People & Places

Best Art Deco (1928) Los Angeles 2010 

James Oviatt Building

An Art Deco highrise stands adjacent to downtown jewelry wholesalers, warehouses and Pershing Square, seemingly untouched by the decades. The James Oviatt Building, circa 1928, was designed by the Los Angeles–based architectural firm of Walker & Eisen, a monument to its namesake, a wealthy dealer in men’s clothing. The son of a blacksmith, Oviatt worked as a window dresser before opening a small haberdashery in 1912 with business partner Frank Baird Alexander. Soon, Alexander & Oviatt began catering to the needs of silver–screen icons like Douglas Fairbanks and John Barrymore. While on a luxury buying trip to France in 1925, Oviatt visited the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, where the term “Art Deco” was born; he was inspired to build a bigger store in the trendy new style. Architect Ferdinand Chanut and glassmaker Gaetan Jeannin designed the building’s 12-ton illuminated glass ceiling and awning, while René Lalique was behind many of the building’s design elements. Today, the Oviatt Building is home to Cicada Restaurant, and its apartment-style penthouse with patio is available for special events, offering a stunning view of L.A.’s skyline as well as an enormous clock tower with three faces imported from France. If you can’t afford to rent out the penthouse, you can see the building on the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Art Deco Tour, Saturdays at 10 a.m. The Oviatt Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and was the subject of an eponymous 2008 documentary by Seth Shulman. 617 S. Olive St., dwntwn. —Tanja M. Laden

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