Pico Tour

What makes this tour important? This part of downtown used to have just one hook: the Convention Center. If you weren’t here for a convention or a trade show you were probably lost. All that’s changed. Today this neighborhood has become the entertainment and sports destination – and it’s pulling in thousands of residents, too.

Tour Starts: Pico Station. The above ground station is at Pico and Flower Streets, one block from the Convention Center. Metrorail’s Blue and Expo (late 2011) lines serve the station. See map

Tour Ends: Pico Station

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

  • By Rail: Take Metrorail! The tour starts at Pico Station, the first stop on the Blue or Expo (late 2011) line from downtown’s Seventh Street/Metro Center station. Check Metrorail for maps, fares, trip planner and station location information.
  • By Bus: Visit the Metro site for bus transit maps, fares, trip planner and stops nearest you.
  • By Car: Area parking isn’t cheap. Fees at the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live are listed within each venue’s website but expect to pay at least $5.00 and up, even for private lots. Private lots can have weekend bargain flat rates but all bets are off if there’s a special event going on at any of the centers. Alternatively, street parking may be available and is generally free on Sunday, but read the signs carefully.

Tour Length: This is a relatively short tour; 2 hours should do it. Allow more time if you take in the Grammy Museum®.

Optional Side Trips: There’s just one, but it’s a fairly long one. Though we’ve placed it at the end of the main tour you can do it before you begin – your choice. 

  1. Exposition Park/USC: Up to 2 hours or more, including travel time to and from. Access is via DASH bus (35¢ per boarding, just 15¢ for seniors 65 or over).

How Much Walking? About 2.5 miles total – all of it over flat terrain. The Side Trip adds about 1.5 miles of walking. Both the main tour and the Side Trip are wheelchair accessible.

Tour Cost: Once you’re downtown, nothing. The DASH bus through USC/Exposition Park costs 35¢ per boarding.

When to Go: The best time to begin the tour is mid- or late-morning between 10 am – 11 am so you can include a snack, lunch or dinner in your tour. Weekends pull in a lot of visitors, especially if there’s a special event or convention underway. If you do the Side Trip to Exposition Park/USC, expect to see school groups at the museums regardless of the day you pick.

Where to Eat: Click here for ideas and suggestions.

You Can Combine This Tour With:

  1. Seventh Street/Metro Center Tour: About 2 hours. Follow directions at the end of “The Tour.”

Some Background

For some background on the Pico Station area –click here

View Pico – Main Tour in a larger map

–> From the station platform follow the “Pico Boulevard” sign to Pico Boulevard.

The Pico Station is outdoors so it’ll be easy getting your bearings. Just look around you, locate the Convention Center or L.A. Live complex, and you’re good to go. Just be sure to walk towards Pico Boulevard (south – away from the downtown skyscrapers) and watch your step as you navigate the ramps and crosswalks.

–> At Pico Boulevard, turn right and cross Flower Street, walking towards the Convention Center and Staples Center.  Continue to Figueroa Street.


Los Angeles Convention Center. 1201 S. Figueroa Street. Charles Luckman, 1971, Gruen Associates/Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, 1993.

Straight ahead stands the city’s convention center. There are four named halls in the center but basically there are two major divisions: the South Hall and the West Hall. The “Concourse” hall straddles Pico Boulevard and connects the two sections. A North Hall was demolished in 1997 to make way for Staples Center.

As convention centers go, the LACC isn’t one for the record books. Though it totals a whopping 720,00 square feet of space, for the nation’s Number Two city it doesn’t make the top 5 list. The Anaheim Convention Center totals 813,000 sq. ft., the Orange County Convention Center (Orlando, Florida) comes in at 1.1 milllion sq. ft. and McCormick Place in Chicago claims over 2.6 million sq. ft.  For decades, a lack of nearby hotel space has hobbled the LACC but that just changed with the recent opening of the 951-room JW Marriott and the 123-room Ritz-Carlton next door.

–> Cross Figueroa Street and walk to the Gilbert Lindsay Plaza.  

Ceramic tiles (Pat Ward Williams, “Gilbert W. Lindsay Plaza,” 1994) trace the long political career of the city’s first modern-day African-American councilman, Gilbert Lindsay. His first job in L.A. was working as a janitor in the city’s Department of Water and Power; he served as City Councilman for almost 30 years. The block-long road you walked from Figueroa to where you now stand is named “Gilbert Lindsay Drive.”

— > Walk back to the corner, cross Pico Boulevard and walk to the South Hall entrance to the Convention Center.

Go on in; the public has access to lobby areas of the center. Thanks to the glass walls, the lobby is light and airy. Check out the terrazzo map of the Americas on the lobby floor (Alexis Smith, Christine Lawson and Lucia Vinograd, “Pacific Rim,” 1993). Restrooms are to the north of Siberia and Greenland.

–> Find Florida and Cuba and you’ve located the escalator that takes you up to the First Level and the Concourse.

An elevator is located next to the right-side restrooms.

–> Turn right and walk towards the West Hall.

Two sets of panels greet you as you walk towards the West Hall; amoebas and apes, symbols and signage (Matt Mulligan, “Granite Panels,” 1993).

–> Continue towards the West Hall.

You’ve walked into our constellation, the Milky Way (Alexis Smith and Christine Lawson, “Milky Way,” 1993). Downstairs, to the right is Mother Earth and a crescent moon – all done in terrazzo.

–> Take the escalator (or elevator) down and exit the West Hall onto Gilbert Lindsay Drive.

To the left the Staples Center.  It’s just one component of the 27-acre L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex – a private development by Anschultz Entertainment Group (AEG) and several other partners, including City Hall in the form of tax subsidies and credits.

Staples Center. 1111 S. Figueroa Street. Naramore Bain Brady and Johanson NBBJ Architects, 1999.  

The opening of Staples Center is credited with putting this part of downtown on the map –  finally. For decades, city boosters had hoped the Convention Center would draw other commericial businesses (or even a convention hotel) to the area – but it didn’t. The Convention Center remained just that: a center for conventions – not an exciting hot spot by any stretch.

Within a few years of Staples Center opening (October 17, 1999 – a Bruce Springsteen concert), more venues arrived giving the neighborhood the critical mass needed to rejuvenate the neighborhood. The center cost $375 million: Staples paid $100 million of the bill for naming rights.  

It’s a Fact:

Staples Center Openers:

  • 1st Hockey Game: L.A. Kings (2), Boston Bruins (2)
  • 1st NBA Basketball Game: L.A. Clippers (92), Seattle Supersonics (104)
  • 2nd NBA Basketball Game: L.A. Lakers (103), Vancouver Grizzlies (88)

The arena seats about 18,000 for hockey, 19,000 for basketball, 20,000 for concerts and a thousand more for boxing or wrestling. About 160 seats are within the luxury suites; 2,500 are within the preferred club seat section. Another seating statistic: some women’s restrooms (there are almost 30 of them) seat up to 25. And men should feel comfort knowing that all 176 urinals are waterless. 

–> Continue around the Figueroa Street side of the center to Chick Hearn Court.

You’ll pass by ESPN Zone (a restaurant and sports bar) and broadcast studio. Check out the statues here on the north side of the center.  All are by the sculptor Omri Amrany and include Wayne Gretzky, Earvin “Magic” Johnson (both of whom played at the L.A. Forum but never here, having retired before it opened), Oscar de la Hoya and Chick Hearn, L.A. Lakers’ broadcaster for 42 years. Hearn is credited with calling 3,338 consecutive Lakers games during a 36 year run between 1965 and 2001.  There’s an empty chair next to Chick; take it for a great photo-op.

–> At Figueroa Street, cross Chick Hearn Court, turn left and walk to the Nokia Plaza.

Nokia Plaza/Nokia Theatre. 777 Chick Hearn Court. Plaza: Rios Clementi Hale Studio, 2007; Theatre: ELS Architecture, 2007

Nokia Plaza is a great space, though maybe a little heavy on the branding; it reads like a NASCAR jacket. The 40,000-square-foot plaza and giant LED billboards/broadcast screens – the largest is 22 by 40 feet – make it a venue for anything from ringing in the New Year to paying final respects for singer Michael Jackson. That event took place across the street at Staples Center but the Nokia Theatre hosted an overflow, sold-out simulcast of the memorial.

At 7,100 seats, Nokia Theatre is the largest indoor theater in Los Angeles, beating out the Shrine Auditorium (seen on the Exposition Park/USC Side Trip on this tour) by 1,200 seats. Here, no seat is more than 220 feet from the stage. It’s a busy place, too as it’s where the EMMYS, the American Music Awards and the ESPY’s are held. The first musical groups to perform here were the Eagles and the Dixie Chicks.

Almost 20 restaurants, a night club, a bowling alley, a movie complex and the interactive Grammy Museum® round out the dining and entertainment options within a block of where you stand. The 4-story museum, incidentally, offers a discount if you show them your Metrorail ticket. More’s coming to L.A. Live – another hotel, residences and maybe – if AEG can swing it with the city and taxpayers – an NFL stadium.

–> Cross through Nokia Plaza, keeping to the left. Continue to Georgia Street. The Nokia Theatre should be to your left; the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels to your right.  

Along the way notice the Grammy® Walk of Fame plaques in the sidewalk. The circular plaques encircle the entire plaza, each dedicated to a year, beginning with the first Grammy Awards in 1959. Just try to walk the walk without humming a tune.

–> At Georgia Street, turn right and continue to Olympic Bouldevard.

Horace and Georgia Bell lived at  #1337 Figueroa Street, at about where you entered the Convention Center’s South Hall. Their house, believed to be the first home on Figueroa, is gone but the legacy lives: the street running behind their home was named Georgia Bell Street, later shortened to Georgia Street.

But wait, there’s more. At Pico Boulevard and Georgia Bell Street (about where you crossed over from the South to the West Halls at the Convention Center) a young David Wark (D. W.) Griffith opened a Biograph studio – one of the city’s first silent film companies. The year was 1911. He later moved a few miles away to a quiet farm neighborhood of avocado, lemon and orange groves: Hollywood.

Across the street, to the left, are the Regal Cinemas, downtown’s largest (and the only) multiplex. The 14-screen venue, which includes an 800-seat, giant-screen theater (40 x 70 feet), is often chosen for movie premieres. Michael Jackson’s “This Is It,” and Sony’s “2012” opened here. The biggest complaint? Parking – a hefty $5.00 with validation. That’s almost the price of a Metrorail DayPass.

–> Turn right and walk to the entrance of the JW Marriott.

JW Marriott Hotel, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Residences at Ritz-Carlton. 900 W. Olympic Boulevard. Kapil Malik, 2009

This is the first downtown skyscraper to go up in almost 20 years. The building, all 54 floors of it, is impressive. But what’s most significant is this: the Convention Center has two world-class hotels within walking distance. Those hotel rooms are also mighty handy for L.A. Live sports, concerts, awards and special events, too. Together, the mainstream JW Marriott and the upstream Ritz-Carlton hotel chains bring over a thousand hotel rooms to downtown’s new sports and entertainment corner.

The Ritz-Carlton’s reception area is 23 floors up and not accessible to non-guests. Above it are the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, also inaccessible, of course. But the JW Marriott lobby is inviting so go on in and take in the space.

— > Continue down Olympic Boulevard towards Figueroa.

The parking lot across the street to the left is the future site of L.A. Live expansion – a boutique hotel and more residences.  Views from the street here are panoramic and maybe that’s why they’re also “commercial.”  At this writing, the side of the JW Marriott hosts a beer banner. Another oversized billboard graces the side of the 164-room Luxe City Center Hotel (former Holiday Inn). And the Petroleum Building, coming later in the tour, wears another. So what’s with these über-ads?

–> At Figueroa Street, turn left and cross the street. Walk past the car wash to the Figueroa Hotel.

Hotel Figueroa. 939 S. Figueroa Street. Stanton, Reed and Hibbard, 1926

Feedback runs from “unique” to “ugh.” The Ritz it is not but character it has – at least within the public rooms you’ll visit. The Los Angeles Times said it best: “Casablanca collides with ancient Arabia…”

Step inside, have a seat and give your eyes a minute or two to adjust to the dim light. Then get up and explore: Moroccan tile, lush tapestries, ornate light fixtures – some bordering on the bizarre – make this well-located hotel (you already know how close it is to L.A. Live) unique. You’re not staying overnight so don’t worry about any “ugh” reviews. This visit might make for a nice place to take a food & beverage break.

Like every respectable downtown hotel, the Figueroa is haunted. Guests and staff speak of elevators moving mysteriously from floor to floor – with nobody aboard. Lights and TVs operate by themselves, too, but it all may be a product of the hotel’s “historic” electrical system.

The 12-story Hotel Figueroa opened in 1926 as a YWCA. Although floors 2 and 3 were for businessmen or families, floors 3 through 12 were for businesswomen. It converted to a standard hotel during the 1930s.   

–> Continue a short distance up Figueroa Street.

Variety Arts Center (Friday Morning Club). 940 S. Figueroa Street. Allison & Allison, 1924

The you building you see across the streets sits on the site of the city’s first women’s club (Friday Morning Club), founded a generation earlier by Caroline Severance. Madame Severance, as she was called, was the first woman to cast a vote in Los Angeles (1911) and a personal friend of Susan B. Anthony.

For the club’s new, updated home, the ladies selected the architectural team of James and David Allison, brothers. They secured the building loan (including a 1,200-seat theater in their plans to help pay off the loan) and two years later they moved in. Attendance at the opening ceremonies included Norma Talmadge, Adolphe Menjou, Cecile B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, Sid Grauman and Carl Laemmle. Will Rogers was toastmaster!

The list of stars performing here is long, and included Lionel Barrymore and Laurel & Hardy. It’s believed a just-married, 24-year-old William Clark Gable (he soon dropped his first name) made his acting debut here in 1925. During the 1930s the popular radio show, “The Burns and Allen Show” was broadcast from the theater.

The club started with just 87 members, peaked at 3,800 and by 1948 the Friday Morning Club owned their Italian Reniassance Revival building free and clear – believed to be the first women’s club in the country to achieve that honor. To celebrate they lit a match and burned the mortgage. The club disbanded and since 1977 the theater has been called the Variety Arts Center.

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–> Return to the corner of Figueroa Street and Olympic Boulevard.

–> Turn left, crossing Figueroa and then right, crossing Olympic.

–> At the corner turn left and walk towards Flower Street.

Petroleum Buildng. 714 W. Olympic Boulevard. Meyer and Holler, 1925

The Renaissance Revival-style Petroleum Building was, and remains, an office building – maybe a bit removed from downtown’s core but its lonliness makes it more grand and stately. The architects were well-known, particularly in Hollywood. They designed both the Egyptian Theatre and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard (see them on WalknRideLA‘s “Hello Hollywood” tour).

A private bar opened – and closed – within the building. Barmen at the speakeasy-modeled The Doheny didn’t serve cocktails, they crafted them. But a stiff intitiation fee ($2200) and pricey membership fee ($2750) didn’t seem to work here. The owner tried a new tack and re-opened under the name Caña – a rum bar. The “membership” fee dropped 1000% to a walk-in $20 charge, which goes to charity and garners you a free margarita. Owner Cedd Moses operates the Broadway Bar (on Broadway), Seven Grand (near Seventh & Grand) and the Golden Gopher on 8th Street – all of them open to the public.

But, this being the Petroleum Building, some mention of Edward Doheny should be made. He wasn’t a barman, he was in oil – black gold, Texas tea.  Back around 1900, if you were to take a drive up Vermont Avenue west of downtown you’d see precious few buildings but dozens of oil derricks pumping the black stuff out of the ground. Most were drilled by Doheny and his financier, Charles Canfield. Both became fabulously wealthy. Despite some run-ins with the law, Doheny’s wealth grew and in his later years he became one of L.A.’s most generous philanthropists, donating money and real estate to USC, Loyola Marymount University and Mount St. Mary’s College.

–> Cross Flower Street and continue down Olympic Boulevard.

Looking down Olympic Boulevard (originally Tenth Street but renamed in honor of the 1932 Olympic Games hosted by the city that year) you’ll see a boulevard lined with apartments and condos. Because this district is south of downtown and near the Grand Hope Park (so named because it’s between Grand Avenue and Hope Street) it’s called “South Park.” And they say L.A. city planners can’t plan! First up is The Met, the colorful apartment building across the street to the left.  Because the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) is a block away, The Met includes a “Design and Drawing Room” for its tenant-students, complete with mannequins and layout tables.

Next door, also on the left, is the solid, no-nonsense, 9-story Standard Oil Building (George W. Kelham, 1928), an office building. The architect also designed the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco but he didn’t get the commission for that bank’s L.A. branch. You’ll see it in two blocks. Kelham is best-known for California college campus buildings, including UCLA’s Powell Library and buildings at Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Unlike the Old Bank District and Historic Core neighborhoods which lie in what was once the heart of downtown, South Park was always on the fringe. Few office buildings were built this far south, the Petroleum, Standard Oil and Federal Reserve (coming up) buildings among the exceptions. After the city passed an adaptive re-use ordinance in 1999, the way was paved for office-to-loft conversions. Since few office buildings were built here, few conversions were made; most South Park residences are new. This has created two distinct manners of downtown living: the sometimes gritty but almost always more historic lofts up and down Broadway, Spring and Main Streets; and the modern, almost always slicker apartments and condos of South Park. So we have two neighborhoods attracting two kinds of neighbors.

–> Continue down Olympic Boulevard and cross Hope Street.

Notice the neon street corner sign at Packard Lofts. Before World War II, Packard motorcars were the bees’ knees – a standard of excellence. Earle C. Anthony owned his Packard dealership here at 1000 S. Hope Street and he’s credited not only with bringing fine motorcars to the streets of L.A., but neon signs, too. In 1924, Georges Claude, the Frenchman who invented neon signage, sold two to Mr. Anthony, for the hefty price of $24,000. That’s over $300,000 in today’s dollars!

So here, at this very corner ladies and gentlemen, the first neon signs in the United States were installed! What you see above is a replica created for the building’s owner as a tip of the hat to our man Earle. Packard Lofts offers 116 balconied apartments.

–> Continue down Olympic Boulevard to Grand Avenue.

Across to the left is the Renaissance Tower (Rob Quigley, architect). Erected in 1994, it’s one of the older apartment buildings in South Park. One of the Renaissance’s chief selling points is the 2.5-acre Grand Hope Park directly behind it. Downtown’s Pershing Square was dedicated in 1870 and it took the city 123 years before opening another downtown green: this one, in 1993. Proposals have been submitted to narrow Grand Avenue between Ninth and Olympic to two lanes, creating a park-like strip along the thoroughfare. Has it been 123 years since the city narrowed a street?

Get your camera ready because to your right is a rare downtown sight: a gas station. Reports conflict but it’s believed that the first automobile hit the streets of Los Angeles about 1897. The city’s sprawl was already in place, however, a product of the still-growing network of streetcar lines. That network eventually grew to almost 1,500 miles of track. In the early years of the 1900s automobiles were the playthings of the rich. By 1920 they were the preferred means of commutation for executives and managers but before that decade was out it seemed everyone owned a car. Streetcar ridership peaked in 1924 and within a couple of years, more residents commuted downtown by private car than by streetcar.

The city’s first traffic signals, the ones with the bells and the mechanical “stop/go” signs, appeared in 1920. The first “red/yellow/green” light systems (like those in use today) were installed in 1931. They helped for a while, but not much. The freeway era – some say “error” – began in 1940 with the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway). Freeways helped for a while, but not much. So that’s that – from sprawl to crawl!

–> Cross Grand Avenue and continue on Olympic Boulevard to Olive Street.

Across the street to the left is the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank (Dworsky Associates, 1987). There are twelve districts in the Federal Reserve system (the “Fed”); the main bank of the 9-state Western Region is in San Francisco. The building you see here is a branch of that bank. Only three states have more than one Federal Reserve bank: Tennessee, Missouri and California. A hands-on gallery and a 90-minute tour is provided but you need to make reservations. Click here for details.

It’s a Fact:

The Federal Reserved banks of the Western Division don’t print currency but each day they destroy about $75 million of worn out currency. The average dollar bill lasts only about 18 months before it is shredded and replaced. Shredded currency is recycled for use in fireplace logs, fertilizer, roof shingles and insulation.

Next door, at the corner at Olive Street, is the former home of the Los Angeles branch.

The Reserve lofts (formerly a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank). 409 W. Olympic Boulevard. John and Donald Parkinson, 1930. West and north expansions by Woodford & Bernard, 1953

Once the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the bank was converted to loft residences in 2005. Tenants, however, aren’t clueless to the building’s past: six bank vaults, an underground shooting range and even an armored car turntable (cash-carrying transports would be more vulnerable backing out onto the street) remain within.

The bank presents an Art Deco offshoot often labeled as Moderne or WPA (Works Progress Administration) Modern. The style stresses verticality but, as here, often omits the set backs or towers so favored by Art Deco designers. The bas-reliefs on the bank’s sides are by the San Francisco sculptor Edgar Walters.

On the subject of “vulnerable” – this building isn’t. The steel framework for the 7-story structure weighed 1,600 tons. The thickness of some walls can be measured in feet, not inches. During the height of the Cold War a portion of the basement was designated a bomb shelter. Today, that same shelter provides invulnerable protection for residents’ belongings – storage lockers are available for a monthly fee. Another interesting amenity: a 2nd-floor laundry room with washers and dryers that telephone their owners when the wash is ready!

When the Federal Reserve moved to their new digs next door they didn’t bother with that armored car turntable. Instead, they just tunneled from the old building to the new and transferred the currency underground. (Note to hopeful tenants: the tunnel was sealed up.)

It’s a Fact:

Some notoriety has returned to the former Federal Reserve Bank. In the spring of 2010 a tenant fled his penthouse apartment when police arrived to investigate the source of a strange odor reported by neighbors. Forcing their way inside, they recovered a sawed-off shotgun, an AK-47 and about $15,000 in counterfeit currency. A large tile mosaic, resembling the seal of the CIA had been installed in the concrete floor. Following his narrow escape, the tenant, a convicted felon, had cut and dyed his brown hair to red. He was eventually caught and arrested.

–> Cross Olive Street and continue to Hill Street. Turn right at Hill Street and continue to Eleventh Street.

Mayan Theatre. 1038 S. Hill Street. Morgan, Walls and Clements, 1928

It’s likely this isn’t the first Morgan, Walls and Clements building you’ve seen: others by this prolific firm include the Pellissier Building (Wiltern Theatre) and the Citadel Outlet (former Samson Rubber and Tire Building), easy to spot from the I-5 in the City of Commerce. They also did the Belasco Theatre next door. Stiles O. Clements continued working independently into the late 1950s.

Unless you’re visiting during nightclub hours you won’t have access to its over-the-top interior. But the exterior offers an eyeful with its mix of Mexican, Mayan, Aztec, Incan and Toltec themes. Designed by Mexican artist/archeologist Francisco Cornejo, the ornamentation is remarkable. Inside, a dazzling Mayan calendar stone protrudes from the ceiling.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about the theater is that it’s here at all. Built by the oil tycoon Edward Doheny for vaudeville and musical theater, the Mayan and its partner, the Belasco, were seen as part of a logical southward extension to the Broadway theaters a few blocks away. Just one problem: the city’s “theater district” didn’t extend south; it moved west – to Hollywood, Mid-Wilshire and Westwood. Then venue shifted from musical comedies to mostly movies. By the late-1940s the Mayan was hosting Spanish language films. Before closing in 1990, the Mayan showed porn flicks.

Adaptive re-use isn’t just about offices-to-lofts conversions. What was once a 1,400-seat theater is now one of the most popular downtown nightclubs: The Mayan. Click here to take a video tour of the club. The seats have been removed and the floor leveled, but keeping in line with responsible renovation, all the changes are reversible.

It’s a Fact:

In 1941 Duke Ellington, Dorothy Dandridge and Ivie Anderson appeared at the Mayan. The show, “Jump for Joy,” was well-received. Not well-received, by some accounts, was that the show played to an integrated audience.

Belasco Theatre. 1050 S. Hill Street. Morgan, Walls and Clements, 1927

The Belasco was designed for drama. As with the Mayan, construction was largely funded by Edward Doheny and the architects were the same for both – the only pairing of theaters until the Music Center opened almost forty years later. Like its partner, the Belasco is all over the map in styles: here we see a mix of Moorish, Gothic and Italianate.

Belasco headliners reads like a Who’s Who list of Hollywood talent: Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Bennett, Humphrey Bogart, Billie Burke, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Gale Gordon, Betty Grable, Leslie Howard, Frederick March, Edward G. Robinson, Anna May Wong – are just a few. The list also included Peg Entwistle. Never heard of her? As Peg saw it, that was precisely the problem. A 1932 run at the Belasco went well enough for her but a subsequent movie in which she received ninth billing – bombed. On September 16, 1932, with her career going nowhere, Peg went somewhere. From her Hollywood Hills home on Beachwood Drive, she climbed atop the Hollywood sign and jumped to her death.

The Belasco is smaller than the Mayan; just 1,100 seats provides a more intimate venue for the dramatic shows it presented.

–> At the corner of Hill and Eleventh Streets, turn left. Continue to Broadway.

Next up: the Herald Examiner Building. The best view is from across the street.

–> Cross Broadway, turn right and cross Eleventh Street. Continue down Broadway.

Herald Examiner Building. 1111 S. Broadway. Julia Morgan, Haenke and Dodd, 1914

L.A.’s first paper, the Los Angeles Star, went to print in 1851 (in English and Spanish). Since then dozens more have come and all but a handful – have gone. But imagine this: a hundred years ago downtown Los Angeles counted at least five daily newspapers (Evening Express, Examiner, Herald, Record and the Times). It was how we got our news back then.

As its name suggests, the Herald Examiner was born of a marriage between the Herald (itself a result of multiple mergers) and the Examiner, founded in 1903 by William Randolf Hearst. The two merged in 1962, the Herald moving its offices into the building you see here. Together they remained until the paper passed into history with the November 2, 1989 issue, its last.

Julia Morgan is given credit as the building’s architect. At the time she was in the employ of the noted architectural firm Haenke & Dodd. To this day it remains a mystery as to how much of the Spanish/Mission Revival-style building is Morgan’s, how much is Haenke’s and how much is Dodd’s. We do know she designed over 700 buildings including the eye-popping Hearst Castle in San Simeon and YWCA’s in four states. Most experts agree at least on this: the building you’re looking at is mostly Morgan’s – California’s first registered female architect.     

It’s believed that the Broadway-facing open arcades were closed up during World War II to allow for the essential nightime operation of the paper during blackouts. Still owned by the Hearst family, efforts for adaptive re-use (offices, apartments, retail) have stalled. Income still rolls in, however, from TV and movies. “Strange Days,” The Usual Suspects,” “Cable Guy,” and “X-Files” have all had their cameras and crew here. The photo at right was taken during a shoot.

–> Continue to Twelth Street. Turn right and continue two blocks to Olive Street.

AT & T Center (formerly Transamerica Tower). 1150 S. Olive Street. Pereira and Associates, 1965

For reasons known only to the owners or the architect, when the AT&T Center went up in 1965 (after height limits had been lifted) it stood 452 feet tall – second tallest in town, but only by a hair. Had they added just three more feet to the building it would have been the city’s tallest, topping City Hall’s 454 feet. Three years later the Union Bank Building on Bunker Hill took the “tallest of all” title – 516 feet. (Today, the US Bank Building, at 1,018 feet, is the tallest.)

Also, for reasons not entirely known, they chose to build the 32-story tower well south of downtown. Perhaps they were expecting a southward expansion of the city to catch up with it? Well, the downtown core has expanded to the south, but not this far. Still, 45 years later, the AT&T Center stands alone.

Opening as the Occidental Life Building, it was soon purchased by Transamerica and took on that name. Later it became the SBC Building and finally took on its current AT&T moniker. In 2003 Canyon-Johnson Realty Advisors (Earvin “Magic” Johnson heads the company) bought the center for $88 million. The top-to-bottom renovation that followed has nicely spruced up the Corporate International-style (think “glass box”) building.

The tower you see is one of three main buildings in the 12-acre property; underground pedestrian tunnels connect it all up for the 5000+ who work here. Partly because the center is removed from downtown it’s self-sufficient with restaurants, a food court, coffee shops and a health club. Sadly, the uptop restaurant, “Windows,” was closed before the renovations began.

–> Continue down Twelth Street, crossing Grand Avenue.

To the right is Evo, a 311-unit condo. You can’t see it from here but on the sixth floor there’s a swimming pool, sun deck, an outdoor entertaining kitchen, and a fireplace; up top a fitness studio offers 24th floor views. Evo is a green building, earning a LEED (“Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”) silver certificate. Up Grand Avenue, just beyond Evo, is Elleven, the first downtown residential high-rise in over 20 years (and brought in South Park’s first Starbucks – a sure sign of success). Together with Evo and Luma (next to Elleven on Eleventh Street), Elleven forms a tight neighborhood of three condos called “South” – within the larger South Park. All three (Evo, 2008; Elleven, 2006; Luma, 2007) were designed by Ankrom Moison Associated Architects.

Across the street to the left is the former home of Felix Chevrolet. The 1931 building was one of the last designed by William Richards (Robinson’s Department Store, Heron Building, among others) and his only Art Deco building downtown. Today it’s the Tifffany Auction House.

The story goes that the L.A. car dealer, Winslow Felix, opened a Chevy dealership on this site in 1922. The Art Deco building replaced the former structure on the same site. Mr. Felix had a filmmaker friend, Pat Sullivan. Maybe it’s a coincidence but Mr. Sullivan introduced a feline cartoon series and named it, “Felix the Cat.” Before there was Mickey, Donald, Yogi or Rocky, there was Felix. In 1958 Winslow sold his franchise to Nick Shammas who moved the dealership to its current location on Figueroa Street. Mr. Shammas had a large neon “Felix” sign made and erected at the new dealer.

–> Continue to Hope Street, turn left and continue down Hope Street to Pico Boulevard.

Empty parking lots, empty store fronts and some interesting enterprises come your way. Clearly, South Park is a neighborhood in transition. But it’s just as clear that it’s not going to stay this way for too much longer. Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Convention Center are just too convenient.

–> Turn left at Pico Boulevard and stop at the corner.

Morrison Hotel. 1246 S. Hope Street. Architect unknown, 1914.

Guests at the former Morrison Hotel checked out years ago but the building is still occupied by low-income tenants. The ground floor retail establishments are long gone.  The image at left shows the hotel in better days. Yep, that’s Jim Morrison of The Doors in the window of the hotel. He’d noticed the hotel with his name (no relation) and decided it would make a nice cover for their fifth album. The owner told him, “Sorry – no pictures.” Well, the time to hesitate was through, and before the proprietor knew it, Jim had the photo he wanted: this one.

The Morrison Hotel album, despite not having any hit singles, was both a critical and commercial success, reaching the Number Four spot on the charts in 1970.

–> Walk down Pico Boulevard towards the Convention Center. Cross Flower Street.

The Pico Station, where the tour concludes, is immediately to the right.

Thanks for joining us!

Side Trip! See dinosaurs, students at study – and other rare sights!

The Exposition Park/USC Side Trip is easy. It’s easy on your feet (a DASH bus covers the big distances) and easy on your wallet (just 35¢ per boarding; the museums cost extra). At about 2 hours, it’s also the longest Side Trip offered on any WalknRideLA tour. Once the Expo Line opens in late 2011 it’ll become a separate tour.

What you’ll see: Exposition Park (sports venues, museums, gardens), USC Campus, Historic homes, churches & buildings

To go to the Exposition Park/USC Side Trip -click here-