Style and Strength — Historic Los Angeles Architecture

The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library contains many photos taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the nation’s first federal preservation project. HABS created an archive of drawings and historical reports plus black and white photos documenting the country’s buildings and built environments. The following photos (with captions below each photo) display examples of the unique architecture to be found here in Los Angeles.

KEHE/KFI Radio Broad Studio

The KEHE/KFI studio was built in 1936 and designed in the Streamline Moderne (also referred to as Art Moderne) architectural style, utilizing long lines and aerodynamic curves to create a streamlined and modern look. The KEHE studio was originally constructed for Hearst Radio, Inc. but was sold in 1939 to Earle C. Anthony who took KEHE off the air and ran station KFI in the studio until 1975. The building served various purposes for the local Koreatown community before it was demolished in 2003. (Note: The scrolled grilles over the windows and doors were not an original part of the building but were added in later years for security purposes.) All photos of the radio station were taken in 2004 by photographer and Photo Friends Board Member Tom Zimmerman for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

KEHE/KFI studio

Southeast corner of KEHE/KFI radio broadcast studio on North Vermont Avenue


Main entrance and tower of KEHE/KFI facing northwest


Southern side entrance of KEHE/KFI studio facing westward


Located on San Fernando Road, the two-story Olive Switching Station was built between 1916 and 1917 at the mid-point of the electric transmission line that ran from San Francisquito power plant No. 1 to the central receiving station in Los Angeles. This facility of the LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) made it possible to repair single circuits without disrupting or diminishing electric service, thus providing reliable utility service to the greater Los Angeles area. The original station has been demolished. All photos of the Olive Switching Station shown below were photographed in 1994 by photographer Bill Agee for the Historic American Buildings Survey.

olive switching station

View of the northeast side of the Olive Switching Station
from the north side of San Fernando Road facing southwest 


View of the east corner of the Olive Switching Station
from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lot


View of first room on the first floor and main control panel
of the Olive Switching Station

Swan Hall, Occidental College

Architects Myron Hunt and H.C. Chambers laid out the original master plan for Occidental College in 1914, with an emphasis on healthy and comfortable living. The campus featured many open air spaces, verandas, fireplaces, and assorted greenery. (It was said that Hunt would walk around the campus dropping eucalyptus seeds as he walked.) Swan Hall was designed and built as a men’s dormitory. In 1960, Swan Hall was remodeled and converted from living quarters into administrative offices. In 2011, Swan Hall underwent an expansion that more than doubled its size. The photos below were all taken in 2011 by photographer and Photo Friends Board Member Tom Zimmerman for the Historic American Buildings Survey.



East facade of Swan Hall (with fence surrounding building
during maintenance) as viewed from the northeast


North entrance on Swan Hall‘s east facade

This is the third part of a three-part feature on the photos of the Historic American Buildings Survey.

All Hail the King – Or, More Accurately, The Ambassador

It is no small surprise that the Ambassador Hotel was a prominent subject of the Historic American Buildings Survey. The hotel was a part of both Los Angeles and world history. The Los Angeles Public Library photo archive has a number of photos of the hotel.

But first, some history:

Designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt (whose architectural masterpieces include the Rose Bowl Stadium, Occidental College, and Caltech), the hotel opened in 1921 boasting 500 rooms and occupying 23.7 acres at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard. While it eventually sat empty (except for occasional filming) for 15-plus years before its demolition in 2005, it had a glorious heyday. The Ambassador Hotel saw every form of celebrity, from film stars to foreign dignitaries. Bob Hope hosted the 1939 Academy Awards ceremony in its glamorous nightclub, the Cocoanut Grove. Carole Lombard and Joan Crawford competed in the Grove’s Friday night Charleston contests. Nikita Khrushchev stayed at the hotel during his time in America in 1959. Jean Harlow had a residence there for a time, as did Howard Hughes. A young model posed by the pool, she would later become Marilyn Monroe. Bing Crosby started a singing career there, and Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra performed in the Cocoanut Grove often. Seven presidents including Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, and Richard Nixon stayed there. Haile Selassie, then Emperor of Ethiopia, ate lunch there in 1954. The hotel housed the jury for Charles Manson’s murder trial for nine months in 1971. Presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was shot in the hotel’s kitchen in 1968 after delivering a speech. (He would die the next day in Good Samaritan Hospital.)

Even if you’ve never been to Los Angeles, you have probably seen the Ambassador Hotel. It has been photographed extensively and used in many television shows and films. It appeared in episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, Mod Squad, Starsky and Hutch, Dragnet, and Murder She Wrote. Musicians including Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Tom Waits, and Beyonce filmed videos there. Its impressive movie portfolio includes Nightmare on Elm Street, Foxy Brown, Lady Killer (with James Cagney), Scream 2, and Forrest Gump. Arnold Schwarzenegger rode a horse through its lobby in True Lies. Richard Gere played a piano in its main ballroom in Pretty Woman. The high school reunion in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion occurred at The Ambassador. And most famously (or infamously), The Graduate’s Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) conducted their affair in a suite at The Ambassador. (Cue Simon and Garfunkel.)

All of the photographs below (except for the menus shown in separate end section) were taken between January and March 2005 by photographer and Photo Friends Board Member Tom Zimmerman for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Captions are beneath the image.

ambassador hotel embassy ballroom

Ambassador Hotel, Embassy Ballroom. 

ambassador hotel main lobby

Ambassador Hotel, main lobby. 

ambassador hotel honeymoon cottage

Ambassador Hotel, honeymoon cottage interior


Ambassador Hotel, interior of hotel bar (Note: This is not the Cocoanut Grove.)

ambassador hotel casino level

Ambassador Hotel shop interior, casino level

ambassador hotel and cocoanut grove

Ambassador Hotel and the Cocoanut Grove

ambassador hotel and fountain

Ambassador Hotel and fountain

ambassador hotel cabana

Ambassador Hotel cabana

ambassador hotel southern entrance

Ambassador Hotel southern entrance


Would you care to see a menu?

Interested as to what you might have eaten for lunch, dinner, or at a banquet at the Ambassador Hotel? Visit the Menu Collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. For a preview, look below:


menu for banquet at ambassador hotel

Menu showing what was served at banquet honoring Secretary of War and various governors; banquet was held at Ambassador Hotel circa 1933.


a la carte menu at ambassador hotel

a la carte menu for ambassador hotel

A La Carte Menu at Ambassador Hotel


cocoanut grove menu cover

Front cover of menu for Cocoanut Grove, autographed by Fred Martin (date unknown; Fred Martin and his orchestra played the Cocoanut Grove numerous times from the 1930s to the 1970s.)


cocoanut grove menu

Menu for Cocoanut Grove (menu dated December 16, 1944)

Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on the Historic American Buildings Survey.

An Architectural Treasure Trove — the Historic American Buildings Survey

In 1933, Charles E. Peterson, a young landscape architect employed by the U.S. National Park Service, had an idea. He conceived of a project that would not only provide jobs for the many architects, draftsmen, and photographers unemployed during the Great Depression, but would document the country’s architectural heritage. Funds were obtained from the Civil Works Administration and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was born. This survey not only produced photographic archives and meticulous records of America’s buildings but brought to light the importance of historic preservation. (Peterson is often referred to as the founding father of historic preservation.) The survey still continues to this day. The photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) has a huge collection of photographs taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey, with a selection shown below.

NOTE: All photos in this post are included in LAPL’s Historic American Buildings Survey collection with individual photographers credited accordingly.

The Gateway West Building, built in 1963, was designed by Welton Becket, an architect who designed many buildings in Los Angeles and whose popularity saw him working for celebrities such as James Cagney and Robert Montgomery. The building’s twin, Gateway East Building, stood directly across the street from Gateway West Building. These two buildings were constructed on what was formerly part of the 20th Century Fox Studio lot and marked the entrance to the Avenue of the Stars. Gateway West was demolished during the expansion of a nearby shopping mall.

Gateway West Building

Front view of Gateway West Building in Century City. Photographed by Jim Simmons in 2014.

Gateway West Building in Century City

Gateway West Building in Century City. Photographed by Jim Simmons in 2014.

The Westinghouse Electric Supply Company warehouse was designed in the Art Deco style of architecture. Opened in 1930, it consisted of two attached warehouses and served as storage space and shipping point for Westinghouse Electric Supply Company (WESCO), one of the country’s largest electronics companies from the 1930s through the 1980s. With a freight spur (railroad track for loading and unloading) just east of the building, the warehouse received and distributed electrical goods to and from companies throughout the United States, thus playing an important role in the industrial development and history of Los Angeles.

Westinghouse Electric Supply Company warehouse in Los Angeles

Front of Westinghouse Electric Supply Company Warehouse. Photographed by Tavo Olmos in July, 2012.

Westinghouse Supply Company building

Interior of Westinghouse Electric Supply Company Warehouse. Photographed by Tavo Olmos in July, 2012.

The Golden Gate Theater in East Los Angeles was designed by William and Clifford Balch, who also designed the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles and the Fox Theater in Pomona. The Golden Gate Theater was built in 1927 and designed in the Churrigueresque-style which features lavish adornment in the Spanish baroque style. Theatergoers accessed the theater through the courtyard of the Vega Building which surrounded the theater. In 1987, the Vega Building was severely damaged by an earthquake and subsequently demolished. The Golden Gate Theater remained standing but sat vacant for 25 years. The only building in East Los Angeles listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it was reopened in 2012 as a pharmacy.

Decorative molding and mural of Golden Gate Theater in East Los Angeles. Photographed by Tom Zimmerman in 2011.


Main entrance of the Golden Gate Theater, with clamshell backdrop of the concession stand visible through the middle door. Photographed by Tom Zimmerman in 2011.


Chandelier in auditorium of Golden Gate Theater. Photographed by Tom Zimmerman in 2011.

The Stationers Building, built in 1922 at 525 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, was designed by architect and engineer W. L. Schmolle and served as loft space for the York Realty Co. The Stationers Annex at 523 S. Spring Street had been built in 1913 as a loft building for the Realty Fireproof Company; it was designed by Parkinson and Bergstrom, an architectural team that defined the look of pre-World War II Los Angeles. At the time the two buildings were built, the Spring Street district was becoming a high-rise district, with several buildings being ten to 13 stories high. It was believed that these two buildings were to be developed into high-rises, however, both parcels were acquired by the Stationers Corporation and no expansion took place. Through the years, the buildings were stripped of their historic features and eventually left unoccupied. Vandalism, leaking pipes, neglect, and the passage of time weakened them, and they were eventually demolished.


North corner cornices on third story of Stationer’s Building and Annex on Spring Street. Photographed by David Greenwood in April, 2005.

stationer's building in downtown los angeles

South end of east façade of Stationer’s Building in downtown Los Angeles. Photographed by David Greenwood in April, 2005.


Stationer’s Building and Annex (behind trees) on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Photographed by David Greenwood in April, 2005.

This is the first of a three-part series, please check back for future installments!