Appreciating Richard Neutra's Hall of Records


The county's Hall of Records might be the least appreciated of the government office buildings strewn around what used to be called downtown's Civic Center. I would bet that many visitors to Grand Park, which will open a new section on its back side in September, have no idea of the building's name or function. Its name is actually a misnomer these days — the county Registrar-Recorder took most of the eponymous records to Norwalk more than a decade ago. But the hall has sterling LA architectural roots. Built in 1962, it is regarded by many as a fine example of the Modernist architecture that sprang from the firm Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander. It's "among the most underrated modernist buildings in Los Angeles,” says the LA Times' Christopher Hawthorne. Its period lobby and underground tunnels have been used as filming locations.

ZevWeb is covering the renaissance of interest in the old place, and also its tattered condition. The Hall of Records needs a lot of work, as Neutra's son Dion laments. “Why would a steward of a building like that, with millions of dollars of original cost, allow it to deteriorate like that?” he asked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Bringing more people into the area is a good thing and will change how people view [the building],” said Linda Dishman, executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. Although she says the Hall of Records is “very much admired”—and eligible for listing on the California Register of historic resources—it’s less visible than other downtown Modernist favorities like architect A.C. Martin’s Department of Water and Power Building, not to mention Frank Gehry’s internationally acclaimed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“Buildings that people can see from the freeway, they really tend to care about,” Dishman said....

Some signature elements of the building’s architecture are now broken, repurposed or out of public view, although many of its glories remain. Its most compelling features—massive solar-activated aluminum louvers, designed to move with the sun and keep the offices inside shaded—have been locked into place for more than two decades. The building’s manager says they’re “beyond economical repair.”

In a digital age, the windowless wing of the T-shaped building that was built to hold records now tends to hold mostly county workers instead.

There's a picture gallery at the Yaroslavsky website.

Photo: Henry Salazar/Los Angeles County

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