Thursday, March 15, 2012

Out & About--Art Deco Icon Eastern Columbia Building in Downtown Los Angeles


Once upon a time, the Broadway Theater District in downtown Los Angeles was the center of entertainment for the city.  Twelve theaters on Broadway between 3rd Street and Olympic Boulevard were the destination of millions.  At the time, there was nothing else like these impressive movie palaces and theaters in LA...that is, until Sid Grauman built the Egyptian Theater in 1922 and began the dramatic entertainment exodus from this district to Hollywood.  He had been responsible for opening the Million Dollar Theater downtown in 1918, the first movie palace in Los Angeles and one of the first of its kind in the United States.  Others opened around the same time along Broadway--the Roxie, Cameo, Arcade, Los Angeles, Palace, State, Globe, Tower, Rialto, Orpheum, and United Artists.  Like its namesake in New York City, LA's Broadway was alive with countless bright lights and flickering movie marquees during the 1920s and 1930s.

The last two theaters I mentioned--the Orpheum and United Artists--are both neighbors to the subject of my most recent visit, the Eastern Columbia Building.  Sitting at 9th and Broadway just down the street from film noir's famed Bradbury Building, the Eastern is the work of architect Claud Beelman and an Art Deco masterpiece.  It opened on September 12, 1930, after only 9 months of construction....hard to imagine that tight timeline considering what it takes contractors today just to remodel a house.  And yet this icon of steel-reinforced concrete quickly became one of the largest buildings in the entire United States.

Last month, I discussed the many signs of Art Deco design here on GlamAmor after my visit to LA's City Hall.  The Eastern Building seems to have them all.  First, there is its emphasis on symmetry and geometry that work together to enhance the vertical.  For instance, multiple columns echo the exterior lines and height of the building.  There are also the familiar shapes, patterns, and motifs of Deco--sunbursts, chevrons, zig-zags, and stylized plants and animals...you'll see them all on the building's facade and spectacular main entrance.  Then the flying buttresses above the clock tower are similar to the pyramid (another mark of Deco) that tops City Hall.  Even the sidewalks have chevron patterns inlaid in the multi-colored terrazzo surrounding the building.

The name Eastern Columbia comes from the two companies that were its original tenants--the Eastern Outfitting Company and the Columbia Outfitting Company...furniture and clothing stores, respectively.  Much like the mighty Bullocks-Wilshire Department Store further west, another Art Deco icon, I can only imagine the shopping experience inside such a work of art.  Today the Eastern has been saved from ruin and smartly repurposed into 13 floors of lofts.  The lobby has been transformed by interior designer Kelly Wearstler who also decorated the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica among many other places around the world.  And there is now a pool on the terrace right beneath the clock's face, which (as a lover of great pools) makes me weak in the knees.  During my visit, I spoke with one of its tenants and quickly understood how lucky he considers himself to live there. Unfortunately, I was not allowed inside to witness it all firsthand--strict building policy forbids it and even fines residents who allow outsiders in.

Though there are many breathtaking sights to see in the city of Los Angeles, the Eastern Building is by far one of the best.  And despite being one of the most photographed buildings in LA and an Art Deco landmark--on par with its East Coast cousin, the Empire State Building--it is still surprisingly under appreciated.  Hard to believe when you witness that glossy turquoise terra cotta shining in the sun.  I appreciate it every day...it sits a mere two blocks away from the GlamAmor showroom at the California Market Center, greeting me outside my window gorgeous every morning and a showstopper saying goodbye to me with its glowing neon sign at night.  Many consider it the finest--Art Deco or otherwise--of all of Los Angeles' historic buildings.

And so now, as my Month (or so) of Art Deco begins to come to a close, I am happy to introduce you to the incredible iconic architecture of the Eastern Columbia Building.


The lights of Broadway in the 1940s (above)
and the United Artists Theater and Eastern Columbia Building lit up (on the left, below) in 1937 



The Eastern Columbia Building today



The two-story entrance to the building is a spectacular exhibition of Art Deco design




The sunburst, geometric shapes, and emphasis on vertical symmetry
are just some of the hallmarks of Deco seen in the entry




The restored patio (above) and side to the building
include more of the familiar Art Deco lines





The terrace just beneath the clock tower
is now home to an incredible pool for its residents 



The Eastern Building's neighbor directly across the street is the famous Orpheum Theater




G. Albert Lansburgh's architecture for the 1926 Orpheum Theater is more an example of Beaux Arts,
a neo-classical precursor to the Art Deco movement





Amazing how much of the original features of the building are still intact thanks to a major $3 million restoration in 1989,
such as the ticket booth (above) and theater doors



I was not allowed inside the day I visited, but I did manage to get these peeks at the incredible interior




Walking west on Broadway takes you to the United Artists Theater, which was built in 1927
one year after the opening of the Orpheum



Distinctly different in design, this theater is an example of Spanish Gothic architecture
and originally owned by the United Artists themselves--Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford



1929 showing of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in Taming of the Shrew




Thanks to the LA Conservancy and the USC Libraries for use of the historic images

4 comments:

Kay said...

AMAZING architecture and wonderful images, Kimberly, you've outdone yourself! I loved getting the "tour" and I appreciate it on so many levels. These buildings are like palaces of beauty and we're so lucky that they still exist. Thank heaven for far-sighted governing bodies who preserve these gorgeous landmarks for us to admire! Thanks for a wonderful visit to LA's finest!
Love, Kay

Stew said...

There is something about the art deco design that is just nostalgic to anybody who was at least born to appreciate an era where art more than just inspires. It transforms you to such a place where everything was possible. That is the experience that event tent marquee brisbane is trying to bring to me everytime I see those amazing architecture in the old Broadway...sigh.

Kimberly Truhler said...

Thanks to both Kay and Stew for your comments! I love this architecture so much and you're both so right in your appreciation. It's inspiring, isn't it? And thank goodness that some people are smart enough to protect these buildings. It's art on a very grand scale.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I would like to mention Pankow Builders in Pasadena, we renovated the Eastern Columbia building in 2005/2006.

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