Los Angeles City Hall
1928 – John C. Austin, Albert C. Martin, and John Parkinson
200 North Spring Street – map
When Los Angeles’s brand new, 28-story City Hall was officially dedicated on April 26, 1928, it was replacing a building on Broadway between 2nd and 3rd Streets that had been government headquarters since 1889. (That building had replaced a one-story adobe City Hall, formerly the old Rocha House, on the northeast corner of Spring and Court Streets.) From the USC Digital Archive, here’s a picture of the 1889 City Hall:
After authorizing a bond issue on June 5, 1923, the city commissioned John C. Austin, Albert C. Martin, and John Parkinson as architects in August, 1925. The trio’s deal called for a payment of 6% of the building’s cost. With the project running $5 million, the boys wound up getting $315,027. Pretty sweet back in 1928.
Ground was broken March 4, 1926, and the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles was the first agency to move in, on January 2, 1928.
The big dedication, overseen by Sid Grauman and attended by an estimated 15,000 people, featured emceeing by Joseph Schenck and speeches by Mayor George E. Cryer and San Francisco Mayor James Rolph, Jr. After Rolph spoke, Irving Berlin sang, as did “Chief Yowlache, the Yakima Indian; Elsa Alsen, the grand opera singer; the Mexican chorus of Los Angeles, in costume; Virgil Johannson, and others.”
When you walk up the granite steps on the Spring Street side, you’ll see Grecian detail for the main entrance, followed by a more Romanesque style for the forecourt. The city had plans to carve a 75-foot long historical bas relief in that big space above the columns, fronting Spring. Still smooth, though.
Henry Lion. Restored in 1992, the doors’ panels show key events in L.A. history. Here’s Lion’s take on Commodore Robert Field Stockton and Major John Charles Fremont saluting the flag in “American Occupation 1846”.
The interior of City Hall is pretty much Byzantine. Austin Whittlesey handled much of the design of the inside, with assistance from Herman Sachs and Anthony Heinsbergen.
The main attraction at City Hall is the building’s Rotunda.
High above its marble floor, the space’s ceiling contains eight figures representing Art, Public Service, Government, Protection, Trust, Education, Health, and Law. Hanging down from its center is a cast bronze electrolier with silhouetted figures of folks instrumental in California history, from Native Indians and Vasca Nunez de Balboa to John Drake Sloat, who raised the U.S flag at Monterey in 1846.
Surrounding the Rotunda are ten columns, each of different kinds of marble, including Curly Green, Tinos, and Verde Campan Melange.
You can also see corridor ceilings supported by California Redwood beams. The walls of the passages are French limestone.
The East Lobby, off the Main Street entrance, features a Zodiacal dome designed by Heinsbergen.
In a tragic 1953 incident, reform mayor Fletcher Bowron had his own problems with illegal aliens when a group destroyed the upper floors of City Hall:
For years and years, City Hall was the tallest building in L.A. as laws forbid any other structure from going higher than thirteen stories. Okay, when was that rule done away with, and what was the first building to rise higher than City Hall?
By 1989, the building was in need of much rehabilitation. Read about some of the restoration here. Then, when you’re through with that, soak up the scoop on the big seismic retrofit, 1998-2001.
Of course, the landmark has been the location of many movies and teevee shows. I like to point out it served as the Daily Planet in The Adventures of Superman and, naturally, was featured in the Dragnet series. Also look for it in Mildred Pierce and D.O.A.
Finally, a word of caution if you're intending to drive downtown to visit Los Angeles City Hall. Making a U-turn in a business district is illegal. Even at 7:30 a.m. on Memorial Day morning. $149 worth of illegalness, in fact.
“Hall Architects Praised” Los Angeles Times; Mar 27, 1928, p. A22
Kirkman, George Wycherley “City Hall on Historic Spot” Los Angeles Times; Apr 15, 1928, p. B1
“Hall Dedicated to Service” Los Angeles Times; Apr 27, 1928, p. A1
Hales, George P. Los Angeles City Hall Times-Mirror Printing and Binding House 1928 Los Angeles
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