The text below is excerpted from a 1993 brochure by the Los Angeles Conservancy entitled "Pershing Square Landmarks: A walking tour sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy." 1986, revised 1993. The original text was written by Steve Fader, and the publication of the brochure was made possible by a grant from the Community Redevelopment Agency. Do not reproduce information from this site without acknowledgement of the authors of the original document, or of the authors of this site.For years the square was a dusty vacant parcel known as block number 15 in Ord's Survey of Los Angeles. However, in 1866, an ordinance was signed by Mayor Aguillar declaring the block "...a public square for the use and benefit of the citizens of the common." The square was designed as a formal Spanish plaza and became known as La Plaza Abaja.
By 1887 the area around the square was becoming residential, and the new residents referred to the square as Los Angeles Park. Cypress and citrus trees were planted and a white picket fence was constructed to discourage stray livestock from entering the park.
In the early 1890's, the park was renamed Central Park. It was redesigned by Fred Eaton, then a City Engineer and later Mayor. A serpentine promenade, wooden benches, new plantings, sidewalks, and a bandstand were provided.
In 1911 the park was again redesigned, this time by the noted architect John Parkinson. The design was formal and symmetrical, with European antecedents. There were classic walkways within the square, a beautiful central fountain, lush plantings, and ornamental corner balustrades. The perimeter walkways around the park, which has been an important component of the Central Park in the early 1900's were maintained by Parkinson.
In 1918, "in a fit of Armistice Day fever," Central Park's name was changed to Pershing Square, and a statue of a dough boy was added to the corner of the park.
Most of the buildings on or near the square were built in the 1920's and early 1930'sÉ.During this period the Square was widely known for its colorful orators, military posts, and newsstands. Even the public library set up shop here.
Tropical plantings were added to the park in 1928 by Frank Shearer, the Park Superintendent.
As early as 1928, there were suggestions to put a parking facility under Pershing Square. The intended purpose was to alleviate congestion downtown, and later, to revive the ailing Broadway Theater District.
In 1950-51, after two decades of pressure, the City permitted construction of an 1800-car garage under Pershing Square. The park became a roof of grass. Automobile ramps on each side cut off the park from the surrounding city, making the square into an island, difficult to approach.
[In 1994] world-renown architect Ricardo Legoretta and equally celebrated landscape architect Laurie Olin have designed the square to be a vibrant gathering place and a signature public area for downtown Los Angeles.
The redesign was financed in part through the Pershing Square Property Owners Association together with a matching grant of funds from the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles.
The following are landmark buildings around Pershing Square:
- Subway Terminal Building, 417 S. Hill, 1925, Schulz and Weaver. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #177. Another view of the building.
When the Subway Terminal Building was built, the Los Angeles basin was serviced by over 1000 miles of Pacific Electric inter-urban railway lines. The Terminal Building was constructed over the underground portal of lines to the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. The original grand concourse was severely damaged by an office renovation in the 1950s.
The Terminal building itself is one of the few Los Angeles office blocks from the 1920's to have a granite exterior. Its design derives from a 15th century Florentine palazzo.
- Title Guarantee and Trust Building, 401 W. 5th St, 1930, Parkinson and Parkinson. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #278; listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This is an Art Deco building with Gothic elements. The lobby has murals by Hugo Ballin celebrating the Treaty of Cahuenga and the La Brea Tar Pits.
- Oviatt Building, 617 S. Olive St, 1927-28, Walker and Eisen. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #195. Panorama of Olive and 6th Street, 1912, before the Oviatt.
Combining Romanesque and Art Deco design, the 13-story Oviatt Building is one of Los Angeles' most celebrated landmarks. Built by James Oviatt, it housed Alexander and Oviatt Men's store and a luxurious 2-story, 10-room penthouse apartment for Mr. Oviatt.
Oviatt, captivated by the new Art Deco style, which he had seen in Paris, commissioned Rene Lalique to design and fabricate all the decorative glass. Most of the Lalique glass filling the ceiling of the marquee lobby has been removed.
Extensive renovation and restoration of the Oviatt Building was undertaken by Los Angeles developer Ratkovitch and Bowers and architect Brenda Levin in 1976.
- Some decorative elements in the Oviatt building.
- Background information on the Oviatt building
- A bibliography of resources on the building
- Heron Building, 510 W. 6th St., 1920-21, Dodd and Richards.
The Heron Building is a 13-story Renaissance Revival building.
- Pacific Mutual Building, now known as the Pacific Center, 523 W. 6th St. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #398.
Original building, 1908, Parkinson and Bergstrom
North Side addition, 1916, William J. Dodd
West Side addition, 1929, Parkinson and Parkinson
Moderne remodeling, 1936, Parkinson and Parkinson
Twelve-story structure, 1921, Dodd and Richards
Garage Building, 1926, Schultze and Weaver.
The Pacific Mutual building is actually three interconnected buildings built between 1908 and 1929. The building was renovated by Westgroup, Inc. in 1985.
- Biltmore Hotel, 515 S. Olive St., 1923, Schultze and Weaver. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #60.
When opened in 1923, [the Biltmore] was the largest hotel west of Chicago, with 916 rooms. Many of the luxurious interior banquet rooms of the Biltmore were decorated by Giovanni Smeraldi, an Italian muralist. [The Biltmore's] exterior is classic Renaissance Revival.
The Biltmore has undergone two major renovations. In the mid-'70s, Phyllis Lambert and Gene Summers reversed years of decay with renovation that received a National Trust Honor Award in 1981. Westgroup, Inc bought the hotel in 1984 and did extensive renovation, as well as adding an office tower.
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