Tour Three Sites That Almost Gave Us A Very Different Los Angeles

Tour Three Sites That Almost Gave Us A Very Different Los Angeles

It would appear that, as a country, the US is experiencing some serious regret (or relief?) in examining plans for its cities that never came to fruition. San Francisco looked at its Unbuilt SF, a similar show opened in Washington DC last year and in LA — the land of broken promises and shattered dreams — there’s Never Built Los Angeles.

Curated by architecture critics Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell, the Never Built exhibition at the A+D Museum in L.A. (which has just been extended to October 27) features dozens of these unrealised proposals and a lovely book covers even more projects that didn’t fit inside the tiny gallery.

Now Goldin and Lubell have also released the Never Built app, which serves as a guide to 21 sites featured in the exhibition. Like other apps exploring structures that never materialised (Museum of the Phantom City comes to mind), Never Built has a map, photos and text that bring the exhibit into the context of the city. In Goldin’s words, “It extends the narrative of the show onto the ground, where it might have happened.” The app also takes the sometimes fantastical ideas out of the hypothetical realm of the museum, Lubell adds. “Standing on the site, you experience and feel what would have been there much more clearly than seeing it in a drawing.”

I asked Goldin and Lubell to take me with them to three locations with surprising histories, each featured in the app. Accordingly, here are the tales of what was originally planned for three famous LA sites, with links to audio interviews recorded at each site with Goldin and Lubell. If you like what you see, get excited: Goldin and Lubell are starting work on a Never Built: New York City.

Dodger Stadium Was Supposed To Be Apartments

Ask any Angeleno about the history of Dodger Stadium, and they will likely tell you all about how the impoverished Mexican-American residents of Chavez Ravine were ripped from their homes to build the stadium (and show you some of these graphic photos). That’s not exactly true, say Goldin and Lubell. The homes were demolished to make way for Elysian Park Heights, a massive housing development designed by modernist icons Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander. The complex was to have 20 13-storey towers and 163 two-storey garden apartments, making it one of the largest developments anywhere in the city — and all the displaced residents were to get new homes there.

However, during the early 1950s, many people in LA were against this kind of high-density public housing because it was perceived as Communist — so the project was killed. The land was instead given by the city to the Dodgers under the condition it that be used for “public purpose,” a definition that has been debated for decades: Does a baseball stadium really serve the city in this way? In recent years, there has been some talk about developing the stadium and its acres and acres (and acres) of parking lots into more of an entertainment and residential complex, which would in some ways fulfil the original mandate.


Union Station Could Have Spanned The LA River

LA’s pretty but awkwardly situated Union Station was built in 1939 as part of a huge civic compromise. 13 years before, in 1926, architect C.E. Noerenberg had revealed his plan for the central transportation hub of Los Angeles: a “lid” that spanned the Los Angeles River. The 304 x 609m wide development would have reached from what is now the 4th Street bridge (seen in the distance) to the 6th Street bridge (where this photo was taken); but, more notably, it would have been the center of a larger plan that created a park up and down the river. The river was channelised with concrete starting in the late 1930s, causing new buildings to turn their back on the infrastructural abomination and creating an industrial wasteland through what should have been a vibrant centre of the city.

Interestingly, Union Station and the river are currently undergoing huge transformations — a new master plan for the station will expand the station significantly as it incorporates high-speed rail, and a revitalization program to naturalize the river is being considered by the Army Corps of Engineers — both of which would bring the city closer to Noerenberg’s proposal.


Disneyland Was Planned For Burbank

Forget Anaheim, the original Disneyland was supposed to be right here in beautiful downtown Burbank. Walt Disney’s 1952 proposal suggested all the elements we know and love from the actual Disneyland — Main Street, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, even the railroad that circles the park — to be situated here near his existing animation studios, just over the hill from Hollywood. The Burbank City Council rejected the plan as this was still a time when theme parks were seen as sleazy, and he eventually found Anaheim to be more amiable. Surprisingly enough, this site is still largely open space, used by the residents of what is now an equestrian neighbourhood, with Disney’s animation studios still located at the far end (although in a new building).

Other interesting facts: You can see Disney’s original proposal for the Burbank site on display at the museum in Disneyland, where, of course, you can also experience his vision largely realised. Also, in the adjacent California Adventure park, there’s a new “Buena Vista Street” which is modelled after the Burbank of that pre-1950s era. Meta!