Magazine article Sunset

Downtown Reborn

Magazine article Sunset

Downtown Reborn

Article excerpt

Pedestrian-friendly places, both new and restored, are giving downtown an inviting new face

L.A.'s downtown has entered a new phase: it's not just for power breakfasts anymore. The blocks of hermetically sealed high-rises from the 1970s and '80s are being softened by a reviving street-scape, symbolized most vividly by the $14.5-million reclamation of Pershing Square, which opened on schedule three weeks after the Northridge quake. Other great public landmarks have been or are being reborn, a new albeit abbreviated subway has opened, and pedestrian connections between Bunker Hill and the commercial core have been added or are being developed. A brand-new Downtown Strategic Plan provides a blueprint for revitalizing the area's historic fabric.

To get a sense of downtown's new spirit, start where many a Hollywood hopeful first touched Southern California soil: the busy, recently restored Union Passenger Terminal, on Alameda Street between Macy Street and U.S. 101. With its tile-roofed clock tower, monumental arched windows, majestic courtyards, and swaying Mexican fan palms, the 1939 structure celebrates all at once Southern California's Spanish mission past, balmy climate, and stage-set modernity. As the hub of the region's expanding public transportation system, it may also represent L.A.'s future (ridership on local commuter trains has doubled since the earthquake).

Out the station's front portal and across Alameda Street is the venerable El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument. It contains the original Spanish plaza, laid out in 1815, and brick-paved Olvera Street, lined with 19th-century brick buildings that were redone in the 1930s to resemble a Mexican marketplace. This pedestrian alley bustles with open-air restaurants and stalls selling colorful clothing and leather goods, Mexican candies, and Day of the Dead figurines. It's touristy, but it feels genuine and a little mysterious: the densely packed stalls down the center and the rows of cheek-by-jowl brick storefronts invite exploration.

Return to the station and head underground to the spiffy new Metro Red Line, where you can catch a train that will take you closer to downtown's financial and cultural center at Pershing Square, two stops away.

Opposite the history-laden, classically imposing Biltmore Hotel, a reinvented Pershing Square boldly proclaims its look to the future. School-bus yellow walls lead past an eating pavilion to the main plaza, marked by a 128-foot-tall purple campanile with a large pink sphere suspended like a clapper near the top. The tower's base forms an aqueduct that cascades water into a circular pool lined with pebbles from the Tijuana River. …

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