Los Angeles Mall

Historical Background

Like a traditional town square, the Los Angeles Mall was designed to serve as a setting for civic functions and as a meeting place for our community. It has large areas for public ceremonies and intimate enclaves for solitude. There are secluded quiet places for reading and open busy spaces for people watching.

And the people who come to the Mall are indeed worth watching. Every work day, judges, ordinary citizens serving our community as jurors and civil servants all mix with corporate lawyers, tourists, school children and the homeless. This diversity is unique in Los Angeles, where specialized precincts often segregate our city's residents into isolated social and economic districts.

The Los Angeles Mall, divided by Temple Street into a North Mall and a South Mall, is linked by a pedestrian bridge and a pedestrian subway. Diverse, fragmented yet interconnected spaces choreograph pedestrian movement through the Mall. Informality is evoked by both the curving and zig-zag stairways.

A small retail court cloistered at the foot of City Hall East in the South Mall faces a rectangular fountain topped by a small, elegant stainless steel sculpture by Jan Peter Stern. This intimate shaded area contrasts with the more open palm court, which was designed for civic functions, at the street level on the north side of City Hall East. Dedicated in 1975 as the Fletcher Bowron Square in honor of the former mayor of Los Angeles, the upper level of the North Mall appears like a small park shaped with blocks of grass and lined with walkways bordered by comfortable wood slat benches. The North Mall is anchored by Joseph Young's Triforium and framed by a multi-story building, housing the Children's Museum on the top floor and fast-food outlets on the lower level.

Buried underneath the retail stores are four levels of parking for 2400 cars.

In 1958, the Federal Government selected Los Angeles over Long Beach to be the site for a new federal building after the City of Los Angeles agreed to construct a parking facility and park in front of the building. The City hoped the Mall, which was completed in the early 1970s, would be an urban attraction with a variety of evening and weekend activities. However, the high walls of the Mall facing Los Angeles Street, the lack of physical connections between the Mall and the Civic Center, the isolation of the Civic Center from the rest of downtown and the abandonment of downtown by the city's middle class, have all conspired to reduce commercial activity and to empty the Mall after working hours.

Howard Troller, the Mall's landscape architect, hoped to overcome this isolation by connecting the Mall to the Music Center, Little Tokyo, El Pueblo de Los Angeles and Chinatown with a "Yellow Brick Road." Only one small section was constructed, however, and that is the sidewalk along Main between First and Temple.

In addition to the absence of physical links to our city, the design of the Mall lacks connections to the area's past. The only reminders of nearly two centuries of history have been reduced to two small plaques placed by the California State Park's Department recalling the locations of the Bella Union Hotel and the Los Angeles Star.

The Los Angeles Mall was a forward looking project in its use of public art. First, it incorporated public art into its design. Second, it resulted in several innovative pieces, such as the bridge over Temple Street, which combines function and aesthetics, and the Triforium, which integrates computer technology, sound, color and form. Finally, the artwork was created collaboratively by the landscape architect, Howard Troller, and the artists Hanns Scharff, Jan Peter Stern and Tom Van Sant.



The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, August 1997.

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