Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Back to the future

I grew up in the 1960's when the prevalent architectural vision reflected the dawning space age. Designers imagining the cities of the futures pictured tall building surrounded by flying vehicles, ramps and elevated highways. My childhood ideas of the future came from such sources as the Jetsons, the 1964 New York World's Fair, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. That style of architecture is out of fashion nowadays. We have returned to a more old-fashioned, pedestrian-friendly idea of city life. It's called the New Urbanism, and I'm all for it.

But cities like Los Angeles still retain examples of distinguished architecture from this period. (e.g., the Theme building at Los Angeles Airport; the Cinerama Dome, which I had a hand in saving; the Music Center; the Columbia Records Building) These buildings are both historic and futuristic at the same time. Downtown LA also contains remnants of a plan to build a series of bridges to connect its buildings, and an elaborate people-mover system that would shuttle people around downtown in the kinds of trams you now see mainly at airports, or Disneyland. The people mover plan was killed as part of President Reagan's budget cuts in 1981, and most people think it was a good thing it was killed, otherwise the downtown sky would be cluttered with a lot of ugly elevated tramways. As I mentioned, nowadays we believe in sidewalks again, and are busy installing more outdoor cafes and retail on the street. The idea of whizzing around downtown on elevated tramways is no longer so appealing. Instead, current plans call for reviving streetcars.

The building we're about to move our offices to, the LA World Trade Center (350 S. Figeuroa St.), has a large empty plaza in the back originally designed to be one of the main stations for the never-built downtown people mover. The building also connects to all the surrounding buildings by an elaborate series of bridges and ramps that are still used as pedestrian access to nearby hotels, office building, and apartments. The World Trade Center is so futuristic it has no front door that opens onto the sidewalk, only elevators that take you to a long concourse that looks like it could have been part of the 1964 World's Fair. It was designed to be entered primarily through the parking garage. That makes it less than ideal for New Urbanists such as myself who prefer to take the subway to work, but still convenient for accessing Bunker Hill and other parts of downtown. Looking out my new office window, across some freeway ramps, I will be able to gaze at another remnant of the space age, the Bonaventure Hotel, replete with even more flying ramps, bridges and outdoor elevators. For someone such as myself, interested in the movement to re-invigorate downtowns, it seems ironic to move into this artifact of an abandoned and probably unworkable dream for downtown Los Angeles. On the other hand, I am also interested in historic preservation. And these days, what is now being called mid-century style seems to represent the new historic.

OUR NEW ADDRESS (as of July 23, 2012):

Law Offices of Joseph C. Markowitz
350 S. Figueroa St., Suite 975
Los Angeles, CA 90071

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