Art Deco, originally called Art Moderne, was a style of design extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s.
It was as if the end of World War I reminded people that the world was big and globalism was now a thing. The style drew from Cubism, ancient Egypt, French royalty, Mayan art, Indian Art, China and Japan – it was a stir fry of things you didn’t think it would taste good together, but somehow did. It was a literal melting pot (subtle “immigration is good” reference).
It was the perfect style for the roaring twenties – it represented the modern world, new technology, wealth and glamour.
Besides New York and Chicago, the next best place to see Art Deco (a term actually coined in 1968), is Los Angeles.
From about 1920-1940, LA was a boomtown, railroads (and probably great weather) brought people in droves. The population went from 500,000 people to over 1.5M.
More people meant more buildings. More money meant more detailed buildings. The Great Depression meant there were more people to work on buildings.
Downtown Los Angeles is a bit of a treasure trove of cool buildings, and height restrictions (that have changed over time) meant that buildings where not allowed to build high; the law said that sunlight still had to be able to touch the ground.
Here are a couple of the highlights:
Con Edison So Cal Building
- Completed in 1931, was built for $5M – at the time the avg cost for a building was $700k
- One of the first all electric and heated buildings in the US (since this was the place you would pay your electric bill, it probably would have been embarrassing otherwise)
- The interior uses seventeen different types of marble
Los Angeles Central Library
- The original part of the building was completed in 1926, it is considered “pre Art Deco” as the architect Bertram Goodhue argued with the city over how to modernize.
- Originally, there was supposed to be a dome on the top, but Goodhue swapped it from a pyramid – Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered in 1922 and Egypt was all the rage
- Theme of the library is “Light of Learning,” on the top of the pyramid is a hand holding a torch
Eastern Columbia Building
- Opened in 1930, cost $1.25M, and only took nine months to build
- It was the headquarters for furniture and clothing stores: Eastern Outfitting Company and the Columbia Outfitting Company
- In 2006, $30M was spent to turn it into luxury lofts
As you walk through Downtown, there is a definite sense of unease. A pull towards gentrification is happening, the old buildings are being restored and turned into luxury lofts. “Pour Over” coffee shops with mid-century modern furniture are pushing out the “Drip Coffee” coffee shops with tables and chairs of no particular origin. Families who run the plethora of jewelry shops are being pushed out by home owners that keep most of their jewelry in safes. It’s the nature of change, it will always have it’s pro and cons, but it’s hard to argue with wanting to preserve gorgeous turquoise buildings, works of art that were created before they even knew that a thing called Instagram would be a thing.