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A Year-Long 50th Birthday Party for Los Angeles’ Mid-Century Buildings

The L.A. Conservancy celebrates a half-century of modern architecture with a series of events, tours, and a website devoted to preservation and awareness.

theme building

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What do John Lautner’s octagonal Chemosphere House, the Century Plaza Hotel, designed by World Trade Center architect Minoru Yamasaki, and the hovering flying saucer of the Theme Building that greets recent arrivals to LAX all have in common? They’re all iconic L.A. buildings that will begin to turn 50 in the next year–a dubious birthday in architecture-years because the once strapping young structures are beginning to show their age, but many are still too young to be protected. So preservation group the L.A. Conservancy is celebrating this milestone for the city’s most famous architecture by launching the The Sixties Turn 50: A Web site, timeline, photo gallery, and a series of talks and tours, including visits to a few sites that are threatened.

century plaza hotel

Why the Sixties? The site answers: It was during the ’60s that the city developed its freeway system, aerospace industry, and of course, cultivated its relationship with the automobile. “This all spurred an incredibly prolific building period in the Los Angeles
region, particularly in terms of civic and commercial development.
Companies, cities, and institutions pursued ambitious building programs
of tremendous scale.” An amazing 1960s timeline shows important cultural and architectural events both inside and outside L.A.: the Theme Building opened on June 25, 1962; The Jetsons premiered a few months later…hmmm, coincidence?

chemosphere

In its quest, the L.A. Conservancy addresses issues of landmark status for all modern structures coming of age. Preservationists have to overcome the “fifty-year hurdle”–named not only because the National Register of Historic Places requires protected sites to be 50 years old, but due to a general cultural perception that structures created during ones’ lifetime can’t possibly be ready for landmark status. Also working against them are the fact that many buildings of the Googie variety are more prized for their kitschy cuteness than their, um,
aesthetic contributions to the city, and are more likely to be torn down.

Over the next nine months, you can nominate and vote for your favorite ’60s-era structure in six different categories, eventually narrowing the field to the Top ’60s of the Sixties. Perhaps the winners gain some architectural clout–and guaranteed salvation–as well?

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[Theme Building photo, FlyKonstantin; Chemosphere House, Julius Shulman, the John Lautner Foundation; Century Plaza photo, Yamasaki Associates].

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About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato

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