September 01, 2012

Photo Essay: Oviatt's Art Deco Penthouse, At Night

[Last Updated 3/22/18 9:41 PM PT]

When visiting the Oviatt Building, anyone can gawk at its ornate Art Deco cornice from across the street, and examine the lovely Lalique glasswork from the front entrance.

But when anyone enters the building - probably through Cicada, the restaurant that now lays claim to the ground floor once occupied by Oviatt's men's clothing store - they lose nearly all sense of Art Deco, since the building itself is Italian Romanesque, and the interior was designed in the style of English Jacobian.

However, upon the rare chance of getting to take the center elevator up, one can find an Art Deco masterpiece perched atop of the roof of the Oviatt Building, in the form of the penthouse where James Oviatt himself lived until his death.

circa 2018

The view of Downtown LA is a bit different than in Oviatt's time—now surrounded by stark, corporate high-rises that dwarf the Oviatt Building's comparatively short stature.

Nearly all of the penthouse's furnishings were sold off in 1974 after Oviatt died (except the dining room table), but there are some Art Deco details that remain, and have been restored: the "spider web" flooring...

...some original sand-etched decorative glass windows (similar to that found in the front courtyard on the ground level)...

...and the bed. Though, not the bedding.

The bathroom is truly phenomenal, with its two sinks (the second for shaving), carved plaster walls (made to look like wood)...

...toilet hidden behind a mirrored closet door...

...and tiled steam and massage room.

Though the building was completed in 1928 during Prohibition, Oviatt commissioned an elaborate, custom bar to be built, which still stands in excellent condition... do the shelves and fixtures in the tiny study off the main room.

The Penthouse (like LA itself) is also full of surprises, utility hidden by decorative elements. A sliding drawer in the dressing room, when pulled out, reveals a cocaine-cutting mirror. (In the same room there's also a hidden sink and a toilet tucked away under a cushioned seat.)

The Penthouse is still being restored, slowly, over time and as new information is learned. In fact, even photographs of the Penthouse have been hard to come by, many of which have only recently emerged as a result of extensive and arduous research. And since much of its original decor (including some valuable art) was sold decades ago, historians must accept that those items have probably been lost forever.

For now, when visiting, all you can do is gaze upon what's there now...

...and imagine what it must have been like when Oviatt's residence rose high above Downtown LA.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: The Oviatt Building's Art Deco Legacy
Looking Up from the Streets of Downtown LA

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