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Book Review: "An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles: Fully Revised 6th Edition" by David Gebhard and Robert Winter
Whether Los Angeles is more urbane, or simply more urban, the revised edition contains a new generation of public architecture, as well as the past editions' wealth of historic landmarks and buildings of cultural interest, or just curiosity.
By Sam Hall Kaplan
January 10, 2019
When first embracing Los Angeles as an emerging adolescent and surprisingly very livable city to be explored and appreciated 40 long years ago, what I found absolutely essential was a copy of then 2nd edition of the architectural guidebook by David Gebhard and Robert Winter, priced at $13.95.
Now a new century, and nearly a score of years after a last 5th edition, is an ambitious 6th edition, fully revised with the aid of Robert Inman, intelligently reorganized and containing several hundred new additions, and fresh photographs.
The essentially revitalized and not incidentally costly guide at $45, is much welcomed in these days of waning print by a persevering Angel City Press, and is being appropriately celebrated locally, as I do here for ArchNewsNow.com.
Actually, the first edition was a modest booklet surveying a sprawling Southern California, as well as the fractured cityscape of Los Angeles. It was assembled in 1964 for a national gathering of architectural historians in L.A. Expanding to include modern architecture, the effort dragged past the meeting and was published in 1965, but nevertheless was enthusiastically received, proved a coveted guide for locals and visitors alike, and was expanded in a 1977 edition.
My copy quickly became dog-eared and battered, squeezed as it was into the glove compartment of a trusty convertible that was de rigueur transportation for migrants from Manhattan. You had to love the benign, sunny weather and, back then, relatively light traffic that made touring top-down so pleasant, and finding an accessible free parking space a given convenience.
So I snapped up the next edition, dated 1982, and then the next, in 1985. In a short time, it became essential to my tenure as the design critic of a then ascending Los Angeles Times, and the subsequent research for and writing of the architectural history LA Lost & Found, with the indefatigable Julius Shulman as principal photographer.
Over the following years, which sadly included the untimely death of Gebhard in a bicycle accident in 1996, were several more editions by Winter containing modest tweaks, all wrapped in the same blue cover displaying iconic towering palm trees. In this latest noble effort, a now ailing Winter was aided by a former student, Robert Inman, who had gone on to write some modest urban walks handbooks. There is also a forgettable foreword by Nathan Masters.
Noted is that the cover of the revised edition is accented by a background color in a smog brown, a shaded tone evoking the dystonic mood of the classic sci-fi film “Blade Runner,” and an unappealing futuristic L.A. looking more like a down-and-out Hong Kong.
There are no palm trees on the new murky cover, but rather the up-lighted historic, classical, temple-topped landmark City Hall, framed with a foreground by a distinctly high tech-accented modern government edifice, the Caltrans District 7 Building, which was designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne of the edgy local firm Morphosis, and a plaza with shadowy figures in a descending darkness. Gloomy.
How intentional was the cover of the revised edition by book designer Amy Inouye, cover photographer Martin Summers, or Paddy Calistro of Angel City Press can be questioned. But as indicated in the preface‘s breezy brief history of architecture in Los Angeles, the city is changing and, to the authors, “seems a different place in many regards.”
Indeed, though single family houses do dominate as in the past guidebooks, more revealed are multiple family, mixed use, and star architect conceits, including, of course, several singular constructs by the ubiquitous homegrown Frank Gehry. Though cited, there is no accompanying photograph to the text of his signature, sculptural, and, frankly, off-putting Disney Concert Hall – the adjacent welcoming veiled Broad Museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is illustrated.
Of editorial interest, the guide does hint at an encouraging social consciousness. Stated in the foreword is that “the aesthetics and originality of form are often secondary considerations of how a building addresses or fails to address some social goals, such as the need for sustainability and housing many people.” Noted are the protests and political muscle of status quo-conscious homeowner groups, and the pressure of changing neighborhoods, not only the more affluent communities, but also those of poverty and color.
The brief history offered is particularly prescient in citing the persistent, pressing problem and challenge of long-term homelessness. “The centerpiece for any discussion about the future of Los Angeles County is the long-term homelessness that, as this book goes to print, forces more than 50,000 individuals onto the streets.” Their encampments are very much in evidence in an otherwise gentrifying central city.
Whether Los Angeles is more urbane, or simply more urban, the revised edition contains a new generation of public architecture, as well as the past editions’ wealth of historic landmarks and buildings of cultural interest, or just curiosity.
As such, the cover not withstanding, the edition is most definitely a refreshing resource beyond its original prescribed intent for professionals and academics. It should readily appeal to the city’s emerging sense of place and self, and locals and visitors with a curiosity about the city’s compelling cityscape that offers glimpses of the past, present, and future built environments.
Sam Hall Kaplan is a Los Angeles based urban planner and designer who has pursued parallel careers as a best-selling author (LA Lost & Found: An Architectural History of Los Angeles), an Emmy Award-winning commentator, a caustic architecture critic for the LA Times, and and senior creative strategist for Disney Imagineering, among others. He continues to consult, and contributes to various publications and websites. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also by Hall Kaplan:
The contradictions and challenges of Los Angeles as a metropolitan conceit of perpetual promise continue.
Review: Tripping Out to London and Paris
(click on pictures to enlarge)
Angel City Press
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