Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Pershing Square showing Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles, California

click on card to enlarge

I decided to post the full back of this old postcard because the child's drawing cracked me up. The characters' expressions almost seem prescient in light of the deterioration of Pershing Square during a part of its history, as described in Wikipedia (I highlighted the one sentence that seems to sum up the park's problems in that era):
Latter 1900s
The park was in heavy use during World War II for rallies and recruitment. Post-war the park began to decline as commercial decentralization and suburbanization took hold in the greater L.A. region, and Downtown lost importance and intensity of use.

The entire park was demolished and excavated in 1952 to build an underground parking garage. In its place was concrete topped by a thin layer of soil with a broad expanse of lawn. In 1954, Kelly Roth, a Hungarian immigrant who had owned a cigar store across from the square, donated $30,000 for twin reflecting pool water features in honor of his late wife and to thank Los Angeles for the opportunities it provided him. The Roth fountains were designed by renowned architect Stiles O. Clements.

The park continued to be neglected for safe uses. Its problems were noted during the 1960 Democratic National Convention, with nominee and future president John F. Kennedy headquartered at the Biltmore Hotel facing the park. By the 1984 Summer Olympics the park had become a serious eyesore, leading the city to spend $1 million for a temporary renovation.
Of note: Wikipedia's coverage of the full history of Pershing Square is extensive and quite interesting, and likewise is Wikipedia's coverage on the full history of the Biltmore Hotel (now known as Millennium Biltmore Hotel). To read more in depth on the history of Pershing Square, click HERE. To read more in depth on the history of the Biltmore Hotel, click HERE.

Below is a brief background of Pershing Square [Source: LA Parks]:
Dedicated for use by Mayor Aguilar in 1866, this park land was named "La Plaza Abaja." In 1886, it was renovated with an official park plan designed by Fred Eaton. In 1911, the park was redesigned by John Parkinson to reflect the social and economic growth of the city.

During World War I, the Square was often the scene for militia receptions and provided a forum for public speakers. On November 8, 1918, the park was formally named Pershing Square in honor of the World War I general.

The next major change came in the 1950s, when an 1800-car garage was built beneath the park. In 1989, the Pershing Square Property Association and the Community Redevelopment Agency contributed to assist the Department of Recreation and Parks in the renovation of the park. Architect Ricardo Legoretta and landscapist Laurie Olin designed the current park plan, and the park was rededicated on February 3, 1994. 

So, what exactly does Pershing Square look like since it was rededicated back in 1994? And what goes on there, now that it is no longer "neglected for safe uses"? And what about the Biltmore Hotel (pictured on the left in this old postcard).....does it still exist? Also, are you curious about the story behind that huge sign on the building in the background of the postcard, the one that reads: TEMPLE BAPTIST CHURCH?
Well, read on, my friends.......

That Temple Baptist Church building played quite a role in the early years of LA culture. You can read how at the Performing Arts Center Cultural History of Los Angeles website here. As the article is not about the church it does not give information about that entity beyond its part in cultural history there. I looked for, but have not yet found, a history of that particular church building and what may have happened to it.

I discovered a fascinating website, AEWorldMap, where "you can explore the world of Architectural Engineering Design." There, the Pershing Square of today is described as having these features: ". . .two spacious plazas linked by walkway, water feature, wide range of geometry, sculptural forms, walkway resembling an earthquake faultline" These images of Pershing Square are from the linked site:

I was interested to learn about the Pershing Square Downtown Stage program during the summer months. It includes Neighbor Day with a discovery bike ride, Downtown Stage with six weeks of the best local entertainment, Friday Night Flicks, and many other activities. Additionally, there are year-round events and activities, including the Pershing Square Community Chorus (info here) that seems welcoming and enthusiastic.

Ironically(?), another website, the Project for Public Spaces, lists Pershing Square among "Five Parks that Need a Turnaround," describing the park as "Visually striking but a dull experience overall due to isolation and lack of things to do." The PPS website does not, however, date the article, and, although the home page is current, I cannot confirm whether the article was written prior to or since the installation of the Pershing Square Downtown Stage series about four seasons ago.

The Biltmore Hotel is still a treasured site and its official website boasts:
Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles
Voted BEST HOTEL by readers of the Los Angeles Downtown News for 2011!
The premier choice for celebrities, presidents and dignitaries for over 85 years, the Millennium Biltmore Hotel offers historic grandeur and modern luxury in the heart of exciting downtown Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Conservancy website offers some history (below) and a Biltmore Hotel Walking Tour (click link to view available tour dates and to pay for tour reservations):
The Biltmore Hotel tour explores the architecture and rich history of this magnificent  hotel, known in its early days as “The Host of the Coast.”

The Biltmore Hotel opened in 1923 as a 1,000-room hotel that was “first class in every respect.” This was the first hotel commission for the newly founded architecture firm of Schultze and Weaver, who later went on to design such grand hotels as the Park Lane and Waldorf Astoria in New York, and the Miami Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida. In addition to the lobby and grand hallway designed to resemble a Spanish palace, the hotel has several ballrooms, each decorated in sumptuous Beaux-Arts splendor.

Over the years, the Biltmore played non-stop host to high society, international political figures, movie stars, and royalty (including Rudolph Valentino, the Prince of Wales, J. Paul Getty, Howard Hughes, Herbert Hoover, and Eleanor Roosevelt), and it was the 1960 Democratic Convention headquarters of John F. Kennedy. In local crime lore, the Biltmore is known as the last place Elizabeth Short (the Black Dahlia) was seen alive.

After the tour, stay for high tea in the hotel's magnificent Rendezvous Court (additional cost, for tea reservations call the Millenium Biltmore at 213-612-1562).

For those of you not interested in the finer sensibilities of high tea at the Millennium Biltmore, I offer you scenes from Pershing Square in April 2011 during International Pillow Fight Day. With this, I think I have exhausted my subject for the week at OPW!



Don't Feed The Pixies said...

as you are, by now, aware my mind tends to work in rather strange lines. Hence the pedant in me coming out when i first looked at the picture of the square and thought that by rights it should be called Pershing Rectangle

From where I moved on to wondering how many other so called squares were mathematically incorrect when measured by sides as opposed to title

You may think that i'm odd asking this question, but most marine biologists refuse to use the word "fish" because it applies to so many things that its not an accurate description - so i wonder if something similar is going on with public spaces?

I love the drawing, although neither of the characters looks thrilled to be there.

And International Pillow Fight Day - why isnt this more well publicised? Surely there's time yet to include it in the 2012 Olympics

Stickup Artist said...

Downtown LA is not a focal point of the greater Los Angeles county. Hollywood and the beaches get most of the action. Even the art museums hover on the periphery of Hollywood and the coastline. The modern aspects of the park also do little to reflect the rich culture, heritage, and architecture that can be found in other areas of the county. But your documentation is very interesting and thorough!

Rob-bear said...

Delightful insights into a significant space. It does look a bit barren, with all that concrete. Thank you for the history lesson.
As for the pillow fight, "Make pillows, not war."

ds said...

Interesting stuff--I know nothing about LA. The redesigned Pershing Square is striking, but sterile. Who frequents the Millenium Biltmore now?

Lydia said...

Pixies~ When is a square not a square? When it is a rectangle! That's about as good an explanation as I have. I did read that it is exactly the size of one city block...and Americans have long loved the word "square" as an old-fashioned description for a public perhaps one or both of those also weigh in here.
I did not know that marine biologists stay away from the word "fish"!
As for the pillow fight, if you go to youtube you can view vids of the pillow fights in other cities during International Pillow Fight Day. The question I had in mind was: who in the heck is responsible for clean-up? :)

Stickup Artist~ It did not sound to me like downtown was a focal point, and indeed it sounded like the area has had its time of glory. My mother was raised in Santa Monica but I have been in southern California only once. I must admit that the Millennium Biltmore looks like a hotel I would research further if I planned on a trip down there, as the website depicts a quite beautiful place.
Thinking of you and hoping all is better and better.

Rob-bear~ I do so appreciate your kind comment and most of all I appreciate your excellent slogan!

ds~ "Striking but sterile" sure is a good description. It looks like a place that is trying to be loved once again...
The hotel's website describes it as being "steps away from major attractions, including:

L.A. Live
Staples Center
NOKIA Theater
Music Center
Ahmanson Theatre
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Dodger Stadium
Museum of Contemporary Art"

I can only assume that people who traveled to events at any of those venues (who were not locals themselves) might be interested in accommodations at the Millennium Biltmore. At least it makes sense to me!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - you'd love a show we have here called QI (Quite Interesting) - hosted by actor Stephen Fry (once one half of a comedy duo, the other half being Hugh "House" Laurie)

It invites the panel to answer questions on well known "facts" - only to offer doubt on the facts and alternate possible answers. Hence the "fish" fact

The tag line is usually, "our answers may not be right, but they are at least interesting"

Hattie said...

I'm struck by the way the old buildings strive to look permanent while the old ones look like they are made to last only a short time. Now those boring old buildings have a nostalgia value.
I've been to L.A. only once, not counting going through the airport. And I have seen some spectaclar views of the city from the plane. The natural setting is incredible, a feature most people overlook about the place.

Lydia said...

***I hate it when I somehow miss replying to comments and apologize to Pixies and Hattie!***

Pixies~ That show sounds QI to me! It was fun to learn where you got that fish fact and to have some background on Hugh Laurie!

Hattie~ Good point about the natural setting of Los Angeles. My mother spent her high school years in Santa Monica and loved the area so much. I find myself thinking about a wee vacation there to learn more about it (but would rather see San Francisco again if I had to choose between the two, frankly!).



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