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Is Downtown LA’s pretty Wells Fargo Center atrium being demolished?

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It sure looks that way

Rubble in Wells Fargo Atrium
Many of the Wells Fargo Center atrium’s landscaping features were demolished this week.
Courtesy LA Conservancy

Big changes appear to be in store for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin’s lovely atrium in Downtown LA’s Wells Fargo Center.

A tranquil, park-like space in the midst of Bunker Hill’s skyscrapers, the atrium was unexpectedly thrown into disarray recently as sculptures were removed and construction crews began tearing out the runnels that had carried streams of water through the court since it was constructed in 1983.

Robert Petersen, host of the Hidden History of Los Angeles podcast, noticed construction occurring within the atrium earlier this week and posted a photo to Twitter.

The social media post has drawn the attention of historic preservationists around the city, and on Thursday, the Los Angeles Conservancy announced that the atrium had been demolished.

In a statement, Brookfield Properties, which owns the property, said that renovations to the atrium were part of plans for an “updated, amenity-rich Wells Fargo Center Atrium and Plaza.”

The company also said it was “receiving advice from fine arts experts on how to handle and protect the atrium and plaza art pieces.”

The atrium seen December 21.
Courtesy LA Conservancy

Whether some portion of Halprin’s design will be maintained in the renovated space isn’t yet clear.

The Conservancy called the atrium’s sudden overhaul “an outrage and yet another example of the particular fragility of historic landscapes, which are often overlooked and undervalued.”

Originally called Crocker Court, the atrium was built around sculptures by Robert Graham, Joan Miro, and Jean Dubuffet. It’s one of four connected projects designed by Halprin during Bunker Hill’s skyscraper boom of the 1980s.

Collectively known as the Los Angeles Open Space Network, the public spaces were commissioned by developer Maguire Partners and envisioned as a continuous stretch of landscaping guiding visitors through the urban space.

Crocker Court seen from above
The atrium seen prior to demolition.
Photo by Charles A. Birnbaum, courtesy the Cultural Landscape Foundation

The other segments of the Open Space Network are Maguire Gardens (the park space surrounding Downtown’s central library), Grand Hope Park, and the Bunker Hill Steps. The four projects are highlighted in an exhibition on Halprin’s life and work now on display at the A + D Museum.

The "apparent loss" of Halprin's design could endanger "the legacy of one of the nation's most important and influential postwar landscape architects," said Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, which curated the exhibit.

"That [this] would occur with no public discourse whatsoever makes this even more tragic,” Birnbaum said.