50 is a number that has much significance in historic preservation. As a rule of thumb when a building is 50 years old it can be considered historic and preservation efforts may start in earnest. Now, this isn’t a hard fast rule and buildings less than 50 years old can certainly have historic significance. Regardless, 50 is an important figure and this year marks the first time buildings from the 1970’s are included. As a result the Los Angeles Conservancy has launched an initiative called The 70’s Turn 50 celebrating the city’s historic architecture of the era. Recently, I headed to the first event of the campaign – a tour of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
The Westin Bonaventure has been an iconic part of the downtown LA landscape for as long as I can remember. Designed by John Portman and built in 1976 it quickly became a cultural centerpiece and by 1980 became the setting of the long running sitcom It’s a Living. I remember watching the show as a kid so I guess you can say the Bonaventure’s long been in my conscious yet I had never visited it. That’s right, after decades of living in SoCal I had never once passed through its doors.
Thanks to the LA Conservancy I recently spent an evening traversing the hotel from top to bottom and if anything epitomizes 1970’s design the Bonaventure is it.
I’ve got two words for you: glass and concrete. Thanks to engineering innovations both materials became favorites of the era’s architecture. Concrete is most often associated with the Brutalist movement and while the Bonaventure does contain significant amounts of it I wouldn’t call it a strictly Brutalist building because the facade is almost entirely constructed of glass.
So it’s really an amalgamation of design trends that creates one utterly unique structure onsisting of 4 33-story circular towers centered around a central, concrete core.
It’s a fascinating building that, at the time, was designed for the city of the future. For instance, inside are 5 floors of retail space. Essentially, it was to have its own mall so that those staying there (and living/working nearby) could purchase all that they needed in one spot. Unfortunately, this never really took off and most of the store fronts remain shuttered. In addition, there are multiple bridges connecting it to the high-rises that surround it. This way visitors and residents could travel from building to building and never need to touch the street the below. These are a bit more successful and on the tour we used them to visit a building across the street.
Then there’s the famous rotating restaurant up top. I was really excited to see it but 50 year old elevators don’t always like to cooperate and it remained elusive. That just gives me an excuse to return.
I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of 1970’s architecture but the Westin Bonaventure really won me over. It’s such a unique spot and such a significant icon of downtown that I can’t help but love it. I highly encourage everyone to pay it a visit. Also, be sure to join the LA Conservancy for the ongoing series The 70’s turn 50. Upcoming events include the tour Don’t Call me Ugly: A Fresh Look at Modernism and the tour and lecture Malls, Shag and Sunken Living Rooms: Locating ’70s Pop Culture and you can find all the details here.