David L. Ulin | Dec 10, 2018
We think of Los Angeles as a city of sprawl, but it is just as much a city of neighborhoods.
Here’s an example of what I mean. A couple of years ago, I spent a day riding Metro Rail in its entirety: every station and mile of track. Expo Line to the Blue Line to the Green Line; Red Line, Purple Line and Gold. The idea was to see how limited the system must be if it could be traversed in such a narrow span of time, but the effect, it turned out, was the opposite. Starting in mid-Wilshire, I found myself passing through the South Bay, Long Beach, downtown, North Hollywood, East Los Angeles. I ranged as far east as Azusa, then west again to Santa Monica.
As I traveled, I took note of landmarks: the Watts Towers, the Highland Theatre, LAX. The experience was like moving through a map in real time, in which Los Angeles revealed itself as small and large. By the time I was done, I was aware of a curious double vision, a sense of the pieces that make up the city and also the shape of the broader metropolis. It is this sort of cognitive dissonance — or negative capability — that, I want to tell you, Los Angeles requires of us.
A similar sensibility informs David Gebhard and Robert Winter’s “An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles,” which offers a complicated, and at times contradictory, engagement with the city not unlike what I discovered on the train. Originally published in 1965 by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it has just been reissued in a sixth edition that is significantly revised.
“Many professionals simply call it The Bible,” Nathan Masters notes in a foreword that traces the book’s history. Developed for the 1964 annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians — the authors, in what may be my favorite detail, missed their deadline — it was revised in 1977, 1985 and 1994, and again in 2003, despite Gebhard’s death in 1996.
That last edition was Winter’s alone; “I am proud of it,” he acknowledges, “even though I realize that it would have been better if I had had another person’s cooperation.” This time out, Winter, who is 94 and largely homebound, has enlisted Robert Inman, his former student and author of two books about the city’s urban stairways, to collaborate. What they’ve done is essentially to reinvent the “Guidebook,” reworking its organization and adding 700 structures while removing 500 others, including 150 or so that, Inman writes, “we deemed weak.”
Read the full review with photos here
Robert W. Winter,
a Life member of SAH, joined in 1957. He was appointed a Fellow of the Society in 2006.