The Los Angeles Conservancy has begun offering in-person tours of historic Downtown LA once again after a six-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The LA Conservancy, a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of historic structures in LA, started offering its in-person walking tours again at the beginning of September.
The in-person tours are limited to household-only groups and require that guests wear masks, stay 6 feet apart from the docent and receive temperature checks, said program coordinator Alex Inshishian.
Inshishian added that the tours will not include the interiors of the buildings. Instead, they will focus on the exterior structures in order to ensure the safety of the docents and guests.
“Our main priority is not only that our guests and everybody are safe, but also we have about 80 volunteer docents that do most of our tours for us, and so we wanted to make sure that we were doing everything that was best for them,” he said.
During the last few months, the conservancy has also been able to offer virtual tours in place of its traditional in-person walking tours, Inshishian said. These new virtual tours come with benefits as well as drawbacks, he added.
“I think that the main drawback is really (being) with the people,” Inshishian said. “I think a lot of our docents especially are people who want to talk with people and see their faces and kind of joke around with them.”
Chris Spry, a volunteer docent for the conservancy, said he has missed this aspect of leading the live tours, among others.
“I like interacting with the people and … depending on the group there can be a lot more interaction with the live tour,” Spry said. “I also like getting the exercise. I like being out in Downtown Los Angeles.”
Spry added that it’s much more difficult for people to understand the scale of the buildings through photos during a virtual tour.
“In a live tour, again, (you) have the context of scale to people’s own bodies and eyes because they’re seeing it in real time,” he said. “And if you are talking about the scale of something with photos, it’s not necessarily readily apparent and not probably appreciated as much as a live tour.”
However, Inshishian said there are a number of benefits to the virtual tours that the conservancy never considered before it started offering them.
“I think if you took a virtual tour, it would be a very different experience in a good way,” he said. ‘I think you’d learn a lot of stuff that you didn’t know before.”
The virtual tours are able to feature historic photos and allow docents to talk about buildings that aren’t next to each other, he said.
“On a walking tour, there’s a lot of buildings that we would love to take people to or to relate one building to another, but they are two miles apart and people don’t want to walk that far on a walking tour,” he said. “But on a virtual tour, that’s something that we’re able to do.”
Inshishian added that the virtual tours have also broadened the audience of the tours to include people from other states and countries.
“I think we’ve realized that there are many, many people … who are very interested in seeing a lot of the great historic treasures or architectural treasures we have here, but they are from Missouri or New York or New Zealand and they aren’t able to get down here,” Inshishian said.
Spry also said that as a docent, the virtual tours allow him to go more in depth since people can hear him more clearly on a virtual tour than in an outdoor situation with a lot of background noise.
He said he is also able to provide more information because the tour group is not taking the time to walk between areas where it’s not feasible for him to be continually talking.
Inshishian added that these tours are important not only to help to educate people but also to help to save historic buildings.
“We’re not just taking you around to different buildings because they have important history or that they’re great to look at,” he said. “We’re actually using this as a venue to raise awareness and to raise a little funds to make sure that the buildings we’re looking at are preserved.”