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December 27, 2016

The 10 best Art Deco buildings in Los Angeles

The architectural diversity of Los Angeles is vast, pulling in styles from Craftsman to Googie and from midcentury modern to Victorian, so it’s no surprise the area holds a crop of amazing Art Deco buildings in a variety of sizes and variations. In Downtown Los Angeles alone, there are a handful of statement buildings featuring […]

The architectural diversity of Los Angeles is vast, pulling in styles from Craftsman to Googie and from midcentury modern to Victorian, so it's no surprise the area holds a crop of amazing Art Deco buildings in a variety of sizes and variations. In Downtown Los Angeles alone, there are a handful of statement buildings featuring dazzling details inside and out: the Eastern Columbia, the Oviatt Building, the Central Library. But Art Deco in LA is not confined to Downtown. The architecture can be found from Hollywood to San Pedro, and we enlisted the Los Angeles Conservancy to help us pinpoint the most vital of these buildings. We've compiled the picks into this map, with conservancy president and CEO Linda Dishman helping shine light on what makes these 10 spots so special. A number of the map points, including the Eastern Columbia and the Central Library, are also featured on the conservancy's Art Deco walking tour, but this map extends beyond what's walkable in a single day.

1 Eastern Columbia Building

This big blue jewel on Broadway is "one of the great, iconic buildings of Los Angeles," says Dishman. Designed by one of Art Deco's leading architects, Claud Beelman, it opened in 1930 as the headquarters of furniture and clothing stores Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company, hence the building's name. The 13-story structure's turquoise terra cotta exterior is accented with blue and gold terra cotta, as well as a whole array of geometric designs—sunbursts, zigzags, chevrons. It also boasts a distinctive clock tower emblazoned with the word "Eastern." In 2006, the building underwent a $30-million, award-winning condo conversion. The building has long attracted celebrities such as Johnny Depp, who just this year listed his five penthouses in the building for a total of $12.7 million.

2 Bullocks Wilshire (Southwestern Law School)

Completed in 1929 as a Bullocks department store, the John Parkinson-designed building boasted light fixtures by the famous French glass designer Rene Lalique and fabulous interior artwork. The department store operated for more than 60 years, and in 1994, Southwestern Law School bought the building, restoring and converting it into an academic building for the school—a project that lasted 10 years and cost $29 million, according to the LA Conservancy. The result is a really "sensitive" restoration job that didn't change the space very much, and in some cases, reversed changes that had been done to the building to make the space more like it would have been in 1929. The building is open once a year for tours, so if a chance comes to visit the space, take it. "It's such a perfect example of Art Deco architecture," down to its tower—a feature that is very common to Art Deco, says Dishman. In this case, it's also likely that the tower was a way to "skirt" the then-rule that no buildings in LA could be higher than 12 stories, she adds.

3 Los Angeles Central Public Library

The Central Library's Bertram Goodhue-designed building opened in 1926. The exterior is decorated with limestone sculptures and incorporates a wide range of influences from Byzantine to Egyptian. Atop the building, a tiled pyramid is capped with a torch, "symbolizing the light of knowledge," says the LA Conservancy. Inside, the library features an oft-photographed rotunda, a huge chandelier of a globe, and 12 murals that illustrate California history. Prolonged threats to demolish the building were part of the reason for the founding of the LA Conservancy in 1978.

4 One Bunker Hill

One Bunker Hill was built in 1931 as the headquarters of Southern California Edison. The exterior offers a mix of limestone and terra cotta. Inside, "at least" 17 types of marble were used to make the walls and floor. The lobby is also bedecked with coffered ceilings and a mural by artist Hugo Ballin. Also known as the Edison Building, the building was purchased in 2015 by Rising Realty Partners, which is aiming to restore the Art Deco greatness, removing interior drop ceilings and carpeting and stripping a 1980s addition of green glass covers over the outside terraces. The lobby is open to the public, notes Dishman, so it's possible to pop in and sneak a peek.

5 The Oviatt Building

This glorious Art Deco/Beaux Arts structure was completed in 1928 for Alexander & Oviatt, "one of the most prestigious and expensive haberdasheries in the city," says the LA Conservancy. In addition to space for the shop, the structure included office space and a 10-room penthouse for James Oviatt. The penthouse is now an event venue, and what was the store's space is Cicada Restaurant. Originally, the lobby and penthouse were bedecked with glasswork by famed French glass designer Rene Lalique. Sadly, most of that glass is gone—either lost or sold over time, says the Conservancy. (And, the gate in front of the lobby might appear Art Deco, but it's not original to the building.)

6 Griffith Observatory

Perched high up in Griffith Park, the Observatory is a huge tourist draw for its impressive views and fantastic architecture. Designed by Los Angeles City Hall architect John C. Austin and architect Frederick Ashley, the Griffith Observatory was completed in 1935. The Deco structure has been called "a mishmash of grand and monument styles." It features murals in its main foyer "depicting the history of astrology and the mythical heavens" by renowned artist Hugo Ballin. Griffith Observatory has been called "probably the most recognizable and beloved building in Los Angeles" by restoration maven Brenda Levin, who, along with architect Stephen Johnson, spearheaded much-needed restoration and expansion of the structure that began in 2002 and ended in 2006.

7 The Wiltern

The Wiltern and the Pellissier office building it's attached to are covered in an eye-catching blue-green terra cotta tile. Designed by Stiles O. Clements of the firm Morgan, Walls, & Clements, the structure was completed in 1931 as a theater, the Warner Bros. Western Theatre. Now it's a music venue, but the interior retains its gold-leaf detailing, elaborate murals, and an enormous sunburst on the ceiling of the theater. The interior was designed by the same man that did Downtown's Palace and Orpheum theaters, G. Albert Lansburgh, says the LA Conservancy. The Wiltern is a vital part of LA's architectural conservation history. The theater was sold in the 1950s, and its sale coincided with the beginning of a period of decline. In 1979, the building was under threat of demolition—the life insurance company that owned it wanted to raze the building and sell the land. A citizens group and the LA Conservancy (which was founded in 1978) intervened and helped to save the structure. It was purchased by Wayne Ratkovich and his firm, Ratkovich, Bowerts & Perez, which renovated it with the help of architect Brenda Levin. The rehabbed Wiltern reopened in 1985. It's now operated by LiveNation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

8 Selig Commercial Building

A lesser-known Art Deco treasure located on 3rd Street and Western Avenue, this building began its life as a Selig retail store and was later converted into a Crocker bank. Now it holds a variety of small businesses within its walls. "I've always loved this building," says Dishman. "It's so striking." Clad in black-and-gold, glazed terra cotta, it was built in 1931 for a haberdashery. The architect, Arthur E. Harvey, also designed the Wilshire Professional building and the Santa Monica Professional Building, which is soon to become that city's first outpost of the boutique Proper Hotel brand. The Selig building was named a city Historic-Cultural Monument in 1985. According to the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, it is one of only two black-and-gold, glazed terra cotta Art Deco buildings in the city today.

9 Bay Cities Guaranty Building

Completed in 1930 and designed by the firm Walker and Eisen, the 12-story Bay Cities Guaranty building was the tallest building in Santa Monica for more than 40 years, according to the Santa Monica Conservancy. The clock at the top of the tower rises four stories high and is covered in terra cotta tiles. The Bay Cities Guaranty and Loan Association was the big bank in town during the 1920s and "helped to finance the vast boom in real estate development that came with dramatic population growth during that decade," says the SM Conservancy. The 1929 stock market crash ended all that. Known locally as the Clock Tower, it now holds offices.

10 Warner Grand Theatre

Designed by Pantages Theater architect B. Marcus Priteca, the Warner Grand was completed 1931 and called the Warner Bros. Theatre. Jack Warner of the Warner Brothers film studios called the movie palace the “Castle of our Dreams.” The Warner Grand represents Art Deco "on a smaller scale," says Dishman. "It's not as tall as, say, the Wiltern, but it fits into the context of its neighborhood." As interior photos demonstrate, there's also no glamour lost on the smaller, Warner Grand. "[A] glamorous refuge during the dark days of the Great Depression," according to the LA Conservancy, the interior features a carved wooden ceiling with a sunburst design and fabulous Art Deco tile and lighting fixtures. In 1999, the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places.