Monday, March 25, 2013

Wilshire as L.A.'s "Boulevard of Prototypes, A String Of Hypotheses 16 Miles Long"


From the front page of the Sunday Los Angeles Times, architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne takes on the contradictions found on our city's main street, Wilshire Boulevard:

Rather than act as a perfect symbol of Los Angeles, Wilshire has operated as a proving ground for new ideas about architecture, commerce, transportation and urbanism in Southern California. For nearly a century Wilshire has been L.A.'s boulevard of prototypes, a string of hypotheses 16 miles long.

It's where we first tried a linear downtown, stretching west toward the ocean, instead of a traditional, consolidated one at the foot of City Hall. It's where L.A. built its first synchronized traffic lights, Art Deco landmarks and clusters of high-end apartment towers.

Most of the major boulevards The Times has examined in this series over the past year had faded in prominence in the post-war, freeway-building era, only to find new momentum more recently. Wilshire, though, never lost its reputation as the place where Los Angeles embraced and tested out the future.

But if Wilshire has been the prow of L.A.'s ship, there have been quite a few icebergs along the way. The street's history is full of dreams dashed in high-profile fashion. It's where plans for a subway to the sea and the tallest building in the world — among many other big-ticket projects — have risen and stalled.

Wilshire is our boulevard of cold feet and second thoughts, the place where Los Angeles confronts its deep ambivalence about putting a low-rise, car-dominated and essentially suburban past behind it for good.

The result on today's Wilshire is a lurching, piecemeal utopianism that can take you from a world-famous piece of architecture to a weed-choked lot, from a realized ambition to an abandoned one, in the space of a few blocks.

Read the full essay here.

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