It’s hard to imagine a time when the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont was the center of town, but Kevin Roderick’s Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles follows, in words and pictures, the westward growth of the boulevard from its barley-field beginnings in 1895 near MacArthur Park. “Build it to the ocean, and keep it wide!” was the goal, achieved by 1928. Much of the human-interest color in what is, by necessity, a book about buildings falls into three categories: architects, developers and squabbling movie stars at restaurants like Perino’s.
If the term “visionary developer” makes you smirk, Roderick’s book will set you straight, telling the truly impressive stories of — well, visionary developers who planned and created whole towns, like Senator John Jones, the founder of Santa Monica. Much of the book’s retelling of Wilshire’s architectural glories adds up to a well-deserved homage to architect Stiles Clement, who created some of our greatest Art Deco and Spanish Moderne structures: the Wiltern (once called the “Wil-Tern”); Bullock’s Wilshire; the old, zig-zaggy Richfield building downtown.
Most of us can’t remember Wilshire as any sort of raging hub of L.A. cultural life. Sure enough, Roderick recounts the inevitable death of buildings and neighborhoods as well as their golden days: the Ambassador Hotel’s seedy, lingering decline after the shock of Robert Kennedy’s assassination there in 1968, for one, and the sudden end of Westwood as a hot spot following gang shootings in the 1980s. Wilshire Boulevard’s oblong format and blocky layout compliment the period postcards, ads and photos perfectly. There ought to be more books like this.
WILSHIRE BOULEVARD: GRAND CONCOURSE OF LOS ANGELES | By KEVIN RODERICK with
J. ERIC LYNXWILER | Angel City Press | 208 pages | $40 hardcover