On a recent Friday morning, first-year doctoral student Avijit Thawani stood at the corner of Grand Avenue and 5th Street downtown, gazing at the iconic pyramid on the top of the Central Library. Volunteer architecture guide Lindsay McMenamin was explaining Los Angeles’ building height restrictions (12 floors) in the 1920s and 1930s. She spoke fast and walked even faster.

Thawani was one of a group of about 30 USC students who devoted his Friday morning to a free walking tour of historical Art Deco architecture presented by the USC Visions & Voices event series in partnership with the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic architecture preservation organization.

The Eastern Columbia building at 849 S. Broadway was originally a department store with 11 floors of showrooms. The conservancy calls it one of the most recognizable Art Deco buildings in the city. It is an L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Today, it is a luxury condominium residence. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
The Eastern Columbia building at 849 S. Broadway was originally a department store with 11 floors of showrooms. The conservancy calls it one of the most recognizable Art Deco buildings in the city. It is an L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Today, it is a luxury condominium residence. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

Central Library is one of a dozen Art Deco buildings clustered downtown on the tour. Built in 1926, it “heralded the beginning” of the Art Deco, or style moderne, period, which flourished in the years between World War I and World War II, according to McMenamin.

The tiled pyramid that sits atop the Los Angeles Central Library at 630 W. 5th St. is a downtown icon. Originally designed as a dome, the pyramid reflects the Art Deco craze at the time – a thirst for straight lines and Egyptian-influenced motifs. The flame of the torch represents the light of knowledge. The library was the last major work of American architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, according to the Conservancy. Tour guide Lindsay McMenamin says that by the 1970s, the library's collection had doubled from its initial 1 million books, run out of room, and the building was slated for demolition in the 1970s, when an expansive renovation saved it. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
The tiled pyramid that sits atop the Los Angeles Central Library at 630 W. 5th St. is a downtown icon. Originally designed as a dome, the pyramid reflects the Art Deco craze at the time – a thirst for straight lines and Egyptian-influenced motifs. The flame of the torch represents the light of knowledge. The library was the last major work of American architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, according to the Conservancy. Tour guide Lindsay McMenamin says that by the 1970s, the library's collection had doubled from its initial 1 million books, run out of room, and the building was slated for demolition in the 1970s, when an expansive renovation saved it. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

The style represented a pivot to modernity in functional and decorative arts and represented a spirit of progress in the United States and Europe.

Detail of a capital, or top of a column, in the lobby of the CalEdison building at 601 W. 5th St. Construction was finished in 1931 and the lobby is comprised of dozens of unique types of marble. A marvel in its time and named for its original occupant, the power company Southern California Edison, the exterior of the building was brightly lit at night, going dark during WWII. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
Detail of a capital, or top of a column, in the lobby of the CalEdison building at 601 W. 5th St. Construction was finished in 1931 and the lobby is comprised of dozens of unique types of marble. A marvel in its time and named for its original occupant, the power company Southern California Edison, the exterior of the building was brightly lit at night, going dark during WWII. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
The ground-floor retail space at the Oviatt Building at 617 S. Olive St. was originally one of the most expensive men’s clothing stores in the city. Now, it is home to the Cicada Club, where patrons are encouraged to don period 1920s dress to attend the jazz supper club. Completed in 1928, owner James Oviatt ordered the interiors of the building be designed in the new Art Deco, or style moderne, fashion he had seen in Paris in 1925. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
The ground-floor retail space at the Oviatt Building at 617 S. Olive St. was originally one of the most expensive men’s clothing stores in the city. Now, it is home to the Cicada Club, where patrons are encouraged to don period 1920s dress to attend the jazz supper club. Completed in 1928, owner James Oviatt ordered the interiors of the building be designed in the new Art Deco, or style moderne, fashion he had seen in Paris in 1925. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

McMenamin has been leading tours with the Conservancy for six years. “It’s part of my socialization. When you retire you don’t socialize.” Her favorite part, she said, is meeting new people. “I had a tour last week and there wasn’t anybody from our country. It was good.”

Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour guide Lindsay McMenamin lectures on Art Deco construction downtown on a recent Friday morning. She has been teaching Angelenos and visitors alike about L.A.’s cultural and architectural history for six years. She says her favorite part is spending time outside and meeting new people, especially those who have never seen the city center before. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour guide Lindsay McMenamin lectures on Art Deco construction downtown on a recent Friday morning. She has been teaching Angelenos and visitors alike about L.A.’s cultural and architectural history for six years. She says her favorite part is spending time outside and meeting new people, especially those who have never seen the city center before. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

She starts her tours by asking if anyone has never been downtown before. Friday, Mahmoud Roshdy, a doctoral student in comparative literature raised his hand. Roshdy, from Egypt, has been in Los Angeles only since the beginning of the school year.

Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour guide Lindsay McMenamin leads a group of USC students on a walking tour of Art Deco buildings downtown. Students attended the free tour sponsored by USC’s Visions & Voices humanities and arts event series. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
Los Angeles Conservancy architecture tour guide Lindsay McMenamin leads a group of USC students on a walking tour of Art Deco buildings downtown. Students attended the free tour sponsored by USC’s Visions & Voices humanities and arts event series. (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

“It’s a little bit different. Not a little bit, quite different [from home],” he said. He has not had a chance to see the city yet “so this was a cha

nce to see the downtown and to see the history, the layers of the history.”

Master’s student Steven Nielsen gazes at the Central Library. Nielsen, who’s working toward an MBA, says he made a point to join the Visions & Voices event so he could “get more involved in the community and participate.” (Photo by Rachel Parsons)
Master’s student Steven Nielsen gazes at the Central Library. Nielsen, who’s working toward an MBA, says he made a point to join the Visions & Voices event so he could “get more involved in the community and participate.” (Photo by Rachel Parsons)

Visions & Voices is an arts and humanities initiative that hosts events on and around campus throughout the academic year. The Los Angeles Conservancy hosts architecture tours and events all over Los Angeles.