Wilshire Boulevard is a natural place for Sunday's Ciclavia — it runs through the heart of the city's geography, history and culture. I'm a bit biased. I wrote a book on the role of Wilshire Boulevard in the 20th century city of destiny: Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles, with J. Eric Lynxwiler. I also wrote the informational blurbs on sidewalk signs that you might encounter on your Ciclavia explorations.
Wilshire Boulevard was not planned to be anything: it's the accidental main street of Los Angeles. It was scratched out of the earth in 1896 by one of the more interesting figures to ever do business here, Gaylord Wilshire, then commandeered by the manifest destiny of Los Angeles to expand from a pueblo into a big city. Below are some of my favorite features, stopping points and hidden gems along the boulevard.
There are other suggestions in a Modernist's Guide to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard put together for Ciclavia by architectural scholar Cathy Gudis, in a podcast series by Edward Lifson, and a guide to the high spots by the city blogger Militant Angeleno.
Related news: Making Wilshire nice for Ciclavia
Most of the photos are from LA Observed. Click any image to see it bigger.
The four blocks of Wilshire that pierce the downtown street grid are proof that the boulevard was not planned out, but just evolved. It sits like an interloper between 6th and 7th streets, only pushed from Figueroa Street to Grand Avenue in the late 1920s. Intentions to go further east by razing vast swaths of downtown were dropped. Since traffic is lightest here, the boulevard closes for filming a lot.
The One Wilshire building where the boulevard begins does not actually have a Wilshire address. It's on Grand Avenue. Built as a prestige office building that once towered over downtown, One Wilshire's tenants today are telecommunications switches and cables.
Across the street, the northwest corner was the location of the original Dawson's Books that later became a literary landmark of the Larchmont district. The photo is from 1940.
The 62-floor AON tower at Wilshire and Hope was the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles when it opened in 1974. It was known as First Interstate Tower when a scary fire in 1988 threatened to bring down the entire building. After that near-disaster, fire sprinklers were installed in LA office towers.
The sleek terra cotta Pegasus Apartments are beloved by fans of architect Welton Becket, but the residences began with a more prosaic role. The building was the headquarters of General Petroleum, at the time the parent company of Mobil gas stations.
LA traffic may seem bad now, but in the 1920s true gridlock threatened the future growth plans of the city. One solution was to take over a narrow residential avenue between downtown and Westlake Park. Road crews and bulldozers widened Orange Street to four lanes. The street was renamed Wilshire Boulevard. Some signs of the old days remain.
La Parilla at Wilshire and Witmer Street is located in a converted 1905 house. Signs displayed on the walls claim it was once owned by Charlie Chaplin, the actor. But it actually belonged to Charles Chapman, a real estate developer whose name comes up later on Wilshire.
S. Charles Lee was the designer of renowned movie theaters across Los Angeles and elsewhere. He lived and worked for a time in the blue building at 1648 Wilshire. Go around back on Little Street and check out what's hidden behind.
The Westlake Professional Building opened in 1923 when the district around Wilshire and Westlake was high-rent. The tower was designed by the firm of John and Donald Parkinson, before father and son partnered on Bullock's Wilshire.
You'll hear it said often at Cicalvia that Wilshire Boulevard was the invention of socialist millionaire Gaylord Wilshire. But the only part of Wilshire Boulevard that Gaylord had anything to do with were the four blocks between Westlake (now MacArthur) Park and Lafayette Park. He subdivided his 35 acres of barley for mansions in 1896 and soon after left LA. He was gone for most of two decades.
The first home built on Wilshire Boulevard belonged to LA Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis. Stop at Wilshire and Park View and check out the 1920 statues of Otis pointing toward his house and a newsboy (not, incidentally, modeled after a Times newsboy.) There was a third statue when Buster Keaton posed among the sculptures in the 1921 silent film "Hard Luck" — it has been missing for decades.
The Granada Shoppes and Studios, around the corner from Wilshire at 627 S. Lafayette Park Place, were designed by Franklin Harper in 1927. The complex of Spanish Colonial Revival shops around courtyards is a Los Angeles historic-cultural landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Oilman Edward Doheny advertised his Town House apartments as "Southern California's most distinguished address." After Conrad Hilton took over, son Nicky and Elizabeth Taylor celebrated their wedding there.
After Lafayette Park, Wilshire Boulevard bends west to follow the former boundary between old Spanish and Mexican ranchos. From the 1920s into the 1960s, this was one of LA's fanciest districts.
Bullock's Wilshire: simply the most gorgeous building from Art Deco Los Angeles. Currently the home of Southwestern University Law School, if it's open to the public on Sunday try to check out the transportation mural on the ceiling of the porte cochere above the rear entrance.
The Talmadge Apartments were another celebrated 1920s address — legend says the building was named for silent film star Norma Talmadge. Across Berendo Avenue is the Gothic-looking Immanuel Presbyterian Church.
The stretch of Koreatown known as Wilshire Center was once the home of Fortune 500 companies and million-dollar churches. The edifices remain, if not the LA financial culture that constructed them.
The Equitable Building is built on the site of the original Brown Derby cafe. The last Brown Derby was across Alexandria Avenue toward the Gaylord Apartments. There were two other Wilshire Boulevard locations; the final hat is upstairs in Brown Derby Plaza.
The consulate of Indonesia at Wilshire and Mariposa occupies the former showroom and headquarters of Auburn Cord automobiles, a luxury brand from the 1930s. A.C. Martin architects designed the building.
Who doesn't love a building made of green terra cotta? Another Stiles O. Clements beauty — note the second-floor windows that were ideal for displaying merchandise to riders atop Wilshire's open-air buses.
From Western Avenue to Highland, Wilshire seems to slip into a time warp. No office towers, no restaurants, no evidence that this was the most important street in Los Angeles. That's because the residents of Hancock Park, Windsor Square and Fremont Place like it that way and they are very well connected. The official mayor's residence is in this district.
This might be the last Wilshire Boulevard house still in use as a residence. The Militant Angeleno makes a case.
Fremont Place is an exclusive gated community where the residents have included Mary Pickford, Muhammad Ali and Bank of America founder A.P. Gianini. You probably can't get in, but there are two sets of concrete gates to admire that date from 1911.
Near Highland Avenue, a blue sign erected by the city announces the Brookside neighborhood. To catch a glimpse of the natural stream, which runs behind homes on the west side of Longwood Avenue, take Longwood south to 8th Street and peek through fences.
At the southeast corner of Wilshire and Highland, the Postwar House was designed by Welton Becket for developer Fritz B. Burns to show off the modern conveniences available to 1946 home buyers. After a makeover, it reopened as the House of Tomorrow then served as Burns' headquarters.
The Miracle Mile was once a linear shopping center, with almost every one of LA's major stores represented along Wilshire. It has three surviving Art Deco towers, mixed in with museums, media offices and boulevard apartments. With subway stations envisioned at both ends, change is coming.
You know the E. Clem Wilson Building for the Samsung sign on top, and maybe as the first Daily Planet building on TV's "Superman." But the Meyer and Holler-designed building was just plain cool in its day. The dirigible mast on top is long gone. Photo: LAPL
Stay alert around the La Brea Tar Pits. Pools of oozing asphalt underlie the whole area, and the stuff sometimes pops out where you least expect it. Notice also the sidewalk light poles that don't have lamps at the top. They are actually vent pipes to bleed off underground methane gas.
The Wilshire Special lanterns were installed between downtown and Fairfax Avenue in the 1920s and '30s. They feature female figures at the four corners of the light box and interesting finials on top. Pretty gorgeous, all in all. They are only found on Wilshire Boulevard and in museums. There is also one in the third-floor rotunda of Los Angeles City Hall.