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Photo exhibit looks back on LA’s lost architectural treasures

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And a few landmarks that were very nearly lost

Postcard of Richfield Building
Downtown’s Art Deco-style Richfield Building was demolished in 1969.
Wikimedia Commons

Deserved or not, Los Angeles has the reputation as a city that doesn’t value its history, with historic buildings frequently torn down to make way for newer, more contemporary structures that will inevitably come under threat once new styles of construction come into fashion.

A new exhibit at the Los Angeles Public Library will examine some of the architectural landmarks that the city has lost over the years—as well as a few that determined activists have successfully fought to preserve.

Curated by Cindy Olnick, a member of the board of directors for the library’s Photo Friends organization and director of communications for the Los Angeles Conservancy, the exhibit is called L.A. Landmarks Lost and Almost Lost and follows the release of Olnick’s book of the same name.

Here are a few structures highlighted in the exhibit:

Richfield Building with spire Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

The Richfield Building

This stunning gilded Art Deco masterpiece—adorned with ornate terra cotta work on all four sides—was built in 1929 and unceremoniously demolished four decades later to make way for what’s now City National Plaza.

Olnick tells Curbed that 40 tends to be the age at which buildings are most vulnerable to demolition. The architectural styles in which they were built have long gone out of style by that point, but they haven’t aged enough “to be considered retro,” she says.

Black and white photo of the Dodge House Los Angeles Public Library photo collection

The Dodge House

One of the all time heartbreakers for preservationists, West Hollywood’s Dodge House was razed in 1970 after admirers of the Irving Gill-designed residence fought for years to save it. Completed in 1916, the house was one of California’s earliest and most influential examples of modern architecture. It was eventually replaced with an apartment complex.

Olnick points out that, ironically, financier and patron of the arts Bart Lytton was at the forefront of efforts to save the Dodge House, even purchasing the home in the 1960s before financial troubles forced him to sell. But Lytton was no staunch preservationist. Only a decade earlier he had torn down the famous Garden of Allah, purportedly inspiring the chorus on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Shell of Valley Music Theatre Wikimedia commons

The Valley Music Theatre

This concrete shell-shaped structure in Woodland Hills spent much of its lifetime as a Jehovah’s Witnesses church building, but it was constructed in 1964 as a state-of-the-art live entertainment facility. It hosted popular musical productions of the day, as well as legendary entertainers, including Bob Hope (a part owner of the venue), Ray Charles, and The Doors.

The theater was demolished in 2007 and eventually replaced with condominiums.

Murals in the LA Public Library Bobby Gibbons | Curbed LA Flickr Pool

Los Angeles Public Library

An example of a landmark that was almost lost, the very building the exhibit will be displayed in has been in the crosshairs of Downtown redevelopment on multiple occasions starting in the mid 1960s. Persistent threats of demolition eventually spurred the creation of the Los Angeles Conservancy in 1976, and in 1981, members of the organization led a successful campaign against a city plan to hand the property over to a developer in exchange for a new central library.

The exhibit will be located in the history section of the main library and will be on display from July 13 to January 14.