Strolling Through History (And Many Movie Sets)

In Downtown Los Angeles

By Don Mankin, Travel Writer

While many of LA food options are relatively recent additions, the market still includes the purveyors of a dizzying and colorful array of Mexican spices, candies, and baked goods that have been at the market almost since its inception.

We got there before most of the food stalls were open but our destination, Egg Slut (yes, that is really the name!) already had a long line of people waiting for their orders. I chose the gourmet egg, cheese and bacon sandwich.

After mopping up the drippings from the paper wrapping and only partially successful in wiping egg yolk off my mustache, we headed to Angels Flight, just across from the Hill St, entrance of the Market.

Angels Flight is an historic funicular that used to ferry blue collar workers from the cramped, clapboard boarding houses on Bunker Hill before it was leveled in the 1960s, to Broadway below and the stores and businesses that used to dominate downtown LA.

Angels Flight should be familiar to fans of the movies La La Land and 500 Days of Summer and the streaming TV series Goliath and Bosch, among many others.

At the top of the short railway is California Plaza, a spacious concrete open space which includes an amphitheater where the city stages concerts during the summer. The Plaza is surrounded by the soaring glass office towers and hotel that replaced the clapboard houses of working-class Bunker Hill.

We walked across the plaza in a somewhat northwesterly direction, past the Museum of Contemporary Art (worth a visit if you have the time), to Grand Ave, then up Grand about a block past the Broad Museum with its striking collection of modern art (also worth a visit).

Our destination was Disney Hall, one the city’s most important buildings, architecturally, aesthetically and culturally. Disney Hall soars above the avenue like a gigantic, surreal sailboat buffeted by turbulent waves of glistening steel. Our destination was the winding aerial pathway that wraps around the outside of the hall and inside the swirling, soaring waves of the external skin.

The pathway is accessible via a stairway behind

a rose shaped fountain made of shards of blue and white Royal Delft china. Frank Gehry, the celebrity architect who designed the hall, dedicated this fountain to Lillian Disney who supported him through the often difficult and contentious design and construction of the hall.

This pathway is one of my favorite features of the

Hall for its close-up view of the innards of the infrastructure, allowing a glimpse of the intricate and complex engineering of the building. As the walkway emerged from behind the skin, we had an expansive view of the city from the walkway’s perch high above Grand Ave.

From Disney Hall we crossed First Ave to an iconic architectural and cultural landmark of another era, the Music Center Plaza, a wide, open plaza surrounded by three of the largest performing arts venues in the US – the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, and Mark Taper Forum.

Unlike the undulating free form architecture of Disney Hall, the style of the Music Center is 1960s modern, typical of the important institutional and civic buildings of the era.

The fountain in the center of the Plaza which surrounds the “Peace on Earth” work by famed sculpture Jacques Lipchitz, is the first in a series of graceful, modern, “walk on water” fountains that spill (figuratively) down the hill through Grand Park in the direction of City Hall, a building recognizable to any fan of the 50s TV show, Dragnet and its taciturn, “just the facts, ma’am” Sgt. Joe Friday.

Before reaching City Hall, we turned left on Hill St. and headed to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on W. Temple St., a massive, majestic, modern structure of a style markedly distinct from Disney Hall and the Music Center. While Disney Hall is all swoop and shiny steel and the Music Center is white and marble with straight lines and modest curves, the Cathedral is the color of sun-baked adobe and has few straight lines.

My favorite part of the Cathedral is the mausoleum in the basement. The first thing you see at the bottom of the stairs is Gregory Peck’s crypt. Sort of creepy but also cool. Stained glass windows line the walls of the mausoleum, depicting memorable scenes from the life of Jesus, including the Annunciation, the Ascension and Jesus preaching to the elders in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Perversely, the latter is my favorite. It depicts the elders with stereotypically semitic features, especially prominent hook noses, while Jesus himself, a young man also of the Hebraic persuasion, has a punim that rivals the Waspish good looks of a 1950s movie idol.

From the Cathedral, we took a left turn and walked one block east to Broadway, turned right and walked two blocks to the Bradbury Building, a National Historic Landmark built in 1893 and one of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles.

The building is best known for its ornate filigree ironwork railings and open cage elevator. This five-story, red brick building is filled with natural light that streams through the sky light that fills the entire ceiling. Like most every notable site in LA, the Bradbury Building has been the location for many movies and TV shows, including Chinatown and an almost unrecognizable appearance in Blade Runner.

More of the same in the afternoon

plus a drink with a view

Conveniently, the Bradbury Building is located just across the street from the Grand Central Market, where we stopped again to rehydrate and refuel with Thai iced tea with boba from Moon Rabbit and strawberry rhubarb pie from Fat and Flour.

I resisted the urge to scarf down a humungous pastrami sandwich from Wexler’s Deli or a plate of Pad Kee Mao (aka Drunken Noodle) from Sticky Rice. By this time, the market was packed and bustling so, the people-watching enhanced our boba and pie snack.

After our break, we headed south on Broadway, once the commercial and retail core of Los Angeles. It is also the home of the Historic Theater District, the first and largest historic theater district on the National Register of Historic Places, with, according to Wikipedia, the highest concentration of movie palaces in the world.

Many of the old theaters are in an advanced state of decay, but it doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up their former grandeur. Some have been renovated and can be rented for special events. The theaters are embedded among a funky mish-mash of jewelry stores, doughnut shops, and bridal gown emporiums.

The theater district extends south to 9th St. At 9th we turned around and headed back to 6th St., then took a left and headed on a northwesterly angle through Pershing Square toward the Millennial Biltmore Hotel, the historic grand dame of old Los Angeles money and movie fame, as well as a location for many movies and TV shows, such as Beverly Hills Cop, Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Ghostbusters, True Lies, and Rocky III.

Across Olive St we entered through the back entrance to the hotel, which led us through the Rendezvous Court where high tea is served under the high, Moorish ceiling. Up the stairs and to the left is the Historic Corridor, which offers a photo gallery of Academy of Award ceremonies held in the grand ballroom of the Biltmore in the 1930s.

One particularly large photo shows the entire audience at the 1937 awards ceremony. Several stars and movie notables, including Walt Disney and Spencer Tracy, can be easily picked out in the photo. Down the corridor to the left are several more photos of stars and others, including Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. 

She was last seen in the posh Gallery Bar and Cognac Room in the hotel in 1947 before her body, sawed in half, was found several days later in a vacant lot.

I was hoping to get a Black Dahlia martini at the bar, but it wasn’t open (it opens at 4 pm), so we made our way down the block and across the street to The Perch, on the roof of the Pershing Square Building at 448 S. Hill. The Perch looked inviting from the street, with its roof top array of umbrellas and plants; the views of downtown LA from the roof were even better, not to mention the views of the trim, good-looking Millennials who packed the place.

After a cold drink or two, we staggered into the elevator, rode down to the street and weaved our way west on 5th St for a couple of blocks to our final destination, the Los Angeles Central Library to check out the famous pastel-hued murals inside the Grand Rotunda, which offer a 360-degree view of California history.

After turning slowly and craning our necks for several minutes, we decided to head back to the Grand Central Market for one last bite, because, well, I like to eat. I had a carnitas taco from Roast to Go, one of the oldest vendors in the market, a fitting conclusion to our historic, cultural, architectural and gustatory exploration of downtown Los Angeles--the urban center that, despite popular belief, has continued to teem and thrive through the decades.

If You Go

Getting There

Non-stop round trip airfare from Washington DC area ranges from the low to the high $200 on several major carriers. 

Where To Eat

 At Grand Central Market, besides the stalls mentioned in the article, I recommend Broad St. Oyster Co., McConnell’s Ice Cream, and Sticky Rice.

For more upscale dining I recommend Asterid in Disney Hall ( and Clifton’s Republic (, a makeover of the historic, forest-themed, fantasyland cafeteria in the heart of the theater district into an even more hallucinatory experience.

Where To Stay

 Millennial Biltmore ( offers rooms starting at $178/night.

The Omni Los Angeles ( is located on the California Plaza and has rooms starting in the low $200.

For More Info

Grand Central Market (

Angels Flight (

 Walt Disney Concert Hall


 Music Center Plaza (aka Jerry Moss Plaza)


Grand Park (

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (

Bradbury Building (

Historic Theater District


Los Angeles Central Library Murals


For more travel adventures by Don Mankin, go to:

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