Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


“LOS ANGELES is just New York lying down,” said English original Quentin Crisp. And I wish I knew exactly how he meant that. In fact, though, a lot of Los Angeles’s significant architecture reflects a tendency to expand outward, not upward. Los Angeles: A Guide to Recent Architecture offers examples of this, albeit with “recent” defined as 1996, the year of the book’s publication. Google Maps give us a time machine for viewing the same locales more recently.


Los Angeles: A Guide to Recent Architecture, by Dian Phillips-Pulverman with Peter Lloyd, ellipsis Könemann, 1996.

The guide’s 320 pages are perfect for armchair viewing of more than 100 interesting building in the Los Angeles area. Street Views of Google Maps are only a few clicks away. In what follows, the upper images are from the guide; those directly below, the latest Google Maps’ Street Views.

Let’s begin, as the guide does, in Malibu on what’s known locally as PCH, Pacific Coast Highway. At 24955 PCH, on its inland side, there’s an office development designed in 1988 by Goldman/Firth/Boccato Architects.


24955 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Goldman/Firth/Boccato Architects, 1988.


Notes the guide, the office complex “eschews a monolithic form in favour of a village-like feeling.” Stucco buildings are in varied shapes with a variety of rooflines. Pavilions faced in green glass give an open feeling, as do courtyards, balconies and walkways.

About 20 miles to the southeast on PCH is Venice, location of several of the guide’s structures. Just off PCH at 340 Main St. is a whimsical trio of buildings designed in 1991 by Frank Gehry and Associates.


340 South Main Street, Venice. Frank Gehry and Associates, 1991.


Originally built for Chiat Day Mojo advertising, the three structures are now occupied by Google. The giant binoculars in the center define the entrance to a parking garage that’s three levels deep. The white building to its left looks like a billowing sail; the dark one on the right, a forest of giant redwoods.

Another Venice locale, on Electric Avenue, is a plot 360 ft. in length but only 50 ft. deep.  In the 1920s, as its name suggests, it was on one of the Pacific Electric Red Car’s routes. For the area’s gentrification in 1991, the guide credits an adventurous developer, imaginative architects and a helpful city ordinance with creating the Electric Avenue Art Block.


499 Santa Clara Avenue, Venice. Koning Eizenberg Architecture, 1991.


The Electric Avenue Art Block pays homage to its Red Car heritage: The guide says “With a wink to the streetcars that used to be seen here, it is divided into five white blocks—four of which are about 40 ft. wide, the fifth smaller—alternating with narrower, metal-clad and angled recesses.”

Of the several Google Maps Street Images I perused, this is the only one showing significant change in the 19 years between 1996 and today. The guide’s balconied building on the right has been redone.

Nearby Culver City has long been a center for motion picture and, later, television production. Architect Ted Tokio Tanaka had this in mind in 1991 when he designed headquarters for commercial photographer Michael Ruppert.


12130 Washington Place, Los Angeles. Ted Tokio Tanaka Architect, 1991.


References to film and photography abound in the structural shapes, the most obvious one being on the third level: a canister with its film strip. (Within the canister is a space for overhead shots into the studio below.) Other subtle but familiar shapes to professional photographers are the 4 x 5-inch and 35-mm slide proportions of the building’s windows.

Last, the guide shares controversy concerning a KFC fast-food restaurant: “When Grinstein/Daniels’ KFC was praised in The Los Angeles Times, a local resident wrote in to castigate the journalist responsible, suggesting that if they had to drive past the structure each day, their opinion might be different.” This KFC outlet northwest of downtown Los Angeles is still in business, its economical use of the site leaving room for some off-street parking.


340 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles. Grinstein/Daniels Architects, 1988.


Observes the guide, “Food service is on the ground floor, with the soaringly high-ceilinged eating area above. An unusually humane space for the world of fast food….” It continues, “The steel triangles that appear so enigmatic from the exterior are revealed from inside to be functional baffles to deflect sunlight from a window on the west face.”

I suspect the Colonel would approve, in 1996 or 2015. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015


  1. rb
    December 8, 2015

    cool… nuthin’ like LA!

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