July 24, 2018

Will the Relocated LA Times Have to Report On the Demolition Of Its Own Headquarters?

The first time I wrote about the Los Angeles Times, I focused on the process of getting a story from pitch to print.

I didn't focus much on the building itself—maybe because the tour I took was at night and I didn't much notice the exquisite 1935 design by Gordon B. Kaufmann. Or maybe I thought the building would be there forever and I'd have plenty of time to get to it eventually.

I never thought the LA Times building would be used for anything but housing the offices of The Times. The name is carved right into the side of the building, lit at night by neon tubes.

circa 2017

But then the impossible happened: The Times was sold, and its staff packed up to move to its new offices in El Segundo.

Now, the fate of that landmark building at the corner of Spring and First hangs in the balance.

It's not landmarked—yet (though preservationists are trying). And as of this month, it's no longer accessible to the public.

But there was a time when anyone could walk into the front door and admire the Art Deco "Globe Lobby," even outside of a guided tour and even without an appointment upstairs.

The globe itself no longer turns on its bronze pedestal, but it used to—all five and a half feet of it across, spinning aluminum above bronze bas-reliefs and bronze lettering that quotes Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, referring specifically to Antony: "His legs bestrid the ocean. His reared arm crested the world. His voice was propertied as all the tuned spheres."

The globe is still in its lobby, for now. The plan is to move it either into storage or to the new El Segundo office, but it feels like it belongs there, below those 10-foot murals of LA and newspaper history painted by Hugo Ballin in 1934 as part of the WPA. Below the murals, more bronze text reads, in part, “The newspaper is a greater treasure to the people than uncounted millions of gold," quoted from 19th century clergyman Henry Ward Beecher's “Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit.”

As inscribed in the marble doorway out front, the LA Times building is "dedicated to the cause of true industrial freedom and liberty under the law" and "...stands as a symbol of faith in California." Some have interpreted that to mean the freedom for workers to strike—but it also seems to address freedom of the press, free speech, and not only the pursuit of truth but the sharing of said truth once it's discovered.

And that has held true whether the Times was typeset on a linotype machine (starting in 1893, it was the first newspaper on the West Coast to use such a contraption) or, as of 1974, on a computer.

The antique linotype machine once on display in the Globe Lobby has been moved to storage, as have the busts of the Chandler family that founded and ran the LA Times for generations: General Harrison Gray Otis (1886-1917)...

...his son-in-law Harry (1917-1944) and Harry's son Norman (above, 1944-1960)...

...and Norman's son Otis Chandler (above, 1960-1980).

Into storage has also gone the "Times eagle" by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum, which was originally installed on the roof of the newspaper's second location in 1891 to symbolize the motto “Stand fast, stand firm, stand sure, stand true.” And so it did—because it was basically all that survived the 1910 bombing.

It was removed from the roof of this building in 1956 and relocated to the Art Deco elevator lobby, just past the security gate.

Maybe the eagle should go wherever the newspaper goes—and not be tied to any one building. Maybe it should move from the fourth headquarters in Downtown LA to the fifth in El Segundo.

But what does that mean for this building, which was designed and occupied entirely as a daily newspaper publishing operation, the largest of its kind in the West? (Not to mention the other structures that were added on later, all of which are included in the proposed landmark designation.)

There's a lot of space that's up for grabs right now, subject to the whim of the developer that purchased it, Onni Group. The Canadian company doesn't have a great preservation track record so far—in its "redevelopment" of the Art Deco headquarters of the Seattle Times from 1931, it demolished most of it and incorporated only the facade into its new residential towers.

And that newspaper HQ had been declared a city landmark for two decades.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Inside the Los Angeles Times, From Written to Printed (Updated for 2017)

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