Los Angeles has many different types of architectural styles scattered throughout the city and nearby satellite cities. Los Angeles has a rich, diverse history of architectural works, having been known throughout professional architectural circles as a testbed for architecture. The case study houses in particular revolutionized residential architecture.
Over the years, the beautiful and diverse city of Los Angeles has been home to a multitude of different architectural styles. From the centuries-old Spanish influence, to mid twentieth century practicality, LA architecture is unique, yet at the same time helps to define the “American” style. Los Angeles is home to some of the finest examples of historic architecture in the country. Whether you are looking for a Victorian mansion or a modern palace to call your own, there is no shortage of architecture styles to be found all across the city.
Los Angeles boasts a diverse spread of architecture, different styles that help give Los Angeles and its surrounding area its unique look and visual aesthetic. Some of the different types of architectural styles throughout the city and metropolitan area are mission revival, Spanish colonial revival, craftsman, Norman French provincial, French chateau, English Tudor, beaux arts, art deco, and streamline moderne.
Los Angeles is often characterized by the presence of low-rise buildings, in contrast to New York City. Los Angeles has carved out its own architectural identity. Look below the glassy skyscrapers and you’ll find Art Deco high-rises in Downtown Los Angeles, craftsman bungalows in Pasadena and envious estates along the hills and beaches.
Outside of a few centers such as Downtown, Warner Center, Century City, Koreatown, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, and Westwood, skyscrapers and high-rise buildings are not common in Los Angeles. In downtown Los Angeles, there are several buildings constructed in the Art Deco style. In recognition of this heritage, the recently built Metropolitan Transit Authority building incorporates subtle Art Deco characteristics. The few skyscrapers built outside of those areas often stand out above the rest of the surrounding landscape.
Modern architecture in the city ranges from the works of pioneering African-American architect Paul Williams, to the iconoclastic deconstructivist forms of Frank Gehry, a long-time resident of the city. Charles Eames and his wife Ray Eames designed famous chairs and other domestic goods. Architects such as Richard Neutra, Jack Charney, Pierre Koenig, John Lautner and Frank Lloyd Wright all have important works in the city.
The architectural styles in Los Angeles are closely tied to the city’s history and evolution. At the time of its founding in 1850, Los Angeles was scarcely more than a semi-lawless pioneer outpost with encampments near the Los Angeles River. The city’s street patterns generally follow a grid plan, with uniform block lengths and occasional roads that cut across blocks. However, this is complicated by rugged terrain, which has necessitated having different grids for each of the valleys that Los Angeles covers.
At the turn of the 20th century, Hollywood was nothing more than a quiet farming community filled with farmhouses, adobe huts, and orange groves. That was about to change rapidly. As it grew into an important trade hub on the West Coast, bankers and industrialists built grand Victorian homes downtown and in Angelino Heights (arguably the city’s first suburb, just a few blocks from the city center). But, the architectural style of homes remained limited.
In 1908, the first film was shot entirely in Los Angeles. By 1915, the major motion picture companies had moved from New York to Hollywood, kicking off a wave of residential development that continued during the “Roaring 20s.” Period Revival style homes like Spanish, Mediterranean, Italianate, and Tudor dominated the scene during this time. This was also the era of planned subdivisions like Hollywoodland (in upper Beachwood Canyon), Whitley Heights, and Outpost Estates. The construction boom ran out of steam when the U.S. stock market crashed in 1929.
The next wave of construction in Los Angeles occurred during WWII as thousands of workers moved to the area to take jobs with defense contractors (Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas, et al.) as part of the war effort. For example, thousands of small, single-family homes were built in less than a year near Santa Monica Airport to house the workforce of 70,000 who manufactured and assembled aircraft there.
The suburbanization of Los Angeles characterizes the postwar period’s prosperity (from 1945 to the recession of 1973). Mid-Century Modern and Ranch-style homes dominated the scene. These styles were relatively inexpensive to construct, and their simplicity and utility met the needs of the burgeoning middle class. Much larger footprints characterize contemporary homes built from the 1980s to the present as living areas swelled in square footage. Larger garages were also required as an increasing number of households owned more than one vehicle.
Modern architecture and Skyscrapers in Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is the central business district of Los Angeles, California. Most districts are named for the activities concentrated there now or historically, e.g. the Arts, Civic Center, Fashion, Banking, Theater, Toy, and Jewelry districts.
Downtown Los Angeles itself has many buildings over 30 stories, with fourteen over 50 stories, and two over 70 stories, the tallest of which is the Wilshire Grand Center. Also, Los Angeles is increasingly becoming a city of apartments rather than single-family dwellings, especially in the dense inner city and Westside neighborhoods.
The first height limit ordinance in Los Angeles was enacted following the completion of the 13-story Continental Building, located at the southeast corner of Fourth and Spring streets. The purpose of the height limit was to limit the density of the city. There was great hostility to skyscrapers in many cities in these years, mainly due to the congestion they could bring to the streets, and height limit ordinances were a common way of dealing with the problem.
In 1911, the city passed an updated height limit ordinance, establishing a specific limit of 150 feet (46 m). Exceptions were granted for decorative towers such as those later built on the Eastern Columbia Building and United Artists Theatre, as well as the now-demolished Richfield Tower. The 1911 ordinance was repealed in 1957. The first private building to exceed the old limit was the 18-story United California Bank Building, located at the southeast corner of Sixth and Spring streets
Downtown has been experiencing a renaissance that started in the early 2000s. The Staples Center anchors downtown’s south end, and along Broadway, pre-war buildings are being restored for new uses, such as a luxury condos, co-working spaces, and high-end retail.
Architectural styles in the suburbs
English style / Tudors style
Cottage homes in a traditional English style are highly sought-after. Cottage styles often incorporate idiosyncratic layouts, cozier rooms, and curving roof eaves sometimes finished with brickwork or mock-thatch. Casement windows with leaded panes sometimes feature. Owners often incorporate old-world details such as stained glass, stone flagstones, or mullioned windows. Arches and curves add geometric interest to these homes’ exteriors, which often reveal their interior structure.
English-styled homes might also incorporate medieval Tudor elements such as exposed structural beams picked out in black against whitewashed walls. This was a typical look in English homes during the reign of the Tudor monarchs between 1485 and 1560. It was revived as a style in the UK in the latter half of the 19th century, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Inside, ceilings often feature exposed interior beams in a rustic style. These homes can be quite tall with steeply sloped roofs and multiple floors. They are often half-timbered, with wood paneling on the upper levels and stone or brickwork below.
The victorian style encompasses a wide variety of styles. Prevalent styles found today in neighborhoods such as Angelino Heights or West Adams include Queen Anne, Eastlake and Folk—or some combination of multiple styles.
Queen Anne: The most exuberant of all the Victorian styles, Queen Annes are asymmetrical, and often feature turrets and towers, round or octagonal rooms, elaborate spindle-work, fish-scale siding, and patterned masonry.
Eastlake: Eastlake structures are one to two stories, have steeply pitched roofs with gables, rectangular windows, decorative brackets, elaborate cladding with curved timbering, and curved wooden arches over entryways.
Folk: Generally symmetrical and relatively plain homes for the working and middle class, Folk Victorians were built using plan books published by architectural companies. Their features include gabled roofs and front porches embellished with prefabricated trim.
American colonial style
American colonial style is based upon British Colonial architecture dating from the 1600s to the mid-1700s. Although there are French Colonial, Dutch Colonial, and other Colonial styles inspired by the domestic architecture prevalent amongst those nations, American Colonial refers to the sub-set based on British homes of the pre-Civil War period.
The style is based upon British townhouses but substitutes narrow clapboard siding or stone for the brick-and-mortar construction you might commonly find in the UK. Focus upon symmetry, a central staircase usually stands behind the front door, and window distribution is equilateral. A steeply gabled or hipped roof is usually tiled in grey slate. Sometimes gabled roofs are tall enough to contain an attic floor with windows in the gables.
Windows are often tall and rectangular with multiple panes, and these homes contain at least two stories. Typical detailing includes simple Greek or Roman-style columns or pediments and square chimney stacks. Due to their steeply raked roofs, the front elevation of these homes conceals the sides of the building. American Colonial homes are usually rectangular in shape, but homeowners often add extensions to the side or rear elevations.
Spanish Colonial Revival style
Became Southern California’s pre-eminent architectural style in the wake of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915-1917. To house the San Diego exposition, architects Bertram Goodhue and Carleton Winslow designed a campus of buildings that blended elements of Mission Revival, Mexican, Spanish Baroque/Churrigueresque, and Islamic styles. This unique concoction was a resounding hit, and soon homes with low-pitched red tile roofs, courtyards, white stucco walls with rounded corners, painted tile, wrought-iron accents, and arched windows and doorways became a ubiquitous sight.
Spanish-Moorish: Signature elements of this style include horseshoe or ogee arches, ornamental stone and wood carved with geometric or floral motifs, and decorative tile, as seen at Malibu’s Adamson House, the Andalusia apartments in West Hollywood, and at the Shrine Auditorium.
Monterey Colonial Revival: A mixture of Mexican, New England Colonial, and Spanish styles, Monterey Revival homes are two stories, and feature second-floor verandas with wood railings, plaster or thick stucco walls, and louvered shutters (though these are often fixed).
Chateauesque / French Normandy style / French Revival style
Loosely based on the architecture of 16th-century French chateaux in the Loire Valley, the Chateauesque style became trés chic in Los Angeles during the 1920s thanks to its fantasy appeal, aristocratic associations, and last but not least, advances in veneer cladding techniques that approximated the look of expensive masonry construction. Identifying traits include steeply pitched hipped roof lines, spires, pinnacles, turrets, gables, shaped chimneys, dormers, and round or gothic archways.
Popular in America between 1915 and 1945, French-inspired styles were popularized by soldiers returning home from the World Wars. French Revival is really a cover-all term for several sub-styles, including Norman Cottage, Chateauesque, and French Eclectic.
Normandy’s provincial homes featured narrow-eave, steep-hipped roofs, with side-facing gables and sometimes an L-shaped plan placing the front door at the junction of the two wings. Dormer windows often project through the eaves, and these rustic-styled homes are finished in stucco, stone, or brick. Stonework window surrounds, louvered shutters, and delicate wrought iron touches are other signatures of this style.
Chateauesque, as its name suggests, is a grander and more formal look, borrowing from French medieval castle design. Large homes in this style often have round towers or square turrets surmounted with conical or pyramidal roofs. Arched or porthole windows and decorative door surrounds are standard. Inside, sweeping staircases and high-ceilinged interiors add to the splendor of this variant.
French eclectic might blend aspects of Craftsman, Cottage, or other styles to create a hybrid form while still retaining some of the rustic elements of French provincial homes, such as steeply raked grey-tiled roofs and brick chimneys.
Peaking in the 1920s and 1930s but still popular today, Mediterranean Revival style draws from an eclectic blend of Spanish Renaissance and Spanish Colonial, Italian Renaissance, Andalusian and Beaux-Arts influences. Commonly found in Florida and Southern California, these homes offer comfort and often integrate interior courtyards and landscaped gardens.
Stucco exteriors are often painted in bright, earthy tones, and flat roofs reflect the excessive summer heat. Roof terraces and balconies are sometimes seen, and there is a definite focus on integrating exterior and interior spaces. Decorative arches and shady terraces are common features, as are projecting porches over heavy wooden front doors. Windows often are tall with shutters on either side, and where roofs are sloped, the angle tends to be shallow. Overlapping terracotta pantiles co-ordinate with pale yellow or ochre exteriors.
Much is made of water features such as fountains and ornamental ponds, a particular Andalusian influence, as is the repeating arched detailing on eaves and porches. These homes are in great demand for their elegance and comfort.
Originating in England, the Arts and Crafts movement emphasized a unity with nature and prized handmade details over the cheap mass production of the Industrial Revolution. Distinguishing traits of Craftsman bungalows include low-pitched rooflines, gabled or hipped roofs, overhanging eaves, shaded porches, extensive woodwork, double-hung windows, and Batchelder tile fireplaces.
The American Craftsman style is an indigenous form of domestic architecture based loosely upon the 19th century English Arts and Crafts movement. Its name comes from a magazine founded in 1901 by furniture-maker Gustav Stickley, The Craftsman. Craftsman style flourished from about 1905 into the 1930s and remains a very desirable style of residence today. Modern versions of this style usually keep the low-angled, projecting eaves and large porches, whilst substituting more modern materials, exteriors with light colors, and additional upper floor space.
Low-pitched gabled roofs are an identifying feature of these homes, which tend to consist of a single floor spread out over a comparatively large floor plan. They are generally asymmetrical in layout and feature large front porches and exposed wooden structural elements. Natural materials such as stone and wood are preferred, with a focus on a high degree of craftsmanship and easy integration into natural surroundings. These homes can be comfortable without being showy, although grander examples do exist, such as Greene and Greene’s Gamble House in Pasadena.
Bungalow courts style
Bungalow courts style originated in British colonial India – the word bungalow comes from the Gujarati word Bangala, meaning “house in the Bengal style.” Popular in the US between 1905 and 1930, these homes were simple and easily reproduced, often supplied in kit form for local construction teams to assemble.
This form of multifamily rental housing in which a group of small detached structures are clustered around a central communal courtyard was introduced in 1909 by Pasadena architect Sylvanus Marston, and soon replicated all over the Southland in a wide range of architectural styles. Their heyday was cut short by World War II, after which higher density apartment buildings became the preferred model.
Bungalows commonly have wide gabled roofs that extend over large front porches, with large columns propping up exposed eaves. Thus, they are well-suited to areas with sweltering climates and occasional rainstorms. They are usually built over one main story with a smaller second story often incorporate into the roof with a dormer in the front elevation.
A standard detail is the decorative knee braces holding the extended eaves, from which hanging flower baskets are often hung. Windows on bungalows tend to be double-hung with single panes and simple wooden casements. These homes’ interiors are often open-plan with built-in cabinetry incorporated into large fireplaces, such as benches on either side. The large covered front porches of these Craftsman-style homes are a crucial attribute, emphasizing relaxation and welcome.
Seen in Downtown’s temples of finance, commerce, and law, Beaux Arts is a classical style characterized by Greco-Roman elements: columns, arches, vaults, and domes. The buildings were constructed with high quality materials such as limestone, while their interiors were dressed to impress in marble, mahogany, alabaster, terrazzo, bronze, and brass. Exterior embellishments include bas-relief sculptures and glazed terra cotta tiles.
Mission Revival style
Influenced by the Franciscan Alta California missions, these buildings feature low-pitched roofs with red clay tiles, plain stucco exteriors, arches, and mission-style parapets.
Cape Cod style
Cape Cod architecture is one of the most iconic American house styles. Named after the coastal Massachusetts region, where this architecture is ubiquitous, it is actually based on a British Georgian style from the 18th century. Transposed to the American colonies, the style has been simplified and rendered practical for local materials and climates.
Cape Cod style can be cold, wet, and windy in the winter. The architecture of that region, which spread quickly throughout New England, reflects this climate. Low eaves and ceilings and a large central, brick-built chimney keep these homes warm in inclement weather. A one-and-a-half-story structure without dormers is typical, as is the clapboard or cedar siding, window shutters, and side shingles left unpainted to weather in.
The boom period for this type of housing was 1700 to 1850, and a revival took place from the 1920s to the 1950s. Simple to construct and to extend, the Cape Cod style became popular throughout the US, particularly in the post-war era when the US government launched mortgage programs for returning servicemembers. A modern variant might include gabled dormers on the upper floor and decorative porticos with Greek or Roman-style columns.
Named after eighteenth-century Spanish architect José Benito de Churriguera, Churrigueresque architecture is distinguished by exceedingly flamboyant sculptural ornamentation. Meant to inspire awe in the observer, the intensely detailed and textural stucco work of Churrigueresque buildings often feature broken pediments, inverted columns, scrolls, garlands, and layer upon layer of curved surfaces. LA’s interpretation of the theatrical style can be seen at St. Vincent de Paul church on West Adams, Downtown’s Million Dollar Theatre, and at Chapman Plaza in Koreatown.
While Southern California is rich in architectural variation, Googie—exemplifying the collision of car culture and the Jet Age futurism that bloomed after World War II—is arguably the signature style of the region. Cantilevered roofs, starbursts, and hard angles are all themes in Googie architecture. Googie designs were geared toward catching eyes of drivers, enticing them to slow down and come in. Googie captured the post-war high that made people feel that the future was now and they were living in it. As time passed, Googie came to reflect a very 1950s and ’60s view of what “the future” meant.
One of the oldest looking styles in American domestic architecture, cottage homes developed out of the Craftsman style, inspired by the village architecture of Old Europe, particularly England. They were a popular type of home from the 1920s to 1940s, tending to have a smaller overall footprint (under 2000 sq ft) and often just one or one and a half floors.
Asymmetry of design is a key feature, with idiosyncratic and cozy room layouts, often built around a central chimney. Front-facing gables sometimes incorporate a catslide roof, where a curving interior slope contrasts with steep, straight eaves on the outside. There are often mock-retro touches such as imitation thatched roofs and windows with leaded panes.
Cottage style is rustic without being ramshackle. Front doors may be wooden with period detailing and rounded tops containing small glass panels. Stucco, shingle, or lapped siding is a typical finish. Homeowners often encourage climbing plants such as ivy or wisteria to add a decorative flourish. Hybrid cottage styles might include small porches and gabled dormers in attic stories. Balconies and bay windows are other possible modifications features in more extensive examples of this style.
Steeped in Hollywood fantasy and fairy tales, Storybook homes feature steeply pitched thatched roofs—some with undulating shingle patterns—turrets, dovecotes, stained glass, half-timbering, and other whimsical Old World touches.
Based loosely on a Western frontier home, Ranch-style houses have the modular simplicity of modernist homes with the “down-home” feel of a traditional 19th-century homestead. It is a truly American style, originating in the 20s but becoming popular from the 40s to 70s. A post-war baby boom made it necessary to build many new homes quickly, and the simple construction and homely detailing of these houses made them popular with post-war homeowners.
Ranch-style homes have a low and wide footprint with gradually-sloping roofs and usually just one floor. They often have a brick lower half with wooden paneling or painted masonry above. Eaves tend to extend beyond the walls offering rain protection. Small porches and step-up doorways are sometimes seen. Although they may have lower ceilings, rooms can be generous in size, and layouts vary from rectangular to L-shaped or U-shaped plans, allowing for a variety of budgets. It’s an incredibly flexible style, and modification is common.
Interiors are often open-plan, and these homes frequently incorporate basements and built-in garages. Front-facing triangular gables sometimes break up the rectangular linearity of this style. They usually have front lawns and ample space for off-road parking.
Georgian Revival style
Found mostly in Bel Air, Hancock Park, Brentwood, and West Adams, Georgian Revival homes are typically two stories, with a rectangular form, a hipped or gabled roof, and a symmetrical facade. Other telltale attributes: a main entrance with a pedimented projecting pavilion supported by pilasters or columns, double-hung sash windows, and Palladian windows.
Art Deco style
Art Deco reared its lovely head in Los Angeles following the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Constructed of smooth-finish building materials such as stucco, concrete block, and glazed brick, Deco buildings have a sleek, linear appearance. Other identifying characteristics include a setback facade, reeding or fluting around doors and windows, stepped-tray ceilings, and lavish ornamentation employing ziggurats, chevrons, and other geometric forms, intense colors, and Egyptian, Native American, and other “exotic” motifs.
Streamline Moderne style
A relatively short-lived style, Streamline Moderne buildings paid homage to the spirit of progress and travel by borrowing the aerodynamic curves of 1930s luxury trains, planes, and ocean liners. Steelbanded casement windows, portholes, curved railings, and chrome accents are all part of the vernacular.
Hollywood Regency style
Popularized by architect John Elgin Woolf, Hollywood Regency samples from 19th century French, Greek Revival, and modernist styles, with a healthy dose of Tinseltown glamour. Defining features include classical symmetry, mansard roofs, oversize Pullman doors, curving staircases, elaborate moldings, oval windows, and pavilions.
Beginning in the 1920s with futurist movements such as the Bauhaus group and European architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius as well as Americans including Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe, the style attempted to blend sculptural form and idealistic function like never before. Daring to use modern materials such as steel, poured concrete, and large panes of glass, modernist architecture proved both practical to build and very fashionable. Comfortable open-plan interiors were softened with designer furnishings, and these homes were often intended to be admired as works of art and showcases for design collections.
In the 1940s, Frank Lloyd Wright, in particular, popularized a more accessible and site-specific style of Modern architecture, which softened some of the brutalism of earlier incarnations. This modification might be termed Mid-Century Modern. Present-day exemplars of this mode might incorporate aspects of other styles, especially Craftsman elements, while incorporating the large open-plan interiors, flat roofs, and sculptural forms familiar to the classic modernist period of the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Midcentury Modern style
After World War II, Los Angeles faced a housing shortage the likes of which it had never before seen. In response, architects of the day, many of them trained at USC, developed and championed a style of home that could be built relatively quickly using inexpensive, mass-produced materials. These houses exude the optimism of the post-war era with clean lines, post-and-beam construction, open plans, clerestory windows, and walls of glass serving to emphasize a connection between indoors and out and take advantage of California’s wonderful climate.
Building on Modernist innovations but taking inspiration from other styles, contemporary homes are simply those which are absolutely current. They tend to incorporate up-to-the-minute innovations in design and materials as well as integrating the latest technologies for security, entertainment, and communication.
These houses tend to be less severe in their aesthetic than some classically modernist homes, with which they share key features such as open-plan interior layouts, blocky construction, flat roofs, and subtle landscaping. These home exteriors are often surfaced in more than one material, with metal contrasting with wood or painted stucco. Eclecticism is a watchword of this style, and contemporary homeowners curate their interiors and gardens with great care.
Sustainable materials and optimized energy consumption give many of these homes a much-reduced carbon footprint. They are commonly found in well-to-do areas where tech or entertainment professionals live, such as Beverly Hills, Pasadena, or the Hollywood Hills. In size, they range from the compact to the palatial.
Ascending in the 1980s to 2000s, Postmodernism delivered a cheeky poke in the eye to Modernism’s austere minimalism, flaunting irregular, fragmentary shapes, bold colors, and visually arresting building materials.
Architectural Landmarks in Los Angeles
Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Frank Gehry–designed home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is, arguably, the cultural centerpiece of downtown L.A. The Walt Disney Concert Hall at 111 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, California, is the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center and was designed by Frank Gehry. It opened on October 24, 2003. Bounded by Hope Street, Grand Avenue, and 1st and 2nd Streets, it seats 2,265 people and serves, among other purposes, as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The hall is a compromise between a vinyard-style seating configuration, like the Berliner Philharmonie by Hans Scharoun, and a classical shoebox design like the Vienna Musikverein or the Boston Symphony Hall.
Lillian Disney made an initial gift of $50 million in 1987 to build a performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney’s devotion to the arts and to the city. Both Gehry’s architecture and the acoustics of the concert hall, designed by Minoru Nagata, the final completion supervised by Nagata’s assistant and protege Yasuhisa Toyota, have been praised, in contrast to its predecessor, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, known as The Huntington, is a collections-based educational and research institution established by Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927) and Arabella Huntington (c.1851–1924) and located in San Marino, California, United States. In addition to the library, the institution houses an extensive art collection with a focus on 18th- and 19th-century European art and 17th- to mid-20th-century American art.
The property also includes specialized botanical landscaped gardens, with 120 acres of thematically sculpted gardens, vast collections of European and American art, and historic manuscripts upon historic manuscripts, the Huntington offers a full day of exploration. On view now throughout the main building are site-specific installations by contemporary artist Alex Israel. Most notably the “Japanese Garden”, the “Desert Garden”, and the “Chinese Garden” (Liu Fang Yuan). On September 5, 2019, The Huntington kicked off a year-long celebration of its centennial year with exhibitions, special programs, initiatives, a special Huntington 100th rose, and a float in the 2020 Rose Parade in nearby Pasadena, California.
The Getty Center
The Getty Center, in Los Angeles, California, is a campus of the Getty Museum and other programs of the Getty Trust. The $1.3 billion Center opened to the public on December 16, 1997 and is well known for its architecture, gardens, and views overlooking Los Angeles. The hilltop home of the late J. Paul Getty’s massive collections of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts is a white travertine masterpiece of modernist architecture, designed by Richard Meier. Artist Robert Irwin conceived the Central Garden, which is an immersive, constantly evolving work of art in itself.
Located in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Center is one of two locations of the J. Paul Getty Museum and draws 1.8 million visitors annually. (The other location is the Getty Villa in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.) The Center branch of the Museum features pre-20th-century European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts; and photographs from the 1830s through present day from all over the world. In addition, the Museum’s collection at the Center includes outdoor sculpture displayed on terraces and in gardens and the large Central Garden designed by Robert Irwin. Among the artworks on display is the Vincent van Gogh painting Irises.
The Eames’s Case Study House
While the former home and studio of the most lauded husband-and-wife designers of all time is now a private residence, its current owner has been kind enough to allow Eames fanatics to take self-guided tours of the exterior (reservations required). For its impact on modernist architecture, it’s worth the look, no question.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States. It holds more than 150,000 works spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. In addition to art exhibits, the museum features film and concert series. L.A.’s anchor arts institution condenses so many icons of Southern California in one place, including the architecture of William Pereira, the plant-based art of Robert Irwin, and a forest of street lamps installed by the late Chris Burden that greets you even before you enter the building.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1919–21 templelike design for an eccentric oil heiress marks two separate milestones: L.A.’s introduction to the architect, and a turning point in Wright’s career geared toward embracing the outdoors, one that paved the way to what is now known as California modernism. After a recent renovation, the house reopened to the public as a museum.
The Stahl House
The Stahl House (also known as Case Study House #22) is a modernist-styled house designed by architect Pierre Koenig in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, California, which is known as a frequent set location in American films. Pierre Koenig’s 1960 Hollywood Hills design checks all the boxes when it comes to California modernist dream homes. It has floor-to-ceiling glass that blurs distinctions between interior and exterior, extraordinary views of the city. Photographic and anecdotal evidence suggests that the architect’s client, Buck Stahl, may have provided an inspiration for the overall structure. In 2013 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Vista Theatre
It’s no surprise that Tinseltown takes its movie theaters very seriously, adding an extra oomph to the moviegoing experience through design. Silver Lake’s Vista Theatre is a classic example. The single-screen 1923 movie house still retains its original kitschy interiors.
The Watts Towers, Towers of Simon Rodia, or Nuestro Pueblo (“our town” in Spanish) are a collection of 17 interconnected sculptural towers, architectural structures, and individual sculptural features and mosaics within the site of the artist’s original residential property in Watts, Los Angeles. Over the course of more than three decades, Italian-born construction worker Simon Rodia built these 17 monumental structures (the tallest standing at nearly 100 feet) from rebar and an array of other found objects, producing one of the most acclaimed and recognizable works of Outsider Art.
The entire site of towers, structures, sculptures, pavement and walls were designed and built solely by Sabato (“Simon”) Rodia (1879–1965), an Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason, over a period of 33 years from 1921 to 1954. The tallest of the towers is 99.5 feet (30.3 m). The work is an example of outsider art (or Art Brut) and Italian-American naïve art. The Watts Towers were designated a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark in 1990. They are also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and one of nine folk art sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places in Los Angeles. The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia State Historic Park encompasses the Watts Towers site.
Greystone Mansion and Park
Tours of the gorgeous 1928 Beverly Hills estate offer a glimpse into how the other half lives—or lived. You might recognize the Gothic exterior from its roles in films like X-Men and The Big Lebowski.
The Shakespeare Bridge in the Franklin Hills section of Los Angeles, California, was built in 1926. It is made of concrete and decorated in a Gothic style. Shakespeare Bridge, a charming, albeit anachronistic, Gothic structure tucked into an unassuming nook of Los Feliz. It was named after famous playwright William Shakespeare and later designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #126 in 1974.
The bridge was rebuilt in 1998 after the Northridge earthquake due to concerns that the structure would not be stable in the event of an earthquake in the Franklin Hills area. As part of the seismic retrofit, the deck, sidewalks, and railings were removed and reconstructed using reinforced concrete. The expansion joints were also removed, so the bridge deck is now a one-piece structural diaphragm built to transfer all seismic forces into the abutment walls at either end of the bridge. All of the rebuilding was done in an effort to preserve the historic appearance of the bridge.
Perched high in the Hollywood Hills, the observatory is one of the city’s most visible—not to mention beautiful—landmarks. It’s got it all: Art Deco architecture, a high-powered telescope, free admission, and extraordinary views.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
The structure replaced the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, which was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Spanish Pritzker Prize winner José Rafael Moneo’s light-filled design, studded with unusual geometric protrusions, hardly fits the traditional profile of a church; the giant cross built into the façade’s central window is the only giveaway. There was considerable controversy over both its deconstructivist and modern design, costs incurred in its construction and furnishing, and the archdiocese’s decision to build a crypt under the cathedral.
Culver City Hayden Tract
The Hayden Tract was a derelict, postindustrial stretch of Culver City until the mid-1980s, when developers Frederick and Laurie Samitaur Smith commissioned architect Eric Owen Moss to revive the area. Over the ensuing decades, the surreal, sci-fi-inspired architecture has attracted high-profile commercial tenants, including Nike and Beats by Dre.
The Mayan Theater
The downtown venue for live music and other nightlife is a show in itself—the artist Francisco Cornejo sculpted the façade to reference pre-Columbian architecture, a popular Art Deco theme that continues in the tomblike interiors. Its over-the-top stylings are a throwback to the excesses of the roaring ’20s.
The Mayan Theater is a prototypical example of the many ornate exotic revival-style theaters of the late 1920s, Mayan Revival in this case. The well-preserved lobby is called “The Hall of Feathered Serpents,” the auditorium includes a chandelier based on the Aztec calendar stone, and the original fire curtain included images of Mayan jungles and temples.
This one’s for the more adventurous; the abandoned 1930s headquarters to Nazi sympathizers is located in the woods of Rustic Canyon and likely on the verge of collapse. Its crumbling walls, however, have become a major destination for graffiti artists.
Wayfarers Chapel, also known as “The Glass Church” is located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. It is noted for its unique organic architecture and location on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. Designed the Rancho Palos Verdes church almost entirely in glass. As with many of Wright’s buildings, the chapel features geometric designs and incorporates the natural landscape into the design. Its transparent walls flood the interior with sunlight and offer views of the wooded surroundings overlooking the ocean. Because of its scenic location, the church is very popular for weddings.
A favorite shooting location for many a movie, commercial, and music video, the cement pipeline that is the L.A. River has a strange industrial charm—just take a look at its cameo as the backdrop in Grease. In certain places, it also has bike trails, wildlife, and gorgeous bridges.
The Bradbury Building
The Bradbury Building is an architectural landmark in downtown Los Angeles, California, United States. Built in 1893, the Bradbury is the oldest commercial building in central Los Angeles, and still retains much of its turn-of-the-century flair. The structure was originally designed by Sumner Hunt and completed by George H. Wyman, and it’s pièce de résistance is a soaring atrium with decorative iron railings, marble staircases, and open cage elevators.
The building’s undistinguished exterior facade of brown brick, sandstone and terracotta detailing was designed in the commercial vernacular Italian Renaissance Revival style current at the time. Its interior is its most notable part. The narrow entrance lobby, with its low ceiling and minimal light “has the look of a Parisian alley of arched windows”, and opens into a bright naturally lit great “awe-inspiring cathedral-like” center court.
The five-story central court features glazed and unglazed yellow and pink bricks, ornamental cast iron, tiling, Italian marble, Mexican tile, decorative terracotta and polished wood, capped by a skylight that allows the court to be flooded with natural rather than artificial light, creating ever-changing shadows and accents during the day. At the time the building was completed, it featured the largest plate-glass windows in Los Angeles.
Pacific Design Center
Designed by architect César Pelli, this tricolor complex opened in phases. The blue building debuted in 1975, followed by the green one in 1988, and the red in 2012. Besides office space, the campus features two restaurants helmed by Wolfgang Puck, a 380-seat film venue and reception facility, and a Michael Graves–designed fitness center.
Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) is the main railway station in Los Angeles, California, and the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States. An unusual blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco styles, this train station is an architectural gem. Built in 1939 by the father-and-son team at Parkinson & Parkinson, Union Station was one of the last grand train hubs to be built in America, and now serves as a stop for L.A.’s Metro Rail. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
The Theme Building
The Theme Building is an iconic Space Age structure at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Influenced by “Populuxe” architecture, it is an example of the Mid-century modern design movement later to become known as “Googie”. Completed in 1960, the spaceship-esque structure was commissioned during an expansion to the airport spurred by the postwar boom in air travel. The Airport Theme Building Exterior and Interior was designated as a historic-cultural monument in 1993 by the city.
The distinctive white building resembles a flying saucer that has landed on its four legs. The appearance of the building’s signature crossed arches as homogeneous structures is a design illusion, created by topping four steel-reinforced concrete legs extending approximately 15 feet above the ground with hollow stucco-covered steel trusses. To counteract earthquake movements, the Theme Building was retrofitted in 2010 with a tuned mass damper without changing its outward appearance. Constructed near the beginning of the Space Age, the building is an example of how aeronautics and pop culture, design and architecture came together in Los Angeles.