McConnor's Corner
The Heart Of L.A. -- Downtown
By Sean McConnor
Sep 1, 2002 - 6:39:00 PM

LOS ANGELES — If you are like most of us, you don't go to Downtown Los Angeles very often. You might go with some friends in the evening to see the Lakers or the Kings at the Staples Center or slip into downtown some night to go to the Music Center to see a play. Still adventurous types might go to a wine and cheese party at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Bunker Hill. However, if you see Downtown during the daylight, it looks just plain weird.

You see buildings that look like they came out of a movie set in the thirties and further up the block you think you were in lower Manhattan with the gleaming skyscrapers. Believe it or not, the huge gaps between buildings that are used for parking and the disparity in the structures all make sense.

Jenna_Skarzenski_downtown_1.jpg
Jenna Skarzenski / Canyon News
That is what I discovered on a Saturday walk with a group of people. The walk was sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and only costs $10. (The actual cost is $8, but I was with a special group.) We started in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, the long-standing grande dame of hotels in Los Angeles, and progressed up Bunker Hill to the towering structures of steel that provide the city with its big city skyline.

The tour guide gave us a lecture on "air rights", the power of the redevelopment agency in Los Angeles, and the talent of the many architects who designed the downtown we now know. Did you know the Bradley wing of the Central Library is the result of an agreement from the builders of the 70-plus story building across the street and the city? The builders bought the air rights from the city to build the skyscraper and in so doing helped finance capital improvements to the burned out library.

How about that modernistic artwork you see in front of many buildings downtown? Again, it is a result of agreements and this time they involve open spaces for the thousands who work in the towering houses of glass and steel. Otherwise, the city would be literally a concrete jungle.

This and many interesting tidbits can be obtained by participating in one of the Saturday tours given by the Conservancy. You don't have to be a member (I am not), parking is available, and you can reserve a space on the phone by calling 213-623-2489 or look on the web for
www.laconservancy.org . You will understand better how the heart of LA was formed.


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