My Little Grand Tour: Los Angeles

My stay in Los Angeles was brief but fantastic. I had the privilege of being showed around by a local guide (and what a guide!) so that’s the good news. The bad news is that I don’t take lots of pictures when I’m around with others, so I might not remember everything I saw. I […]

My stay in Los Angeles was brief but fantastic. I had the privilege of being showed around by a local guide (and what a guide!) so that’s the good news. The bad news is that I don’t take lots of pictures when I’m around with others, so I might not remember everything I saw. I do have a couple of highlights, though.

1. Walt Disney Concert Hall

I’m not a fan of Gehry, oddly enough, but I understand his importance and I couldn’t miss a chance to see this in person. The paper folded shape is impressive and, even with the replacement of the mirror panels with polished steel, it’s almost impossible to stare directly at the parabolic mirror it creates. Should the aliens want to land at the intersection between Grand Avenue North and South, I guess we know what to do. But maybe they already have.


I couldn’t get inside, it was quite early in the morning, but I was able to shoot some pictures without any tourist in front of it, and that’s quite rare indeed. One thing everyone fails to mention while talking about this project, nonetheless, is what goes on inside: it’s true that the outside has had its problems and those problems are usually ascribed to Gehry’s ego and unwillingness to compromise. All is good and fine and I might even agree on that. Let us all just remember, nonetheless, that the acoustic inside that weird crunch of metal is one of the best in the world. Last time I checked, that was what was requested from a concert hall.

2. The Broad Gallery and Plaza

Next door from the Walt Disney Concert Hall, you have this museum of contemporary art. Inside, notable exhibits include two of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms: Longing for Eternity and The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. If you don’t know her and her work, I suggest you read her story: she’s one of the most significant artists of our time and, should you be in Tokyo, you just have to go and see her work at the Yayoi Kusama Museum.

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From the outside, from an architectural point of view, the museum is highly significant as well: it’s designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, same guys who are doing the Shed in New York, following a concept described by the firm herself as “the veil and the vault”. The veil is the facade: a honeycomb surface, bent at the center with the creation of that glass eye. The vault is the concrete body of the building.

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Next to the Museum you also have a beautiful Plaza, designed by the same architects with the help of landscape architect Walter Hood. If you don’t know him, he’s quite an interesting character as well: its firm defines itself as “a cultural practice committed to a diverse public realm”. The Plaza features massive centenary Californian olive trees.


3. The Museum of Contemporary Art

On the same Road, just before getting to the Board and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, you’ll find the main branch of the MOCA (other branches around the city are located in Little Tokyo and in West Hollywood). The venue features around 5.000 artworks including works by Mark RothkoJoan MiroFranz Kline and John Chamberlain.

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Outside the building, in the courtyard, you’ll find a sculpture by Texan artist Nancy Rubins titled Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts.


The building was the first work done in the U.S. by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, with a composition of a sandstone block and some skylights overlooking a courtyard. It is certainly an interesting space, though unpleasant to my eye.


4. Los Angeles Music Center

You’ll find this complex if you keep walking North on Grand Avenue after the Walt Disney Concert Hall, that technically is part of the center: it’s comprised of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Roy and Edna Disney / CalArts Theatre. They are all architecturally very interesting, but my personal favorite is the Mark Taper Forum: its exterior features a beautiful relief by Jacques Overhoff.


5. Grand Park and Los Angeles City Hall

If you turn right after the Music Center, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful terraced park reconciling the difference in height between N Grand Avenue and N Spring Street. It was designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios and features the fountain by Arthur J. Will, movable furniture and pavilions to encourage the usage of the space by the local community, bright pink furniture, a shallow pool for kids to splash in. The aim of the project was to represent and celebrate the cultural diversity in Los Angeles, therefore the flora in the park features species from every botanic kingdom in the world: Cape, Boreal, Neotropical, Paleotropical, Australian, and Antarctic. All species can flourish in Los Angeles just as much as all cultures.


A totem in perforated metal features the writing “A park for everyone” in all the languages they could conceive. Just on the other side of the street, one of the most beautiful motto I have seen this summer. Do something every day to remind this City why the Hell you’re here.

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If you keep going down through the park, you’ll find yourself facing City Hall. It’s a massive building from the late 1920s and was designed by John Parkinson, same guy who did the Grand Central Market BuildingJohn C. Austin, same guy who did the Grifith Observatory (more on that later) and Albert C. Martin, who also did the celebrated and beautiful Million Dollar Theater.


The decorative tower was inspired by the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, just as much as the Civil Courts skyscraper I already told you about in St Louis. Apparently it’s a thing in the States. The purpose of the decorative tower, apparently, was also to make the building taller: the Charter of the City of Los Angeles did’t allow any building to be more than 46 m, but decorative towers were an exception or a loophole in this regulation. The building has 32 floors and 138 m height. The peak of the pyramid is named after the famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and the building features an observation deck, free to the public. The courtyard in front of the tower is just beautiful.



6. Los Angeles Times Building

Still looking towards City Hall, on your right you’ll see the beautiful headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. It’s a decò building designed by Gordon Kaufmann, whom you might remember for the Hoover Dam. Apparently the building is being abandoned by the newspaper, which is a pity.


7. Little Tokyo

We’re used seeing Chinatowns, but we are less used to see Japanese districts: walking in this neighborhood was a fascinating experience. If you’re interested in history, you can visit the Japanese American National Museum, if you want art you have the extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art I talked about before, if you want performers you can see what’s up at the David Henry Hwang Theater and at the Aratani/Japan America Theater. Or you can just walk around and enjoy sculptures such as the monument to Ellison S. Onizuka, one of the astronauts who died in the tragedy of the Challenger, the monument to Chiune Sugihara, vice consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania who helped about 6.000 Jews to flee Europe, the Go for Broke Monument by Roger M. Yanagita commemorating the Japanese Americans who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, or the Friendship Knot.

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You also have a lot of monuments of a traditional flavor: Japanese Gardens such as the one on the rooftop of the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens or the one in the main square, the Japanese Village Plaza. The Plaza is also the place to be if you like shopping: they have weird pop colored shops of weird pop colored technology such as the ones you see only in movies. You also have a couple of fine bookshops around the neighborhood, if you take your time to stroll around, and a tree to hand your wishes to. I did that and I can’t tell you: it doesn’t work.


8. The Bradbury Building

If you don’t get lost in Little Tokyo and you turn right on W 3rd Street, you’ll find yourself in front of a landmark and pilgrimage stop for all Sci-Fi fans: it’s the Bradbury Building, which some of you might know as one of the shooting venues for Blade Runner. It was built in 1893, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.


The story of how this building was designed will resonate among the readers of my BIM book: the owner, one Lewis L. Bradbury, hired architect Sumner Hunt to do the design and then fired him only to hire his draftsman, one George Wyman, to author the final design of the building. Living the Dream indeed. Anyway, Wyman then decided to attend an architectural correspondence course and that supposedly ruined hi, because he was never able to design something as beautiful as the Bradbury Building and this remain his only standing work. Something to take inspiration from as well.


The facade is not particularly impressive: you have to go inside to admire the massive atrium, the light blazing through the glass ceiling, the magnificent ironwork for the balustrade and the elevator, the terracotta decorations and the woodwork in general. It’s a thing of beauty.

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9. The Last Bookstore

Going down on S Spring Street from the Bradbury Building, you’ll find this amazing bookstore on the corner. It’s probably not the last, but I’m pretty confident it will be the last bookstore standing when Armageddon hits. Imagine a huge store of old and new books. Then double it. Now, this is bigger. It has an underground/hipster feeling to it, which only adds to its charm, and you can find not only books but also comics, artwork, manufactured objects, art and installations.

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I bought a massive Japanese horror manga, Uzumaki by Junji Ito, the first issue of Saga by Vaughan and Staples, and some beautiful bookmarks with art by Liz Huston. She’s an extremely talented mixed media artist and I suggest you check out her work. You can also support her Dreamkeeper’s Tarot projet on Kickstarter.

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I also resisted the temptation to buy all Ian Doescher‘s work: the Star Wars books narrated in Shakespearian style. My luggage was too small: I’ll grab them online.


10. The Freehand Hotel

Since money doesn’t grow on trees, my grand tour was being rather expensive and I wanted a fun place to stay after San Francisco, I did something unusual, at least for me, and I booked this place. I didn’t take up a bed in the hostel room, of course, there’s a limit: I took one of the King Size rooms. I didn’t regret this one bit. The style is awesome, the rooftop swimming pool is simply a dream and the coffee shop does fantastic pancakes. The room was also highly stylish as well and I was able to grab a piece of eatable espresso for my friend Alice, so that’s a plus.


11. Broadway

Imagine Broadway New York. Just, after a zombie apocalypse. The theaters are still there, at least their signs, but they are empty of shows and in the lobby you have shops that will buy your watch, shops that will sell your watch, shops that will steal your watch, drug and liquor stores, sketchy places of all sorts. The facades of the former beautiful building are decaying and the fading bricks are canvases for some of the most beautiful street art I have ever seen.

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12. Melrose Avenue

I would have never seen this place if it wasn’t for dear Jay who brought me here. Do not bother with Melrose Place: this road is home to the most amazing artisans and designers I have seen in quite a while. They engineer and fashion all sorts of outfits you might see in events such as the Burning Man, and this is where I got the beautiful neckpiece you’ll see in the picture that closes this article. It is also home of some of the most beautiful street art you’ll ever see.

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The last picture was taken by Jay B. Zallan, local BIM manager and artist, and is currently the screensaver of my cellphone ♡♡♡

You can browse all shops on this website: I bought a pair of biker’s gloves at Reloaded /tey had my size!) but you also have to stop at Cosmos Glamsquad. Flick through this article for some advice.

13. LaBrea Tar Pits and Museum

Another place I would have never seen if it wasn’t for Jay. This museum is one of the most incredible places in the whole world and sometimes I feel that, even if we have beautiful cities and we’re soaking in history, we Europeans don’t get this sense of being close to a magnificent, grand and old earth. It’s a feeling I only got in a couple of places in the U.S.


The museum is part of a much bigger complex and it’s worth the visit to Los Angeles in itself: the part I’m talking about is a natural park where asphalt is apparently resurfacing by itself. These pools are mortal traps for animals, as it takes just as much as 2” of the sticky substance to trap you forever in it. Researchers are digging in the pits and they have found more than 3.5 million fossils but they keep going: new amazing pieces are found every day and the museum is literally a massive display of our history.



The tar pits in the park are free: you can visit them without paying a ticket and they offer loads of activities for families during the week-end. You have to buy a ticket to visit the museum and an additional one for the many shows they have around the place. I encourage you to do both, if you can. One currently is a rather wise usage of 4d cinema to tell the story of the tar pits during Ice Age. The other is a fun introductory show to the topic at hand, featuring a real sabretooth cat (the poor guy…).

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You can also play the fool by taking pictures: they will put you inside a tar pit and convince you to buy them.

That's me and Jay fooling around.
That’s me and Jay fooling around.

14. Griffith Observatory

The last stop of my stay, and what a stop! It’s hard to describe the level of inspiration this place provides and indeed, as Griffith said, everyone should be able to look through a telescope.

If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world.
— Griffith J. Griffith

That didn’t quite work for him, since in 1903 he made his wife kneel in front of him, shot and disfigured her and served two (!!!) years of prison for that. Anyway, he had the observatory built as a public place and donated the land to the City of Los Angeles. It’s free for everybody and attracts a huge amount of amateurs, gathering on the plaza and watching the stars with homemade telescopes.


Inside, you can climb up to the massive telescope and watch the sun, the moon or the stars. If not, you can do the same through the exhibits inside. If you do that by night, the Sun will be off. That’s how the Sun works.

You also have what they call The Big Picture, a massive enlargement of a tiny portion of the sky. Every inch is cluttered with stars, galaxies and planets. It’s the portion of sky you cover by raising your finger. It really puts everything in perspective, makes you feel tiny but in a good way: it makes you realize both how small you are and how you can make an impact, inspire, create a place in which people will gather and be inspired and inspire people. If I can pick the one thing I want for myself, I want that.

Thanks to my dear friend Jay for taking this beautiful picture.
And thanks my dear friend Jay for taking this beautiful picture.


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