See the real LA!
Historic Core Tour
Start this Historic Core tour at Pershing Square and take a walk through the heart of Los Angeles’ downtown (including the historic Broadway Theater District) before finishing at the beautiful Central Library. Also check here as you do the tour, to discover the locations of some famous movies which were filmed in the area.
LOGISTICS & DETAILS
*Walking Distance: 1 mile.
*Tour starts at Pershing Square Metro Station in the center of downtown (map).
*Tour finishes at Los Angeles Public Library (map).
For information on how to do this self-guided tour using the Los Angeles Metro click here.
Start this Historic Core tour in Los Angeles’ oldest park, from 1866. At that time it was on the edge of town, but L.A. has grown a lot since then and it’s now considered the center of downtown. It went though various names before settling on Pershing Square in 1918 (in honor of General John Pershing, commander of U.S. Forces in Europe in World War One). The park has gone through several designs too. It had beautiful formal gardens up to the 1950’s, when it was dug up and a car park was built beneath it. This was very unfortunate as the parking ramps cut the square off and it was impossible to grow shade trees, due to a lack of soil. Ever since then the city has been trying to find a better design, but the last one, by Ricardo Legorreta, is almost universally hated. Now there’s a plan to remove the concrete and ramps and take the square back to ground level. Oh yeah, and have more grass and trees! Fun fact: that purple tower looming over the square is supposed to represent a mission bell tower.
Last Bookstore/Alexandria Hotel
The Last Bookstore may not literally be the last bookstore in downtown – but it probably is. It’s situated in what used to be the Crocker Bank. Now they keep books in the old vaults. It’s a great place just to hang out and if you’re looking for a memento of L.A. why not buy a book about the city here? Opposite the Last Bookstore, on 5th St, is the Alexandria Hotel (easily spotted due to the large “Alexandria Hotel” sign) – continue your Historic Core tour there. Once the finest hotel in Los Angeles, from when it opened in 1906 until 1923, when the Biltmore Hotel (on Pershing Square) opened, it’s now a little run-down unfortunately. Back in the day this was the place to be and to be seen. Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino used to live here and in the evenings they would take to the dance floor of the famed Palm Court, the beautiful ballroom in the heart of the hotel. Fun fact: This was the home of the serial killer John Doe in Se7en and Brad Pitt chased him through the hotel.
Los Angeles Theater
Widely considered the most beautiful theater in downtown’s Theater District – which actually contains the most historic theatres of any city in the U.S. Thought that would be New York, right? Unfortunately none of the theatres are in regular use as theaters now. The Los Angeles Theater opened in 1931 with the Charlie Chaplin classic, City Lights. The opening of a Chaplin movie back then was a seriously big deal and all the stars came out for the premiere – even Albert Einstein came as a guest of Charlie (he was teaching at Caltech at the time). The LAT remained a movie theater until the 1990’s, when it closed, and now it’s used for special events and filming. Fun fact: underneath the auditorium (which held nearly 2,500 patrons) there was a ballroom, a restaurant and a crèche.
Clifford Clinton was from a family of restaurateurs when he founded Clifton’s in 1931 (he combined his first and last names to form “Clifton’s”). There are two things that are really cool about old Clifford. Firstly he instituted a policy at Clifton’s that if you couldn’t afford to pay for your meal it was on the house. During the Great Depression they fed tens of thousands of hungry people. The second thing is that he was put on a committee that was looking into corruption in Los Angeles. He uncovered so much that corrupt officers on the L.A.P.D. tried to kill him! He survived, but brought the mayor and police chief down and if not ending corruption in L.A. at least reducing it. Fun Fact: Ray Bradbury, the famous author, used to eat here regularly. Now go pause your Historic Core tour, go in, and be amazed!
St Vincent’s Court
This alley in the heart of downtown is the site of the very first post high school educational institution in Los Angeles, St Vincent’s College. After several mergers it’s now known as Loyola Marymount University. After the College left Bullock’s built their flagship luxury department store here and over the years they expanded all the way down to S Hill St (building the bridges between the buildings you’ll see above you). In the 1950’s, as part of an effort to create an attraction in this part of downtown Bullock’s oversaw the creation of the fake frontages and trompe l’oeil on the alley, designed to create something of the flavor of a European city in the heart of downtown. Originally most of the cafes were Italian owned (it was one of the only places to get good coffee), but now, as you can see, most of the cafes now offer Middle Eastern food. Fun fact: You’re now in the heart of the Jewelry District, the biggest one in the whole U.S.
James Oviatt Building (Cicada)
James Oviatt moved to L.A. in 1906 and got work in a clothes shop on Broadway. He saved some money and in 1911 opened his own store. Business was good and in 1925 he bought the block in front of you. The plans were for a neo-classical building, but that year he went to the Exposition of Arts Decoratifs in Paris. This was where Art Deco first appeared as an architectural style and since old Oviatt was in the fashion business, his store had to be designed in the latest architectural style. In fact it is considered the first Art Deco building in L.A. (you’ve probably noticed on this Historic Core tour there are quite a few examples) Oviatt had his penthouse on the top floor and on the roof he had a garden and swimming pool! The store actually closed in 1969, dragged down by the general decline of downtown. Fun fact: Pretty Woman was filmed here (specifically the restaurant scene where Julia Roberts flicks the snail, which is caught by the waiter).
What a beautiful spot to end your Historic Core tour! Surprisingly until the Los Angeles Public Library was built in 1926, the library didn’t have it’s own building. Looking at it you can see some Art Deco elements – the pyramid and sunburst at the top are prime examples – as well as the more classical Beaux Arts style (the statues of Justinian, Da Vinci, Socrates etc on the south side). The architect, Bertram Goodhue, died in 1924 (before the Expo in Paris), but, no doubt inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, he incorporated the Egyptian flourishes. By the 1980’s the library was pretty run down, not helped by two fires in 1986, so the city sold the air rights in order to fund a new wing (completed in 1993). The sale of the air rights allowed for the construction of the U.S. Bank Tower that sits next to the library (and which until recently was the tallest building west of the Mississippi). Fun fact: the ornamental art work on the library’s exterior is by Lee Lawrie, who created the statue of Atlas holding up the world at the Rockefeller Center in New York. Now you have to explore the library if it’s open.
Check our guide on places to eat in Los Angeles before/during/after your self guided Historic Core tour.