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