July 16, 2023

Photo Essay: Take the Red Elevator Through Space and Time at the Bonaventure Hotel

There are some buildings in LA I feel compelled to respect for their sheer audacity. 

The Bonaventure Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles is one of those.
It has a complicated history—one that involves the flattened Bunker Hill (although that happened in the decade prior to the Bonaventure's completion) and a blocked streetcar tunnel

Also, some people just don't like how it looks. It's too big, too round, too glassy, too Brutalist, too retrofuturistic.

I, however, love all those things about it. It's a bold entry into the skyline of a city not particularly known for even having one. 

And its interior, with its soaring, daylit atrium, is just as weird and wonderful. 
Rock-lined pools of water cast reflections on concrete planters and ceilings and pillars, oh my.
Swooping walkways send you sauntering in circles with lighting so dim, it seems as though your eyelids are drooping too low. 

Every visit feels disorienting, like trying to find your way through the inner workings of a machine.

And you're simply a ball bearing, tumbling from level to level, encircling a mechanical core you don't quite understand. 

This Metropolis-like experience has lent itself to plenty of action and sci fi movies, like Schwarzenegger's True Lies, DeNiro's Heat, and director Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.

I've never had the chance to actually spend the night at the Bonaventure—now a Westin hotel—but whenever I'm there, I always wonder who chooses to stay there. Did they have any idea what they were in for when they made that initial booking? 

And what did they think when they arrived to the bottom of those cylindrical glass towers, which move people through this century—or the next, or the last—like some post-modern pneumatic portal?
The hotel's architect, John Portman, was considered a "neofuturist"—and, not surprisingly, he designed a skyscraper known as "Tomorrow Square" in Shanghai in the late 1990s/early 2000s. 

The Bonaventure might as well be called "The Hotel of Tomorrow" or "The Hotel City of the Future." It could belong better in Tomorrowland or at the '64/'65 Worlds Fair site in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. But I kind of prefer it not-belonging in Downtown LA.
It's hard to stay downstairs at the Bonaventure because its entire design beckons you upwards. But there's only way up to the very top: Take the Red Elevator. (I actually have no idea what time or space the Blue Elevator, the Green Elevator, or the Yellow Elevator would take you to.)

The "top" floor is designated the 35th floor, although the elevators skip Floor 7 and Floor 13—so you do the math. 

The 35th floor is where the hotel's steakhouse, L.A. Prime, is currently located. But I've never bothered to stay on that floor—instead opting to descend the stairs to the "34th" floor for The Bona Vista Lounge.

This rotating hotel bar/lounge, with 360-degree views of DTLA (at least, if you sit through a full rotation), just reopened from its COVID-19 pandemic closure. 

On a clear day, you can see the mountains and the helipads and birds and glassed-in elevators that just may break the space-time continuum.
You can sit two-by-two (or, in my case, one-by-zero) at the windows, or in the round with a group in a booth. 

The view, of course, is better at the windows. 

And that's where you can really tell that the floor is moving. 

Or are you sitting still—and the landscape is spinning around you?

Watch as the Wells Fargo Center, One California Plaza, Two California Plaza, and U.S. Bank Tower slide on by nearly imperceptibly. It's not quite the razzamatazz of the Marriott Marquis revolving bar in Times Square, where my coworkers and I used to wait until the giant Cup of Noodles would start steaming in view, but it evokes a similar feeling.
The Bonaventure was built from 1974 to 1976—and it'll turn 50 years old right around the same time that I will. That's when it'll finally be considered eligible for "historic" designation, and maybe that's when people will start to see its true value. I hope the same for myself.)

Visit Nathan Marsak's Bunker Hill blog for wonderful before-and-after photos of the Bonaventure and its Bona Vista Lounge. 

Related Posts:

1 comment:

  1. Well described and photographed. Actually when life takes me downtown, I prefer to stay here vs the other choices. Even over the historic Biltmore. The staff are unfailingly friendly and I love the vibe.