Monday, October 10, 2011

LA Sidetrip: Los Altos Apartments

In my last post I mentioned our recent visit to Los Angeles.  I spent some of my time out there wandering LA's historic neighborhoods, enjoying the ample supply of vintage buildings and the city's rich architectural heritage.  Before I turn my attention back to Florida, let me share one of the LA buildings I love: 

Los Altos Apartments, 4121 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, built in 1925.  This Spanish-colonial style building designed by Edward B. Rust and Luther Mayo is a landmark on Wilshire Boulevard, and is located in the Mid-Wilshire area between Hancock Park and Koreatown.  Originally opened as a co-op, it later became a luxury hotel and apartment house.  Its gigantic rooftop neon signs are among its most notable and appealing attributes; they can be seen for miles when illuminated on a clear night.  I mourn the loss of similar signs that glowed against the night sky atop a half dozen or more downtown hotels in Jacksonville, Florida, my hometown.  Not one is left.  For that matter, the hotels are gone too.  LA is fortunate; vintage signs like this one still loom proudly over hotels and apartment buildings, from downtown to Hollywood, often because preservationists fought to save them.

The Los Altos went bankrupt during the depression, and began a steady slide into disrepair that lasted for decades.  Finally, according to LA weekly, gaping holes extended from the fifth floor down to the lobby, and the building became unlivable.  The Los Altos faced demolition when Neighborhood Effort, a housing group, rescued it in 1993 and began the restoration process.

Today, the Los Altos is fully restored and once again a desirable address.  Apartments in the 75-unit building range from studios to two-bedroom duplexes, and include a 2500-square-foot suite once owned by William Randolph Hearst.

The garden courtyard entry sets the tone for opulance.  As you enter, you are surrounded on three sides by the building and lush landscaping.  Despite the location on busy Wilshire Boulevard, the courtyard is quiet except for the gentle sound of splashing water.  Fountains of water spray from stone frogs into the reflecting pool:

An ornate arched entry is ahead.  From the courtyard's stone surface you step onto a beautful tile floor as you approach the front door that opens into the lobby.

All of this has been a build-up to what waits inside.  The massive lobby is filled with ornate details and decorations that bespeak wealth and luxury.  It is just the setting you'd expect for 1920's LA and the Hollywood stars of that era who lived here. 

Here are details, including the elaborate fireplace (complete with a fire burning on the day that I visited), the beamed ceiling, and the lavishly decorated arches above the windows. 

The Los Altos is one of the many grand apartment buildings in the Mid-Wilshire district that date back to a construction boom between 1923 and 1929.  They are remnants of another era that should be respected and cherished, yet many similar buildings have been lost.  We almost lost the Los Altos.  Today it is on the National Historic Register. The names of buildings from this time period in LA are frequently represented on shields; if there's any question of where you are in this case, one of those shields is displayed in the lobby of the Los Altos:

Bette Davis, Douglas Fairbanks, and silent-movie star Clara Bow were among those who called the Los Altos home over the years.  What a home it was and is!  Here's a final view of this wonderful building on a typically beautiful Southern California day:

Look for more historic LA buildings in future posts.  For now, however, it's back to Florida for me (on this blog, that is-- in real life it's back to work in Atlanta!).


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