Trove Of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

At the dawn of the 1960s, Los Angeles lacked a true city skyline. A long-standing 13-storey height restriction, in force since 1904 and only recently repealed in 1956, had created a downtown whose only vertical accent was the 32-storey City Hall.

And then a flurry of new high-rise construction in the 1960s, '70s, and 80s transformed the skyline. Unlike the older and densely clustered commercial buildings of LA's historic core, these glass-and-steel skyscrapers lorded over their own Bunker Hill and Century City superblocks, rising from a flat expanse of plazas, gardens, and parking lots. By emphasising their stature, this spatial arrangement framed the buildings as monuments to the Pacific Rim capital that financed them — and to the architects who designed them.

Perhaps no one captured the rise of this new Los Angeles skyline better than architectural photographer Wayne Thom, who treated the Southland's shiny new buildings as massive works of art. "I always view a piece of architecture as a piece of functional sculpture," he explains. "As an architectural photographer my task is to capture the artistic form of the sculpture and illustrate the functional aspect of the building."

Thom's archive of 250,000 images and supporting documentation — including correspondence, diaries, and field notes — was recently acquired by the USC Libraries, where they will soon be publicly accessible to scholars, journalists and others for the first time ever. This new trove of architectural photos spans more than five decades and ranges far from Los Angeles, but the photos below sample how Thom's work documented the Southland's changing skyline.


The Bonaventure Hotel by John C. Portman, Jr., photographed in 1977:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

The Security Pacific (now Bank of America) Plaza by Albert C. Martin & Associates, photographed in 1974:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern
Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

The ARCO (now City National) Plaza by Albert C. Martin & Associates, photographed in 1972:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern
Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern
Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

The Crocker (now Wells Fargo) Center by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and photographed in 1985:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern
Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

The Mutual Benefit Life building (now 5900 Wilshire) by William L. Pereira & Associates, photographed in 1970:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Century City's 1900 Avenue of the Stars by Albert C. Martin & Associates, photographed in 1969:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Aside from the new high-rises of Bunker Hill, Century City, and the Wilshire Corridor, Thom's archive also documents the rise of new cultural, political, and commercial structures across the Southland.

Here's the Long Beach Civic Center by Allied Architects, photographed in 1978:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Santa Monica's General Telephone building (now 100 Wilshire) by DMJM, photographed in 1973:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Newport Beach's Pacific Mutual (now Pacific Life) building by William L. Pereira & Associates, photographed in 1973:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

Alhambra's Sears headquarters by Albert C. Martin & Associates, photographed in 1971:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

St. Basil Catholic Church by Albert C. Martin & Associates, photographed in 1969:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

The Walt Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry, photographed in 2003:

Trove of Architectural Photos Shows When LA's Skyline Became Modern

All photos appear courtesy of Wayne Thom and the USC Libraries.

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