Saving the '60s - Page 2

Preservationists embrace the Age of Aquarius as more and more mid-century modern architecture crosses the 50-year threshold

How best to save them?

Preserving buildings from the 1960s is rife with challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the burden of the '50-year hurdle' lessens with each passing year. On the other hand, preservationists face new technical and philosophical issues.

For instance, many 1960s buildings feature mass-produced materials that are easily replicated, and/or experimental materials that perhaps weren't designed to last for generations.

Is actual historic fabric as important for these structures as it is for older structures of stone, brick, and old-growth wood? How do we adapt car-oriented designs to the contemporary desire for pedestrian-friendly communities? And while a number of 1960s architects pioneered energy-efficient modern design, many others didn't, instead taking full advantage of the era's cheap and plentiful energy. How do we enhance the sustainability of these buildings while maintaining their historic character?

See for yourself

The Conservancy will be exploring these and other topics over the next nine months, as they and ModCom present 'The Sixties Turn Fifty.' This broad-based educational program combines tours, panel discussions, other fun events, and new online features to raise awareness of Los Angeles' rich legacy of 1960s architecture and build a constituency for its preservation.

The Conservancy and ModCom welcome all supporters to these events. Those who live outside Southern California can participate by visiting the Conservancy's website to learn about L.A.'s rich 1960s heritage, vote for their favorite '60s buildings, share photos and stories, and more. For details, visit

• Trudi Sandmeier is director of education for the Los Angeles Conservancy. Cindy Olnick is the Conservancy's director of communications.

Photos: Julius Shulman, J. Eric Lynxwiler; and courtesy Peter Moruzzi Collection, Yamasaki Associates. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10)

Threatened: Columbia Savings Building
Jewel of postwar bank design

Designed by architect Irving Shapiro and completed in 1965, the Columbia Savings Building on Los Angeles' 'Miracle Mile' is an outstanding example of postwar bank design. As financial institutions nationwide embraced progressive banking methods, architects responded by radically reinventing the bank's form with bold designs, expansive use of glass for transparency, and the integration of innovative, often abstract art.

With a monumental, symmetrical design influenced by New Formalism, the Columbia Savings Building boldly reinterprets the classically inspired banks of the turn-of-the-twentieth century. It features a 45-foot-long brass screen-waterfall sculptural fountain by local artist Taki and a 1,300-square-foot dale de verre (faceted glass) skylight by acclaimed artist Roger Darricarrere.

Exceptional signage includes two sculptural pylons soaring eighty-five-feet tall. Visible from great distances, their incredible height marks the evolution of building signage in response to Los Angeles' auto-oriented society.

The fate of this unique structure hangs in the balance. The entire block bounded by Wilshire Boulevard, Eighth Street, La Brea Avenue, and Sycamore Avenue is slated for redevelopment with mixed-use retail and restaurant space and 482 apartment units. Despite a wealth of information submitted by the Los Angeles Conservancy on the Columbia Savings Building's significance, the city appears poised to approve the new development and, with it, the building's demolition.

columbia bank

Threatened: Century Plaza Hotel
Embodiment of 1960s Los Angeles

The Century Plaza Hotel opened in 1966 as the centerpiece of Century City, a 'city within a city' that heralded a bold, new approach to urban design. The 19-story hotel forms an elegant, sweeping crescent at the corner of Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Boulevard -- so named because of Century City's full embrace of the Space Age.

The hotel was designed by renowned architect Minoru Yamasaki (1912-1986), who would later design New York's World Trade Center twin towers (1974-2001) and the twin Century Plaza Towers (1975). The son of Japanese immigrants, the Seattle-born Yamasaki was one of approximately a dozen architects ever featured on the cover of Time magazine, in 1963.

Since it opened, the Century Plaza has served as a premiere hotel for celebrities, politicians, and world dignitaries. Its instant success also fueled the development of Century City and forged its reputation as a truly modern, world-class destination.