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The Wilshire Grand—LA’s tallest tower—opens today

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Its distinctive sail-shaped top was inspired by Yosemite’s Half Dome

At 1,100 feet, the Wilshire Grand Center is the tallest tower in the West, thanks to its spire.
Sterling Davis via Curbed LA Flickr pool

The Wilshire Grand Center—which opens to the public today—narrowly eclipses the U.S. Bank Tower as the tallest skyscraper in Los Angeles. But what might stand out to Angelenos more than the height is the tower’s ornamental top.

It is the first Downtown high-rise to be built since Los Angeles City Hall in 1928 that will not have a flat roof. Instead, at its apex, is a glass “crown” and light-up spire that rises above the 73rd floor. It’s because of that unique, decorative roofline that Los Angeles is home to the tallest skyscraper west of Chicago.

The crown is often described as looking like a sail, but the shape of its curve was actually inspired by Half Dome, a massive granite formation in Yosemite Valley.

Los Angeles boasts world-famous landmarks, the Hollywood Sign and the Santa Monica Pier, for instance, but it has never really been known for its skyline. If other architects take advantage of the city’s 2014 decision to allow spires, slanted roofs, and other innovative shapes, that might not be the case forever.

The Wilshire Grand holds restaurants, stores, offices and a hotel, and, in honor of its opening, here are five fun things to know about the glassy giant.

Update: Take a good look at the Wilshire Grand, LA’s new tallest skyscraper

The California-inspired design

“There is a reference architecturally to Half Dome, as well as the glass skylight forming the Merced River at the base of the mountain,” Architect Chris Martin tells KCRW. (His firm, AC Martin, by the way, helped design LA’s handsome City Hall.)

The skylight that Martin references is a steel cage wrapped in 475 glass panels. It swoops over the tower’s first-floor entrance like a ribbon, and it is one of the first things riders of LA’s transit system see when they disembark from 7th Street/Metro Center.

Martin says he visits Yosemite every year and that chairman of Korean Air, which owns the skyscraper, has an affection for the U.S. and its national parks. Martin says they “all went to Yosemite together early on in the project.”

The glare

The owners the Ernst & Young Plaza, just south of the Wilshire Grand, have claimed that the new glimmering facade is reflecting a lot of light and creating “thermal heat gain” at its plaza. The Wilshire Grand is wrapped in a type of glass called VRE 1-38, the same glass used on the facade of the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas, which generated a beam of light so hot that it singed a guest’s hair and melted plastic cups.

In November, an expert told us that that the Wilshire Grand will produce some vexing glares, but no “serious heat stuff.” That’s because the Wilshire Grand tower is convex, while the Vdara is concave.

The ‘Times Square of the West’

The crown and the building’s “spine” are equipped with LED lights that can display mesmerizing, neon colors—and advertisements. In 2011, the City Council unanimously signed off on allowing the top of the tower to feature “digital signs promoting the buildings' owner and major tenants.” On the lower floors, “noncommercial images such as flowers and vines ... [can] fade in and out.”

The Wilshire Grand won’t be the only new high-rise in DTLA equipped with flashy digital signs. There are a handful of new towers in the works that will also be equipped with big digital billboards. They could very well make the neighborhood near LA Live the “Times Square of the West,” says LAist.

The soaring sky lobby

If you’re not a hotel guest or an office worker, how will you be able to interact with the building? Namely via the restaurants and bars.

Eater LA says the open-air outdoor bar on the top of the property will be, “the most elevated position for enjoying a cocktail anywhere in the city, and for many, many miles around.” Renderings have shown the bar will be encased in glass panels to protect visitors from the wind, “but otherwise this place is open to the stars and the evening sky,” says Eater LA.

Accidentally tall

Sterling Davis via Curbed LA Flickr pool

Martin says seizing the title of LA’s tallest building wasn’t important to him. He told the Real Deal LA that it wasn’t even intentional.

To circumvent LA’s decades-old rule that skyscrapers have flat roofs to accommodate emergency helicopters, Martin says he decided to, “build a third staircase and a firemen-dedicated elevator with an impenetrable shaft, so there would be no need to have a helipad, and [fire officials] agreed. This allowed us to add a spire, and all of a sudden the building was to be 1,100 feet tall. We didn’t realize it would be the tallest building in the West until an L.A. Times staffer wrote about it. But it was never our goal."

Wilshire Grand

930 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017 Visit Website