A walking tour of L.A., really
In her previous book, architectural historian Judith Paine McBrien guided readers through Chicago; she heads west in the follow-up, Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture, illustrated with line drawings by John F. DeSalvo. McBrien manages to pack her concise descriptions of each building/site with a surprising amount of information, including architect, background, specifics and function. These are not bland guidebook entries; McBrien infuses a tiny bit of criticism into each, commenting on whether a building “works,” referencing what once sat on the site, and mixing in literary, film (of course!) and other cultural references.
She includes starchitect projects such as Frank Gehry’s stainless steel-clad Disney Concert Hall and an arts high school by Coop Himmelb(l)au, while also paying homage to older structures, including the beautifully restored (and still in use) Union Station. The railroad station opened 70 years ago this spring and is a magnificent blending of Art Deco and regionally influenced Native American and Spanish Revival styles, complete with fountain- and tile-filled courtyards. McBrien adds a Hollywood-themed side trip featuring Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (you have to see the old-school glamour of the palm tree- and deck chair-surrounded pool) and the distinctive round Capitol Records tower. But, we are talking about L.A., so the Pocket Guide to Los Angeles Architecture also has itineraries for those equipped with wheels, including sights such as the Hollywood Bowl and the iconic Hollywood sign. Rather than focusing on movie star dwellings, McBrien highlights the Getty Villa, and the homes of architects Charles and Ray Eames, and Rudolph Schindler. Indices of architects and buildings, and a glossary of architectural terms conclude the book.
McBrien makes it clear that despite a lot of bad press—and lingering problems common to large U.S. cities—Los Angeles has a lot to offer the visitor interested in architecture and urban renewal. And, though the concept of walking tours of this city in particular may seem counterintuitive, they are not only possible, but also the best way to see some parts of the city.