Discovering the Urban Landscape of the 1920’s

I participated in the latest LADIG Photo Tour produced, in conjunction with, the LA Conservancy. This took us on a walking tour of downtown Los Angeles highlighting the Art Deco buildings, interiors and exteriors! These LA Conservancy walking tours are highly recommended as a way of discovering wonderful photo opportunities in an area that most of us are not that familiar with. Los Angeles has one of the finest collections of  Art Deco architecture in the world, due in part to the prevalence of this style during a time of intense growth in the city.

Downtown Modern

The view from the start of the tour in Pershing Square

Of course, not all of the best photography subjects were Art Deco buildings. We started the tour at Pershing Square, a grand plaza in the heart of downtown. Surrounded by skyscrapers which tended to dominate, there proved to be easy access to a number of great Art Deco buildings all around the square including the Title Guarantee & Trust Bldg. (411 W. Fifth St.), the Southern Calif. Edison Co. Bldg. (601 W. Fifth St.), and the Richfield Building (6th & Flower St.) among others. Though the tour only stopped at Art Deco buildings there were numerous opportunities for interesting urban landscapes throughout.

Tower at Pershing Square

A View of a sculptural tower in Pershing Square

The tour started in late afternoon before sunset, and the quality of the warm low angle sunlight contributed greatly to the sculptural quality of much of the architecture. While we spent most of the time outdoors walking the streets, I found some of the best photo opportunities were in the interior spaces. The first interior stop was at the Edison Bldg.

Lobby of the Edison Bldg.

A view of one of the interior doors in the lobby of the So.Calif. Edison Bldg.

The incredibly opulent interior of the Southern Calif. Edison Company Bldg. is filled with rich marble and burnished brass – all browns and golds with reddish accents! Lots of symbolic references to electric power are sprinkled throughout. Finished in 1931, the Edison Bldg. was one of the first all-electrically heated and cooled buildings in the western states.

Edison Lobby Ceiling

The ceiling is highly detailed contributing much to the richness of the interior

This interior could have been a set in a Cecil B. DeMille epic! Every bit of wall space was decorated with either a mural, detailed patterns or richly textured marble.

Main Desk

The main desk in the lobby looking back at the windows opening to 5th street

This environment is only hinted at by the exterior and most passers by would never suspect the incredible beauty befitting a 7-star hotel in Dubai right behind the modest exterior walls.

Foyer with Plant

The contrast of the decorated walls with the simple fern sets off this foyer that leads to an exit hallway.

All of the interior photos that I shot were corrected in Lightroom, taking advantage of the lens distortion panel to square up the shots. In some cases, as in the image above, I felt that allowing some convergence helped contribute to the sense of grandeur when looking up at a ceiling. It is truly amazing how much correction can be applied without ruining the quality of the image. Though for more serious work I would still prefer a tilt-shift lens, quick grab shots with a normal wide angle lens can be adjusted quite nicely in Lightroom.

The Cicada Entrance

The Cicada Entrance Foyer

As usual with these LA Conservancy tours we often didn’t spend enough time in one place for serious photo exploration. They hand out a little brochure describing the buildings and I find this to be a useful guide to return to these locations later for a more relaxed photography.

Sculptural Detail

There are great sculptural details everywhere

Great sculptural details can be found everywhere and often pushing then Develop sliders in Lightroom to extremes can enhance the look – the image above had the Fill Light, Recovery, Contrast and Clarity sliders all at 100… I have a preset setup for this to quickly preview the effect just in case the extreme settings work out. If not, its an easy undo to get beck to square one!

Sun Realty Building

The exterior of the Sun Realty Building - now the home of the Los Angeles Jewelry Center.

We ended our tour back where we started, at Pershing Square, and from there, retired to the Nickel Cafe for dinner. This proved to be another treasure trove of photo possibilities and an excellent meal as well.

Nickel Diner

The Nickel Diner sign

You can find many more photos from this tour at my Flickr page: – Also find another post about the LADIG/LA Conservancy tours at the Photo Safari at Los Angeles Union Station