Three Questions With: An Architectural Historian

Antonio Gonzalez’s new book looks at 10 architects behind some of the biggest buildings in Los Angeles’ early boom, many of which were in Downtown.

Much of Downtown Los Angeles was built at the turn of the 20th century, and many landmarks from that era still stand. Antonio Gonzalez’s new book, Architects Who Built Southern California, looks at the people behind those buildings in Downtown and elsewhere in the state. The 10 chapters each focus on an architect who designed iconic structures, including Julia Morgan, who worked on the Herald Examiner Building (she also did Hearst Castle), and Albert C. Martin, architect of the Million Dollar Theater (among many others).

Gonzalez spoke with Los Angeles Downtown News about his book.

Los Angeles Downtown News: So many buildings from the early 1900s have different styles — Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival and Art Deco, among others. Why the diversity?

Antonio Gonzalez: I think a lot of architects adapted to what their clients wanted. That’s why Los Angeles looked the way it did at the time; there’s nothing wrong with that. But Los Angeles was a relatively new city. It hadn’t been really defined at that point. I think a lot of styles were embraced. It’s not like New York City where there were tons of brownstones next to brownstones. Here we had so much land to work with, so they could try new things.

Q: When you were doing research, what made these architects stand out?

A: I researched using Architect and Engineer, which was a journal documenting that time. Often in that journal there are names of architects who were approved by the state to be licensed architects. You’ll often see a name attached to a building that was going to be built, and then you never see those names again. A lot of architects came to Los Angeles for their career, but obviously didn’t get a foothold. The ones in my book got that foothold; they stayed here as long as they could. The architects in my book, they were awfully determined and awfully disciplined.

Q: Many buildings from this era have become icons. What makes them so emblematic of the city?

A: Urban renewal was the scourge of the 20th century across the country, as far as I’m concerned. And while there was that in Los Angeles, that was focused on Bunker Hill, so all of the buildings in the Historic Core survived. In most cities these buildings would have been knocked down years ago. So I think it’s just time. They were just fortunate they weren’t knocked down.

Architects Who Built Southern California is available through The History Press at historypress.com.

nicholas@downtownnews.com