Downtown Los Angeles and Beyond: Culture and Art at Your Feet
October 10, 2012
Los Angeles sprawls over an immense area of Southern California and many of its museums, art galleries, and cultural venues and events are also widely dispersed. Nevertheless, the city’s downtown area has its fair share of museums, performing arts venues, galleries, and other cultural institutions concentrated within an easy walk or metro ride from the AAG’s conference headquarters at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites at the corner of South Flower and West 5th Street (all directions given below are from this corner). Several of these are highlighted below as are more sites that can easily be reached by using the county’s METRO light rail/subway connections from the downtown Pershing Square Metro station.
L.A.’s downtown is relatively small and it is easy to cover much of it on foot. Dedicated walkers might also be interested in three self-guided tours of downtown L.A. neighborhoods (Bunker Hill, Union Station, and Chinatown) with maps and annotated guides that are sponsored by Angel’s Walk. (see www.angelswalkla.org). If you would prefer not to walk, much of it is covered by the city’s local bus system – the DASH – which reaches most of the sites listed below Three bus routes pass right in front of the conference hotel (www.ladottransit.com/dash). The fare is just $0.50.
Los Angeles City Library
At the corner of South Flower Street and West 5th Street, (630 W. Fifth Street), the city’s main library is just around the corner from the conference hotel headquarters. The library building and the vast public library system it serves are among the city’s greatest treasures. With a collection of over six million volumes, it is one of the largest publicly funded libraries in the world. The library boasts a map collection in excess of 100,000 sheets with extensive electronic access (http://digital.lapl.org). Constructed originally in 1926, the main library building is distinctive and incorporates elements of Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture, while a major renovation of the library finished in 1993 added an immense eight-story atrium. The interior is decorated with a range of art works, including the magnificent four-part mural of the history of California in the Cook Rotunda on the second floor, the California history murals in the Children’s Literature Department, and the Ivanhoe Frieze in International Languages Department. (www.lapl.org/central/art_architecture.html).
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Located just five blocks away at 250 South Grand Avenue, MOCA is a world class art museum. It has three venues in Los Angeles, the largest of which, the Grand Avenue facility, houses the bulk of the museum’s 5,000 piece contemporary (post 1940) art collection and is easily reached on foot from the convention hotel. The museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Adult admission is $12 (www.moca.org).
The Music Center
Located six to seven blocks from the AAG Annual Meeting at 135 N. Grand Avenue, the Music Center is not one site, but rather a performing arts campus with several of Los Angeles’ major performance venues sited along Grand Avenue, just beyond the MOCA. These include the new but already iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall (home to the L.A. Philharmonic Symphony), the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, and the Mark Taper Forum. These facilities as well as several outdoor venues offer a wide range of excellent music, dance, and theater performances (see www.musiccenter.org for schedules and tickets).
Olvera Street and Plaza
Designated as a California State Historic Monument, Olvera Street and Plaza mark the historic center of the first permanent Spanish settlement in Los Angeles. Located six blocks east of the conference hotel on West 5th to South Main, then seven blocks north, the site and its surroundings buildings are a major tourist destination in the downtown area. Public performances in the plaza are common and street venders and hawkers create a lively street scene, especially on weekends. The city’s culture and history are explored here in two notable museums adjacent to Olvera Plaza. One is the recently opened LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes at 501 N. Main Street It is a museum focused exclusively on the culture and history of Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles (http://lapca.org/visit). It is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free. The Chinese American Museum at 425 N. Los Angeles Street sits just off the Olvera Plaza and close to the site of the city’s original Chinatown. This museum focuses on the Chinese and Chinese-American experience in southern California (www.camla.org).
Nearby to Olvera Plaza
Just across the street from Olvera Plaza, at 800 N. Alameda Street, sits Union Station, the city’s venerable and architecturally stunning train station. The last of the great urban train stations built in the United States in the 20th Century, the station’s exterior architecture is characterized as Spanish Colonial or Mission Revival, while its elegant interior utilizes many elements of Streamline Moderne, a style similar to Art Deco. Geographers will find it worth a visit just to walk through the waiting rooms and enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch there. L.A.’s modern Chinatown, just a couple of blocks northwest of Olvera Plaza, is a bustling commercial and residential district that also serves the tourist trade. It extends north and west for several blocks. Angel’s Walk, mentioned above, offers a superb self-guided walking tour of this neighborhood (www.angelswalkla.org/walks_chinatown.html).
The Japanese American National Museum is located in the heart of L.A.’s “Little Tokyo” at 369 East 1st Street. The museum dedicated to commemorating and documenting the Japanese-American experience in the United States and is housed in a new and architecturally distinctive building facing a large open plaza. To find it, from the conference hotel, go 11 blocks east on West 5th Street, then six blocks north to East 1st Street, and finally 1 block east. It is open every day but Monday. Adult admission is $9.00 (www.janm.org).
Art Walk happens every 2nd Thursday of the month and one falls right in the middle of the AAG Annual Meeting in Los Angeles, on Thursday, April 11, 2013. It is a “free, self-guided, public art phenomenon …” where local galleries and the art community have teamed up to create a dynamic and exciting community event. Galleries open, exhibitions are shown, and a bustling street scene ensues with a plethora of bars, cafes, and restaurants open. The best time to experience the Art Walk is between 6 and 9 pm. (http://downtownartwalk.org/downtown-artwalk/).
Beyond downtown, many of L.A.’s cultural treasures are readily accessible using L.A. County’s increasingly effective public transportation system – METRO. The suggestions below rely on METRO’s light rail/subway network focused on downtown. The Pershing Square station is located just three blocks east of the convention headquarters along West 5th Street. See METRO’s website for schedules and detailed maps (http://www. metro.net/riding/maps/). L.A.’s downtown Art Walk takes place predominantly on Spring and Main streets between 2nd and 9th streets.
Exposition Park and Museums
From the Pershing Metro Station, go just one station to the 7th Street Metro Center and then transfer to the Expo Line. Exit at Expo/Vermont Station or Expo Park/USC and walk south across Exposition Blvd. to find Exposition Park, one of L.A’s signature sites and home to the Los Angeles Coliseum. It is also the home to the California Science Center, an interactive science museum (www.californiasciencecenter.org). The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, one of the premier natural history museums in the county, is just around the corner at 900 Exposition Blvd. (www.nhm. org/site). The museum is open daily and adult admission is just $12. Just around the corner, the park also hosts the California African American Museum at 600 State Drive. The museum is open every day and admission is free (www.caamuseum.org/).
A Geographer’s Museum
Ride to the end of the Expo Line at the Culver City stop and exit to Venice Blvd. If you walk about 2 ½ blocks west you’ll find a fascinating “geographer’s” museum, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, at 9331 Venice Blvd. (www.clui.org/). The Center’s exhibits and projects will resonate with many geographers as will its mission to increase and diffuse knowledge “…about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized and perceived.” The center is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment. Admission is free.
Other Points of Interest
There are many other places of interest for geographers in Los Angeles and environs, of course. Unable to name them all, let me point out just a few more. Along the Blue Line to Long Beach, at 628 Alamitos Avenue, is the Museum of Latin American Art – the only museum in the United Stated dedicated to educating the public on modern and contemporary art from Latin America (see www. molaa.org). The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday and admission for adults is $9. The Aquarium of the Pacific at Long Beach Harbor (www.aquariumofpacific. org) is a popular tourist attraction as are harbor boat tours. Meanwhile, Pasadena lies along the Gold Line. Pasadena is home to a vibrant downtown district running along Colorado Blvd. and a beautiful city hall of complex design in a “Beaux Arts” style (situated two blocks east from the Memorial Station along East Holly Street). Los Angeles is also home to a vibrant writers’ community and a network of many interesting independent bookshops. See www.marpop. com/top-lists for a list of the best.
Whatever you choose to do in Los Angeles, we urge you to make some time to venture outside the walls of the 2013 AAG Annual Meeting and experience some of what our wonderful city has to offer. L.A. has changed a lot since the last time it hosted an AAG meeting, so much so that it may surprise you. We hope to see you here.
Robert B. Kent is Department Chair and the James H. Ring Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at California State University, Northridge. He is a member of the Local Arrangements Committee planning the 2013 AAG Annual Meeting, to be held in Los Angeles, April 9-13, 2013.