (Robert Graham, 1992).  

Hope Street continues up Bunker Hill from the steps and the fountain.    

–> Join Hope Street, continue up Bunker Hill, crossing 4th Street.

–> Pause on the bridge that crosses above the lower portion of Fourth Street.

A) KPMG Building Photo Op! If you stand in just the right spot, the 45-story, brown granite KPMG Building will appear wafer-thin. Its neighbor in the distance, the 54-story Wells Fargo Building,offers the same effect from Grand Avenue later in the Side Trip.

B) Bunker Hill. This modest-size hill was once home to the city’s rich and famous. But as the wealthy built newer mansions outside of downtown the hill’s real estate declined. It fell into bad times during the 1930s and 1940s as old Victorian homes were subdivided into inexpensive apartments; by the 1960s they’d all been removed or bulldozed, replaced by the International and Postmodern structures you see today.

It’s a Fact…

As you may have guessed, Bunker Hill was named after the famed hill in Boston. A prudent property developer, one Prudent Beaudry, purchased much of the hill, secured improvements (streets and water) and in 1875, the centennial year of the Boston hill, Los Angeles bestowed the official title of Bunker Hill to the promontory.It’s also a fact that although the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston requires 294 steps to climb, ours takes just 102 here on Fifth Street (plus some gentle uphill walking); 189 if you descend it next to Angels Flight on Hill Street.

–> Continue through Wells Fargo Center to Grand Avenue.

C) Wells Fargo Center. Look to your left and you’ll see another view of a paper-thin building, this one the 54-story Wells Fargo Tower.

–> Cross Grand Avenue at the mid-block crosswalk.

Look left for the stainless steel Disney Hall, just two blocks down the street.

–> Enter California Plaza. Take the steps to the left and cross the plaza towards the central area of the Water Court.

D) California Plaza. It’s a popular lunchtime spot for office workers and a favored locale for evening and weekend concerts, too. The water feature constantly changes from shooting geysers to flowing cascades. The creator of the fountain is WET Design – the same folks who did the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. 

E) City Hall. Straight ahead is where you will board Angels Flight. But before hopping aboard the little funicular check out the views! From the plaza’s east-facing railing you should be able to spot City Hall off to the left. Designed by John Parkinson, John C. Austin and Albert C. Martin, the 32-story structure was completed in 1928. City Hall follows the Art Deco sensibilities of the day with its strong vertical emphasis, clean lines, tapered tower (said to be influenced by the shape of the Mausoleum of Mausolus in Bodrum, Turkey) and geometric ornamentation too far from your position to identify. 

Granite faces the lower floors of the building with less expensive terra cotta doing the job for the upper floors. A recent seismic-retrofit coupled with a top-to-bottom restoration has made the building safer while returning it closer to its original look than at any time in recent memory.    

In the distance to the right stands the buff and gold-colored, Beaux Arts-styled Continental Building (“F” on your map) . At 175 feet, it was LA’s first “skyscraper.” If you’ve seen the movie “500 Days of Summer,” then you’ve seen this view; Tom and Summer sat on a park bench right below you and gazed out over this same cityscape.

It’s a Fact…

Hollywood stars depicted riding aboard Angels Flight include Paul Henreid, Glenn Ford and Raymond Burr and Barbara of the Perry Mason TV series. The little railroad has starred in over a dozen movies, including The Glenn Miller Story.

G) Metro 417 Lofts Murals. Look to the grayish building below and to the right – the Metro 417 Lofts. Can you tell which windows are real and which are painted on? Are the window painters real or painted on?

–> Board Angels Flight.

H) Angels Flight. You pay at the top (25¢). Opened on New Year’s Eve of 1901, the fare was just a penny each way but you rode in open-air cars. The fare jumped to a whopping nickel-a-ride in 1908 but the increase brought luxury: enclosed cars – the very ones you’re riding in today. Then as now, Sinai traveled the north track, Olivet to the south. Notice how each car claims an outer rail for itself but shares the middle rail except during the midway passing where they pass with just inches to spare.

Here’s a switch: these wooden cars once carried wealthy residents of Bunker Hill down to their work in the office buildings below. Today, many residents living in those same buildings – now converted to trendy lofts – commute up to their jobs in the skyscrapers atop Bunker Hill.

The ride takes all of a minute. Arriving at the bottom of the hill you have two options: return up the hill (another 25¢ – pay at the top) and retrace your steps back to the Central Library or walk back along Hill and Grand. But before heading back you may want to follow your nose across the street.

Grand Central Market (“I” on your map) has been tempting pedestrians since 1917. It’s a great place to break for a bite to eat!

–> To return to the Central Library, walk south (a right turn after exiting Angels Flight), cross Fourth Street and continue to Fifth Street.

J) Metro 417 Lofts. On route back to the Main Tour you’ll pass the Metro 417 Lofts – once called the Subway Terminal Building. The word “subway” was used because an underground rail station occupied the building’s basement. From there, riders could board streetcars that traveled a short tunnel under Bunker Hill before emerging and continuing to points north and west: Glendale, Burbank, Hollywood and Santa Monica. The station was closed in 1955. The tunnel is no longer operative as supports for the Bonaventure Hotel now block its underground passage.

The Beaux Arts building was designed by Schultz and Weaver, the same architects who did the nearby Millennium Biltmore Hotel – and New York’s Waldorf Astoria. Re-check the upper floors for the mural of windows and window painters (Jeff Greene, 1986).   

–> At Fifth Street turn right and continue up Fifth to Grand Avenue. Walk a half block to your origination point at the Bunker Hill Steps.

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