A Drive Down Wilshire with an L.A. Native

Liz Luna
Jul 28, 2014 10:43PM

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I think I’d absorbed all my parents’ “surface street” secrets before I could drive myself—avoiding the inevitably slow, freeway boredom was part of the appeal, but so was the opportunity to observe countless neighborhoods and experience the city’s amazing diversity. Now, years later, when I visit L.A. it’s the most conspicuous thoroughfare to which I always return: Wilshire Boulevard. Cutting through distinct communities between Downtown and the Pacific Ocean, Wilshire has been referred to by L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne as “L.A.’s boulevard of prototypes, a string of hypotheses 16 miles long.” Indeed, Wilshire provides a strange and wonderful cross-section of L.A. life, filled with art and architecture. Let’s take a drive.

In classic L.A. fashion, Wilshire springs from a parking lot below the One Wilshire Building, amid the high rises of Downtown. Before we head west, let’s first see some great art nearby in Downtown. Park near Grand Avenue and West 2nd Street.

The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT)

631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

Within the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall, you’ll find the CalArts Downtown outpost, REDCAT. Known for eclectic, interdisciplinary programing—likely the result of their parent institution’s legacy of experimentation—the contemporary art space is currently showing Allora & Calzadilla’s new video work, Apotomēand related performances. This is the first L.A. exhibition by the collaborating duo who represented the U.S. at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

The Broad

221 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

Next to the Disney Concert Hall, you’ll see the growing skeleton of what will soon be The Broad—philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad’s comprehensive new contemporary art museum. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the 120,000 square-foot museum is set to open in 2015 and will house 2,000 objects from The Broad Art Collection and the Broad’s personal collection. While you eagerly await the museum’s opening, explore selections from The Broad Art Collection on Artsy!

MOCA, Los Angeles

250 South Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012

Across the street is MOCA’s downtown home. The collection includes all the heavy hitters from the 1940s to the present, including Jean-Michel BasquiatJackson PollockRobert RauschenbergMark RothkoCindy Sherman, and Kara Walker, so the ongoing rotation of collection highlights won’t disappoint. Also on view until August 11th, “Cinema Vezzoli” showcases contemporary Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli’s transfixing investigations into the cult of celebrity, pop culture, and Classic European and Hollywood cinema. Don’t miss the title work, a compilation video “starring” Marisa Berenson, Natalie Portman, and Michelle Williams.

Find your car and drive south down Grand, make a right at Wilshire Boulevard.

Downtown to Miracle Mile: Art Deco and more

American Cement Building, photo by Larry Underhill

There is an impressive array of commercial, residential, and religious architectural landmarks (with landmark status) along Wilshire Boulevard. I don’t support distracted driving, but be sure to have a look at these gems as you drive west.

Just west of Downtown you’ll bisect MacArthur Park. In the late 1890s and early 20th Century, the Park (and surrounding Art Deco-style hotels, like the beautifully restored Park Plaza Hotel at the northeast corner) garnered the moniker, the “Champs-Élysées” of Los Angeles. Completed years later in 1964, the American Cement Building (2404 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057), with its 450 precast concrete “X”s, became the company headquarters; it also served to highlight the impressive qualities of the building material. You’ll pass the building on the left just as you exit the park.

Wilshire Temple, Jessica Hodgdon/L.A. Conservancy; Pellissier Building and Wiltern Theatre, L.A. Conservancy archives

On the northeast corner of Wilshire and Hobart, you can’t miss the Wilshire Temple with its immense Byzantine revival dome. Completed in 1929, this is L.A.’s oldest Jewish congregation.

Flanked in unmistakable seafoam terracotta tiles, one the of the best examples of Art Deco architecture stands tall at the southeast corner of Wilshire and Western: the Pellissier Building and Wiltern Theatre.

Keep driving down Wilshire, make a left when you reach Cochran Ave. Your next stop is to your right a few blocks down.

MAK Center, The Mackey Apartments

1137 South Cochran Ave., Los Angeles, 90019

Mackey Apartment Building (R.M. Schindler, 1939), © MAK Center / Photo by Joshua White

Designed by Rudolph M. Schindler, the Mackey Apartments are preserved and run by the MAK Center, along with two other signature residences in L.A. A few blocks south of Wilshire in the Miracle Mile district, the Mackey highlights the architect’s “space architecture,” with its use of natural light, built-in furniture, and private exterior spaces. Explore the “Eden’s Edge Project” in the apartment’s Garage Top, or tour the entire building on the first Friday of the month (more info here).

Head back to Wilshire, make a left.


5905 Wilshire Blvd.,Los Angeles, CA 90036

About halfway between Downtown and the Pacific Ocean, LACMA’s iconic Chris Burden installation, Urban Light, greets you upon arrival. The largest art museum in the western U.S., LACMA maintains an ever-growing, encyclopedic collection of over 120,000 works, and mounts countless exhibitions, in addition to the expansive, artfully covered grounds. There’s never a shortage of things to see, but if you visit this summer, don’t miss LACMA’s presentation of “Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky,”on view through September 14th, featuring works by Paul GauginHenri Matisse, and others . Though Expressionism is often considered a German movement, this show explores French influences and the evolution of the movement through artistic, cultural and geographic lenses.

If you’re at LACMA around the lunch hour, check out the congregation of L.A.’s best food trucks on Wilshire. After you satiate your appetite, walk a short block down Wilshire to your next stop.

A+D Museum

6032 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Stop in at A+D Architecture and Design Museum to see a whimsical, if not scrupulous 50,000 lego brick reconstruction of the Grand Budapest Hotel from Wes Anderson’s movie of the same name. And if you’re looking for more architectural exploration, check out A+D’s series “Urban Hikes: Forgotten L.A.

In your car, continue west down Wilshire through Beverly Hills and the Wilshire Corridor to your next spot at the corner of Wilshire and Westwood Blvd.

Hammer Museum

10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024

The Hammer Museum is currently presenting the second iteration of its “Made in L.A.” biennial exhibition, featuring 35 L.A.-based artists. As Hammer director Annie Philbin describes,  “[exhibition curators] Michael [Ned Holte] and Connie [Butler]  have visited hundreds of studios and will tell you they have only scratched the surface—there is so much going on here.” And indeed there is so much going on at the Hammer! The Biennial covers every gallery of the museum, with countless public programs spilling out into the courtyards. Check the events calendar and plan your visit around the engaging programming the Museum has curated to accompany the exhibition.

Santa Monica Museum of Art

Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave. (south of Wilshire)

Untitled-30', 2014
Santa Monica Museum of Art

I tend to be rather tired by the time I hit Wilshire and the 405 freeway, but if you’re still alert and ready for more, keep driving down Wilshire, through Brentwood towards Santa Monica. Visit the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s vibrant “Robert Swain: The Form of Color” show, as well as neighboring galleries located in Bergamot Station (it can be tricky to find, so consult a map). Return to Wilshire, westbound. Not before long you’ll arrive at the dazzling Pacific Ocean—undoubtedly a source of inspiration to countless artists and designers, past and present, who have lived and worked in L.A.

For more information about Wilshire Boulevard, check out the L.A. Times video series, “Christopher Hawthorne’s Takes on the Boulevards” as well as L.A. ConservancyCurating The City web project.

Liz Luna