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Los Angeles City Hall

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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Completed in 1928, this building stands out in Downtown LA and is open to the public on weekdays during regular work hours.

The historic LA City Hall and grounds occupy one square block in the Civic Center. The building was dedicated April 26, 1928. It was financed by bond issue at a total cost of building, real estate and furnishings of $9,726,837.48. Its height above Main St is 454 feet. Gross floor area, including garages, is 912,292 sqf, approximately 21 acres. It was closed in spring 1998 for renovation at a total cost of $299 million and was rededicated April 26, 2002.

The public entry is at Main St, and inside is a breathtaking 3rd floor with frescoes, mosaics and lovely marble columns and also one of the best gems in the entire city: the topmost, 27th floor observation deck from which you can see everything from Long Beach to the Hollywood sign.

City Hall history

Previous City Halls

When LA incorporated as a city in 1860 it had 1,160 residents, 28 square miles and not a single public building. The city operated first from a hotel, then several leased buildings.

The City then bought an adobe house on Spring Street to serve as city hall (across from the current City Hall). Then the city hall relocated again to the county courthouse. In 1884 it moved to a to a two-story brick building on 2nd Street where the Los Angeles Times now stands. In 1888, a $300,000 bond raised funds for the third City Hall, a red sandstone building on Broadway. When it was abandoned for the new, current City Hall, the Broadway building was dismantled and auctioned off piece by piece.

The stone to be used in the construction of the new city hall in Los Angeles is being taken from the quarry of Charles Begg about 2 miles from Flagstaff. It is said by masons who have worked and seen it to be the finest building stone to be found in the Territory. We have several fine quarries here. Arizona Daily Sun, 1887-12-30

Creating a Civic Center

In the teens and twenties there was extended disagreement over the placement and plan for the Civic Center.

The result was just two buildings, City Hall and the Hall of Justice, which were disparate and failed to form a unified Civic Center.

Lot Purchased1910Los Angeles City Council approved funding to purchase a lot on Spring Street which one day would serve as the site of a new civic center. It was located across from the ranch home which had served as Los Angeles' first municipal home.
Public Vote1923 Jun 5The public voted and resoundingly approved on two issues: allowing a variance on the 12 story (150 feet) height limit to allow a monumental 28 story city hall with a 160 foot tower (passed with over 80%); and authorization for a $7.5 million bond issue for the building's construction.

Building City Hall

A committee of architects designed City Hall -- John C Austin, John and Donald Parkinson and Albert C Martin (the latter also designed the Department of Water and Power Building, dedicated April 1928 as well). Interiors were designed by Austin Whittlesley, with murals by Herman Sachs and Anthony Heinsbergen.

City Hall's design is largely taken from the Nebraska State Capitol, crowned by a penthouse modeled on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It eschewed the over-the-top Beaux Arts of Pasadena City Hall, which was by then old and over-done, but respects the Beaux Arts flavors of Bertram Goodhue's downtown library, a 1925 design dedicated in 1926. City Hall combined Classical elements with simple lines and volumes that anticipated the Moderne style that would soon arise. The Spring Street forecourt is Italianate, with three portico sides supported by Corinthian columns, a model of civic openness.

The rotunda is decidedly Byzantine, with a marble floor recalling the Alhambra in Seville. Off the rotunda are two elegant barrel-vaulted corridors decorated with marble and paint. The elevator cabs' ornateness and reflective ceilings have Victorian spirit. The City Council Chamber, Board of Public Works Chamber and Press Conference Room have heavy beams and extensive wood paneling, lending a Hearstian quality. These disparate styles are given cohesion and unity by the structure's strong symmetry.

Architects commissioned1925 Aug 17
Preliminary sketches1925 Sep 16Preliminary sketches of city hall's design were approved by Los Angeles City Council.
Ground breaks1926 Mar 04

Construction was quickly underway.

1926 May 07Foundations started.
1926 JunTower foundation poured June 14 and 15.
1926 Jul 24Erection of steel framework commenced.
1926 Jul 02General Contractors' operations started.
Cornerstone1927 Jun 22Amid much fanfare, the cornerstone was laid by the Grand Officers of the Native Sons of the Golden West. City Hall's cornerstone was mortared with sand from each of California's 58 counties, and water from wells at each of the 21 missions.
Occupation1928City Hall's first occupants, the Superior Court of Los Angeles, moved in on January 2 1928 and the dedication was 1928 April 26.
Rising 452 feet above Main Street, City Hall towered over the buildings stunted by Los Angeles' 150 foot height limit -- and it would remain the tallest in Los Angeles until 1964, following the limit's repeal in 1958.

Los Angeles City Hall tower
Los Angeles City Hall

Los Angeles City Hall tower

City Hall's builders had the sense to include compressible joints at each floor of the tower, like a spine, allowing the building to endure an earthquake. The base footprint is 770' by 338', the wings are 250' by 476', the tower is 100' by 100' and the penthouse is 45' by 45'. There are 29 levels accessible to the public, and three more for machinery, water tanks, etc. City Hall's frame was built with 8,167 tons of structural steel and over 900,000 rivets; its total length of drilled holes is 12 miles. Its dead weight is 95,000 tons. Its volume is approximately 12 million cubic feet. It has 912,292 square feet (20 acres) of floor space, of which 500,000 square feet are devoted to offices.

City Hall had exactly 430 structural columns, eleven elevators and 129 miles of wire. Its lighting and power switchboard was the largest on the Pacific coast. The telephone switchboard had a capacity of 2,000 telephones. It also had a five-ton ice machine.

High quality materials were used throughout.

All hardware is solid cast bronze, including lighting fixtures and elevator cabs. Decorations include 26 varieties of marble from Tennessee, Missouri, Vermont, Minnesota, Greece, France, Italy and Belgium. From ground level to just above the 3rd floor, the facade is granite from Raymond Granite Quarries in Madera County, California. Matte-glazed terra cotta from Gladding McBean Company was used above this level. The flanking wings' roofs are made of locally manufactured Spanish red clay tiles. The tip of the tower has an aluminum pyramid. It was originally of granite blocks, but due to leaking was replaced.

The build totaled about $9,726,000 to build and would cost around $45,000,000 today to replace.

Total investment would amount to $9 million: $5 million for the actual building, $3.5 million for the site and $500,000 for decorations and furnishings.

City Hall's dedication ceremony

City Hall's dedication on 1928 Apr 26 was celebrated with a three-day festival: the Dedication Day Lunch, a concert and reception for visiting dignitaries, Historical Pageantry directed by Sid Grauman, and an official ceremony orchestrated by Joseph Schenk.

The dedication festivities included a parade of 32,000 Angelenos that stretched for three miles, billed at the time as the largest civic procession ever held west of Chicago: there were Civil War veterans, 34 bands, hundreds of floats, a caged lion and singing by Irving Berlin. Celebratory aerial bombs blew out several windows in the new building.

The finale included illuminating the entire building with searchlights, requiring MGM Studios' entire lighting supply. Finally, Lindbergh himself watched President Calvin Coolidge capped off the festivities by pressing a telegraph key in his office at the White House to light City Hall's Colonel Charles Lindbergh Beacon.

City Hall opened to the public the next day, astonishing them with its new electric lighting and rich decorations.

Wear, tear and earthquake damage

The 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake damaged City Hall and made it clear that work would need to be done. Some called for City Hall to be torn down. But beginning in the Bradley administration, minor renovations started and Project Restore began to restore City Hall to its original glory.

By the end of the 1980s, an exterminator came every Saturday to take care of the ants, carpet fleas, mites, cockroaches and other pests that infested the building. Earthquakes had cracked the walls. The Tower Room was closed to the public due to safety concerns. The air-conditioning and plumbing systems were faulty and out-of-date. Wax, cigarette smoke and smog had soiled the murals and tiles with a thick layer of grime. The floors were worn by decades of traffic.

1989A $6-million restoration began. It focused on area most heavily trafficked, including the entrances on Main and Spring streets and their adjacent corridors. The project included illuminating the building at nigh, re-installing the rotunda chandelier, installing replicas of the six bronze elevator cabs, and restoring the ceiling murals.
June 1990A $376 million General Obligation Bond Issue was passed by the City's voters for upgrading 450 substandard bridges in the city and 100 substandard buildings, including City Hall.
1993 MarchThe Bureau of Engineering hired Albert C Martin & Associates and its consultants to undertake a comprehensive seismic, life safety and disabled access upgrade of City Hall.
Northridge EarthquakeJanuary 1994City Hall was damaged, requiring emergency relocation of 1,135 people from the tower, and eventually the remaining 1,250 people as well. The emergency move cost $22.9 million. City Hall's mosaics, ceilings, columns and finishes are particularly sensitive to earthquakes. Black band netting was wrapped near the top of the tower to catch falling debris.
When the 1994 earthquake caused City Hall to be evacuated, its fate hung in the balance. The evacuation alone had been enormously expensive and some wanted to just tear down the historic City Hall. Supporters of the Valley secession accused City Hall's renovation of being an example of the City's asymmetrical attention.

Fortunately City Hall was saved, but not without controversy. Stung by spiraling $240-300 million cost estimates, Mayor Riordan and City Controller Rick Tuttle organized a committee that recommended a $165 million project to fully retrofit only the first four floors. The City Council and Mayor would keep their 3rd floor offices, but the Tower would be vacant, with the observation room open only to guided tours. The building would be a "movie set piece, a structure that looks like a living, breathing building but actually is merely facade, a fake" (LA Times, 1996). But Project Restore's small, inspiring restorations had ignited a conservationist spirit in the City Council, especially its president John Ferraro.

The Council mandated a $273 million project to not only retrofit but also modernize and re-invigorate City Hall. Later the city quietly added $26 million more to install the fourth-floor City Council offices, and for cost overruns. The city's chief legislative analyst blamed overruns on a blue-ribbon committee appointed by Mayor Riordan, while the Mayor countered that the City Council was responsible. The work was financed by $126 million in federal grants, and municipal seismic bonds approved by voters.


Renovation lasted from 1998 to 2001.

City employees moved out in March and $299 million renovations promptly began. Employees began to move back in on May 24 2001. A formal rededication of the City Council chambers, honoring the late City Council President John Ferraro, occurred on June 28. The council, in 12-0 votes, renamed the chamber for Ferraro, authorized a bust of him to adorn the chamber and declared the building the official City Hall once again, relegating City Hall East, where it has been meeting, back to subordinate status. Mayor Riordan, who had resisted the expensive renovation, skipped the ceremony; his representative said it was not a snub, but because of a schedule conflict with his last Ask the Mayor radio talk show (Ferraro had also advocated cheaper alternatives, but eventually was instrumental in amassing the Council majority to authorize the renovation). James Hahn became Mayor just three days later. The move-in was completed in July.

Christopher Martin led the design of the modernization. His grandfather Albert Martin had been an architect of City Hall and many other Los Angeles buildings.

The interior walling was made of hollow terra-cotta bricks, state of the art at the time, and they were removed and replaced with steel studs and drywall. Primarily on the third floor, there was also marble walling -- it was removed for cleaning, a painstaking task since they were so tightly joined to one another that many had to be removed with suction cups. The marble panels were then each restored to their exact location, a massive jigsaw puzzle. Old bottles (one of Jack Daniels) and newspapers from the 1920s were found behind the walls, though it had been built during Prohibition. Exterior marble was polished, and damage repaired from the Northridge Earthquake of 1994.

In order to preserve City Hall's historicity, Project Restore followed Secretary of Interior standards set by the Federal Government: only the most badly cracked or damaged exterior bricks have been replaced (only 2,000). City Hall was originally lit only from the 27th floor up. Project Restore wanted the whole building lit but met resistance from the State. Fortunately, amid the building's original plans was a approved 1927 electrical plan that included the whole building being lit. This plan was taken to the State along with a new design similar to the 1927 original. It was approved. The lighting seen today achieves the same effect intended by the original engineers.

City Hall was renovated with base isolation technology to decouple it from the ground's turbulence during an earthquake.

City Hall was lifted from the foundation and set on 526 base isolators imported from Japan to allow it to slide instead of snapping from its foundation; and 64 viscous dampers that act like huge shock absorbers. The isolator is a sandwich of alternative ¼" steel and rubber plates vulcanized to form a single unit. It can move 24 inches in any direction, looking like a slanted slinky. The building is now meant to be able to endure an 8.1 earthquake.

Seismic renovations added 800,000 cubic feet of concrete, 3,000 tons of structural steel, 5,000 tons of reinforcing steel, 12,500 feet of shear walls and an additional 34,000 tons of dead weight. It now rests on 526 base isolators. The main switchboard has a 1,250 horse-power capacity -- enough for 20,000 homes. The building was made handicap accessible, including the elevator installed brutishly and awkwardly in the forecourt.

Re-Dedication2002Won the 2001 AIA Building Team of the year Award and the 2002 Cultural Heritage Commission Award. Winner of the 2001 American Public Works Association (APWA) Historic Preservation Award.

While work was completed in 2001, the September 11th attacks prompted precautions that caused a delay. Thus City Hall was formally rededicated in 2002 in an elaborate ceremony. The new date allowed officials to plan a ceremony they hoped would prove a powerful argument for unity. They hung huge photographs of the first dedication from the west portico and retained actor Kent McCord to read the 1928 dedication address.

This was against the backdrop of a vigorous secession movement that was addressed during Mayor Hahn's speech to a crowd of about 1,000: "This is the City Hall of Venice, of San Pedro and of Valley Village. This is the City Hall of a great, great city. Some want to break up this city, but I don't think we should allow that to happen."

A civic monument

1935Lain in state in the rotunda.
June 1945WWII heroes George Patton and Jimmy Doolittle were honored by a crowd of thousands at LA City Hall.
1958Lain in state upon his passing.
1962Dying at age 99, the city's first librarian was lain in state in the rotunda.
1966Police Chief William Parker lain in state upon his passing in 1966.
1998Mayor Tom Bradley lain in state upon his 1998 death.

City Hall architecture

Its broad and solid base typify the City's firm foundation at the strategic point of the great Southwest; Its flanking wings rising from the base are akin to its marvelous growth from the original pueblo; The soaring lines of its tower symbolize the indomitable spirit of its citizens that made it possible. George P Hale. Los Angeles City Hall, a Board of Public Works pamphlet.

Los Angeles City Hall Map
1st Floor
2nd Floor
3rd FloorThe 3rd floor includes the City Council Chamber and Board of Public Works Room. The main entrance was originally on this floor (due to 9/11 this is now an employees' entrance only) and this floor has the most splendidly decorated spaces -- the rotunda, east lobby and elevator hall.
Mezannine Level
4th FloorOffices for the Councilmembers are on this floor, and the hallways are lined with an extensive, all-encompassing gallery of historic photos.
5th Floor
11nd Floor
TowerThe Tower, designed as an independent structure, is braced in both directions, and anchored to a solid mat of reinforced conrete that rests on a bed of clay. Within the tower itself are elastic joints in the outer wall of each story, allowing for expansion, contraction and oscillation. The tower is 100 feet square through the 25th floor. From there, the highest four levels of the tower are about 45 feet square and designed after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The 26th and 27th floors comprise a penthouse

Grounds and gardens

Los Angeles City Hall fountain

Spring Street forecourt

The Romanesque courtyard celebrates local industries including film, automobiles, oil, construction and shipping.

There are two broad flights of granite steps.
The bricks were handmade and placed by hand.

Los Angeles City Hall spring street forecourt

Los Angeles City Hall spring street forecourt

Los Angeles City Hall spring street forecourt american flags 20140102

Bronze doors

There are two large bronze outer doors, each with six panels sculpted by Armenian immigrant Henry Lion to commemorate the city's history. Above the doors is a quotation from Solomon: Righteousness exalteth a people. Over the door is a Lincoln quote: Let us have faith that right makes might.

Spanish Expedition
An August 1st 1769 religious service by the first Spanish expedition to the area.

Los Angeles Founded
Governor Felipe de Neve reading his instructions on September 4th 1781 to the Mexicans who founded the pueblos.

Americans Conquer
Commodore Robert Field Stockton and Mayor John Charles Fremont saluting the United States flag when the town was occupied by Americans on August 13 1846.

Public School System
A scene in the City's public school system, established July 15 1853.

Los Angeles Aqueduct
The opening of the headgate of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the San Fernando Valley in February 1913.

San Pedro Breakwater
Completion of the San Pedro breakwater on September 1915.


To the left of the main doors is the cornerstone ceremonially laid by the Grand Officers of the Native Sons of the Golden West on June 22 1927. Some items in the cornerstone's crypt include: a copy of the city's 1927-28 budget; various Los Angeles newspapers; a history of City Hall's site; signatures of Mayor George E Cryer's office personnel; and names of all those who assisted in plans, papers or building of City Hall.

The mortar used to lay the cornerstone had sand from each county in California, cement from each mill in the state; and water from each of the 21 missions.

Main rotunda

The former main entrance opens into a rotunda ringed by solid columns, and decorated with Byzantine-style mosaics. The outermost circle is 135 feet in circumference, and 4,156 pieces total of 46 different varieties of marble are inlaid into the floor.

In the center of the floor is a bronze depiction of the Spanish caravels that sailed into California ports between 1542 and 1800, about fifty years after Columbus came to America. Explorer Juan Cabrillo (Cabrillo Beach) sailed a ship like this. The walls are of French limestone that was quarried underwater and hardened in the air.

Marble Columns

Red corral clair
Verde campan melange espidet
Haute pyrenees, France
Verde campan melange espidet
Haute pyrenees, France
Rouge Acajou
Cierpe, Haute-Girande, Belgium
French Graiotte
Salers, Lot, France
Rouge de Rance
Rance, Belgium
Red levanto
Levanto, Italy
Purple Levanto
Levanto, Italy
Isle of Tinos, Greece
Curly Green
Pyrenees, France

Rotunda Ceiling

The dome's ceiling is made of red, white, navy and orange faience tiles made by Gladding, McBean & Company. There are two artistic narratives, one central circle and a ring of emblems surrounding it.

The center contains eight characters, very helpfully labeled (and holding a symbol), representing the attributes of a civil society: law (fasces), art (ionic column), service (bulb emanating electrical bolts), government (staff), protection (sword), trust (purses), education (unrolled scroll) and health (holding Hermes' two-snaked caduceus, not Asclepius' one-snaked rod, a common mistake in the United States).

There is also a ring of eight emblems which are not labeled but seem to support what is necessary for the eight concepts listed in the center.

These emblems are: scales (justice, trust); three owls (wisdom, education); an Egyptian sphynx with a sarcophagus or book; a long thin instrument with three pyramids in the background (engineering, design, measurement?); two hands holding an electrical wire (service, electricity, science?); City Hall itself with the radiant Lindbergh Beacon; two dogs, a staircase and stars; and perhaps a drum. The mosaics had been obscured by cigarette smoke residue, but were revealed after a thorough cleaning.

Fourth Floor Balcony

The 3rd floor rotunda is ringed by a 4th floor balcony.

Three sides of the balcony have on their walls Byzantine-style mosaics representing Justice, Government and Our Lady, Queen of the Angeles (not Los Angeles); the fourth side has fenestration to allow natural light from the Spring Street Forecourt. Each mosaic depicts two identical auxiliary figures and a central figure.

The mosaics differ in the figures' dress, and in what the auxiliary figures are holding.

GovernmentThe auxiliary figures hold fasces, a traditional Roman motif of birch rods bundled together, tied by a red leather ribbon; this is a symbol of hegemony, strength and power -- and of unity. In this case it likely symbolizes unity through strength, with the central municipal government as the central, presiding figure.
Queen of the Angels

Rotunda Electrolier

The solid cast bronze Rotunda Electrolier (chandelier) is 17' tall and has a lighting capacity of 5,000 watts.

It illuminated the rotunda from opening day until it was deemed a hazard after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. At that point it was disassembled, crated and stored -- it was eventually forgotten and presumed lost. While searching for historic City Hall artifacts in the 1990s, a Project Restore director found in city storerooms a crate containing the amber glass panels. She had the General Services Department do a citywide search for the chandelier and it was found in five different boxes. As part of the 1998-2001 renovation it was re-installed, with new wiring for fluorescent bulbs, reinforced supports above the ceiling, and replica amber panels for those that were broken.

The Rotunda Electrolier has eight silhouetted figures depicting California history -- literally giving the light that makes visible the societal and governmental allegories on the ceiling and walls. At the bottom of the chandelier are lions and eagles, symbols of the strength and valor needed by the eight historical figures represented above.

los angeles city hall chandelier
Sloat; Balboa.

Commodore John Drake Sloat
Raised the US flag at Monterey, July 2 1846.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa
First European to see the Pacific, September 29 1513. Shown holding a rope with a sail in right hand, and pointing into the distance with his right hand. Stylized waves lap at his feet.

los angeles city hall chandelier
Cabrillo; Indian.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Brought the first expedition to the shores of California in 1542. With a ship in the distance, he firmly plants a flag into the ground.
Native Indian
An Indian carries a load on his back while another sits on the ground. It is telling that rather than placing this panel first, it is only told in relation to Europe -- the Native Americans come after Europe reaches California, as though their existence beforehand was irrelevant.

los angeles city hall chandelier
Serra; De Anza.

Padre Junipero Serra
Founded the first missions in Alta California, including Mission San Gabriel in 1769. He is instantly recognizable by his monk's frock, with his arms out and palms flat as though in devotion to, or in search of, a sign from above.
Juan Bautista de Anza
Blazed the trail from Sonora to San Gabriel, 1774. Shown on horseback. The identification of panels for Anza, Neve and Smith is somewhat ambiguous.

los angeles city hall chandelier
De Neve; Smith.

Governor Felipe de Neve
Founded Los Angeles, 1781. He holds a map or proclamation in his hands and wears regal clothing with tasseled shoulders, suited for a governor.
Jebediah Strong Smith
First white person to come overland from the east (1826) and who visited Los Angeles in January 1827. He holds a musket.

East lobby

The East Lobby leads to a bridge to City Hall East, built in the 1960s, and contains gifts from sister cities.

The floor tile in this area is Malibu tile, the same as at the entrances at 1st and Temple Streets. It is more colorful relative to the tile used in the Rotunda. There are eight cross-vaulted domes surrounding a large central dome.

All the paint in the East Lobby is original, carefully cleaned and protectively lacquered.

Central dome

The dome's edge has an inscription saying The Masters of Education Hold in Their Hands the Future of the World and above it are paintings of the zodiacs. The painting is by Anthony Heinsbergen. Corner pendentives show Earth, Wind, Water and Fire -- additional medallions repeat themes from the elevator hall: Science, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Power, Commerce, Fishing and Hunting. There are also fantastic medieval animals.

Gifts to Los Angeles

MikoshiThe mikoshi was presented to Los Angeles by its sister city Nagoya, Japan; it was dedicated on August 13 1963 by the Honorable Kiyoshi Sugito, Mayor of Nagoya. A mikoshi is a miniature, portable replicable of a particular Shinto deity's shrine, allowing that deity to cavort outside. Mikoshi were carried by men, on two long poles resting on their shoulders. This practice originated under Emperor Gotuba, sometime from 1108-1123.
ClockThe clock is also a gift from Nagoya, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Sister City ties with Nagoya.
Kasuisha ReplicaThis is a ⅓ replica of the Kasuisha, a Japanese festival float used in the Nagoya Matsuri, an annual October festival. The red haired puppet represents the devil; the black haired puppet is an angel; the beating of the drum is to rid the devil of the angel's presence. Many such floats were in the festival. The replica was made by a group of traditional Nagoya craftsmen, headed by Tamaya Shobei VIII -- the only surviving maker of mechanical dolls to inherit traditional Japanese skills. It was donated by Mayor Takeyoshi Nishio of Nagoya, Japan to Los Angles in August 1989 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Sister City ties. The original Kasuisha was built for the community of Sumiyoshicho in Nagoya in 1674 for the festival of Wakamiya Shrine, one of central Nagoya's oldest shrines. It is now owned by the residents of Shindeki.
Jaurez Statues

The statues of Benito Juarez and his wife Margarita Juarez were presented to Mayor Tom Bradley by Mexican president Luis Echiverria, when the Mayor was a guest in Mexico in 1974. Juarez was one of Mexico's greatest leaders. He was an Indian from Oaxaca born in 1806. He practiced law there until he was elected Governor. His liberal views led to his exile by the dictator Santa Ana. However, Juarez returned and victoriously led his country in the War for Independence.

Next Juarez was elected president, at a time when the Mexican government was struggling fiscally. He stopped payment on European loans, which led to a French invasion. On May 5th 1862, a small, poorly equipped Mexican force led by Juarez at Puebla won a battle Napoleon's legions. French forces went on to conquer Mexico and install Maximilian as emperor. The Battle of Puebla allowed Juarez to escape with his life and organize an armed resistance that four years later overthrew Maximilian and secured Mexican independence once and for all.

Cinco de Mayo is thus not Mexico's independence day, which is El Grito, in honor of overthrowing Spanish hegemony on September 16th 1810. However, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with almost the same fervor because that win allowed Juarez to flee, regroup and overthrow French hegemony.

Turtle Ship Replica

The 1:16 replica Turtle Ship began construction in June 1979, was launched in January 1980 and on September 17 1982 it was presented to Los Angeles by Mayor Choi Jong Ho on behalf of Pusan, Korea. This commemorated the centennial of US-Korean diplomatic relations. The original Turtle Ship was supreme when it was first made in 1592 by Admiral Yi Sun-shin to defeat Japanese forces he believed would soon invade Korea. It was 113 feet long, 34 feet in breadth and 21 feet high. Its draft was 4½ feet, its displacement was 150 tons, it has 18 gun mounts, was manned by 130 men and had a maximum speed of 2 knots.

The Turtle Ship's hull was made of boards two to twelve inches thick; it was roofed with spiked iron plates over boards, the first iron-clad warship. Shutters made it possible to see out of the ship but impossible to see into the ship. Masts were able to lay down or stand up. There were eight oars on each side and two sails. There were gunfire holes in the dragon head at the mast and turtle tail at the stern. The spikes were covered with hay so that if boarded by enemies, they would trip and fall onto the spikes. Then the ship could fire at enemy ships around it. It led the Korean to victory during the 1592-1598 Japanese invasion. The ship was a remarkable epoch in naval history.

Los Angeles FlagThis flag was flown on the seven-crew Space Shuttle Challenger on October 5-13 1984, the first crew to include women: Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan.

Third floor elevator hall

The elevator cabs are replicas of the 1928 originals. The cabs are entirely cast bronze, including the doors, except for the reflective stainless steel ceiling. In the center of the elevator ceiling is a polished Art Deco light fixture. The elevators weigh 2,500 pounds each.

The only changes to the replica elevator cabs are the lack of a jump-seat, which would have sat the person operating the cab; and the floor indicator was previously a hand-operated wheel. The originals had been discarded during renovations in the 1960s, but Project Restore found one original cab in a salvage yard. It was disassembled and replicas of each part were cast in Fresno, then assembled in San Diego.

When the elevators were dismantled in the 1960s, Bureau of Engineering employee Mort Feingold had asked one of the construction workers if he could have one of the light fixtures. He and his wife Georgia Feingold (also in the Bureau of Engineering) used it as a porch light for some thirty years. As a volunteer for Project Restore, she contributed the light and replicas were made.

The elevators are framed by Red Veroe marble, with French Pink pilasters and Saint Genevieve Rose walls. The marble walling ends at the spring line of the vaulted ceiling. There are Malibu Potteries faince tiles panels and lunettes.

Hall paintings

The central panel is decorated with allegories of the courage, perseverance, progressiveness and energy of Los Angeles. Other panels are decorated with classical figures representing Motion Pictures, Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Art, rendered in gold and outlined in green on a rust-brown background. The paint on the ceiling here is original. The ceiling is lined off in geometrical panels of gold and blue.

Board of Public Works Room

The Board of Public Works Session Room hosts the Board's meetings. Four pairs of marble columns ring a central square with a painted coffer ceiling, with a City Seal in the center.

To the north and south are cross-vaulted ceilings painted with a green Mayan-style motif. The inset panels have a glazed tile border surrounding rough-finish, neutrally colored tile designed to improve the room's acoustics. During the 1930s, dark brown cork-board was glued to all the walls to improve acoustics. It has since been removed but its remnants are visible. The drapes are made of 1,800 yards of a special sound-absorbing material specially made by a Pennsylvania mill; they are the same as in the City Council Chamber and the reception room atop the tower.

The pews are replicas of the original 1928 pews: the grandson of the manufacturer who made the originals still owned the business, so in 1989 Project Restore was able to obtain the original design drawings. The originals were discarded in the 1960s. The ducts under the pews, replicas of the 1928 originals, are now hooked up to the modern ventilation system. Originally, they were linked to a boiler room which conducted heat through the vents.

The hall leading to the Board of Public Works has a repainted ceiling (due to water and earthquake damage) but the panels raised from the walls about two inches are original and painted on canvas.

The color scheme had been changed years ago, with tans and browns. Project Restore had a conservator identify the original color and scheme. It was originally with golds, rendered with gold leaf paint. This was repainted with gold colored paint to avoid the high cost. However, Project Restore replaced the paint with the expensive gold leaf.

The corridor leading to the Board of Public Works is decorated with the likenesses of eight men important to Europe's colonization of North America:

Christopher Columbus
Arrived from Europe, 1492)

Hernando Cortez
Conqueror of Mexico, 16th century

Hernando de Alvarado
Accomplice to Cortez

Early governor of Mexican California

Vasco Nunez de Balboa
First European to sight the Pacific

Padre Junipero Serra
Founder of the first Alta California missions, starting in 1769

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Portuguese sailor who discovered Santa Monica Bay, which was densely populated and had smog from countless Indian campfires - he named it La Bahia de la Fumos

Gaspar de Portola
California's first Governor, starting in 1769

John Ferraro Council Chamber

The Council Chamber is named after John Ferraro, the longest-serving council member in the City of Los Angeles (1966-2001).

There is a central 34' high ceiling with the original painting by Herman Sachs. The beams and ceiling are of cast concrete, with the grain of the wood used in the casting still intact. Along the sides of the room are 12 monolithic marble columns with carved capitols. Each capitol is four-sided and each side is carved with a symbol representing each of the 48 states present at the time.

The decorative painting on the ceiling of the sides of the room has allegories of drama, art, poetry, music, medicine and architecture.

The original ceiling painting was covered with acoustic tiles, so Sachs painted a second, identical version of the ceiling decoration onto the acoustic tiles. They are so delicate that conservators could not wash them, but instead vacuumed the ceiling and carefully glued in place any loose flecks of paint.

The flooring is made of terra-cotta and rubber tiles (the latter is for acoustics). The walls are covered with ceramic acoustical tile, decorative glazed faience tile, limestone and acoustical and regular plaster.

Above the side arcades are clerestories with ornate plaster grills. For many years City Council sessions were filmed and photographed through these windows.

The lower panels had been completely removed to accommodate equipment and many were lost or destroyed. During renovations, bulky speakers and audio-visual equipment were replaced with compact lighting and remotely operated cameras. The original and replica grills were re-installed.

Original furniture includes the Council President's table, large speakers' table, mobile chalkboard and pews.

The Council members faced the Council President with their backs to the public audience. However, when City Hall closed for renovations in 1998, the arrangement was renovated as well. New staff desks, audio desk, video display stands and Council members' desks were installed. The new Council members' desks accommodated computer and electronic voting equipment, complemented the historic chamber's furniture and positioned the City Council to face the public. The new furniture was built in the city carpentry shop with the same type of wood (oak) and style as the original furniture.

The video display stands recall the original chalkboard and have much the same purpose. It usually displays the agenda item at hand (typically a number); discussion (a discussion can be held to benefit the public and other Council members); voting (a tally of aye or nay votes); and results, read by the Secretary. Of note, if a Council member is present but does not vote then his vote counts as an aye.

There are eight flags on the back wall of the City Council Chamber, representing the different phases in Los Angeles' history. The flags are listed below from left to right.

Flag of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo
Cabrillo was a Spanish explorer who landed near the site of Los Angeles harbor on October 8, 1542; he is also featured in the Rotunda Electrolier.

Flag of the Republic of Mexico
Los Angeles was under the jurisdiction of Mexico from 1822 to 1846.

Flag of the State of California
The flag was adopted on February 3rd 1911.

Flag of the United States
The Old Glory flag is placed to honor Los Angeles as a proud American city.

Flags of the City of Los Angeles
This flag design was accepted and adopted by Ordinance No 70,000 effective September 4 1931 to honor the City's 150th birthday.

Flag of Spanish king Carlos III
King Carlos III granted the land for the pueblo of Los Angeles, founded on September 4 1781.

Flag of Vasco Nunez Balboa
Balboa was a Spanish explorer and the first European to view the Pacific Ocean in the Western Hemisphere, on September 25th 1513.

Mayor's Conference Room

The Mayor's Conference Room is where the Mayor holds press conferences and city receptions. The room is in use almost constantly.

The paneled oak wainscoting, the acoustical tile walls, the lights along the ceiling used for television interviews. The ceiling is entirely of redwood. The fireplace and mantle add charm to the room. Above the mantle is an oak panel in which Los Angeles' City Seal is carved. Whenever the mayor is on television he is usually in front of this seal.

Observation room

Topmost floors of Los Angeles City HallTopmost floors of Los Angeles City Hall.
The topmost levels of City Hall are designed in the style of the Mausoleum at Mausolus.

The 26th floor is inconspicuous from the street, but the 27th floor is recognizable by its majestic hypostyle, the ring of tall columns wrapping around it. Crowning the 27th floor is an >aluminum pyramid. The 26th floor has a mayoral portrait gallery and a stairway leading to the next level. The 27th floor is the highest level accessible to the public. It has a reception room and an balcony.

mayoral portrait gallery los angeles city hallThe grand staircase on LA City Hall's 26th floor leads to the 27th Mayor Tom Bradley Reception Room. © LMC

The 26th floor serves as a foyer to the 27th floor and has a grand staircase and gallery of mayoral portraits. The only mayors not represented are those for whom no likeness, photographic or otherwise, is at all known: Alpheus Hodges (1850-1851), Damien Marchessault (1859-1860, 1861-1865), Cristobal Aguilar (1866-1868, 1871-1872), and Joel Turner (1868-1870).

It was previously a storage room, but Project Restore in conjunction with the Cultural Affairs Department decided to completely change it (the only part of the building totally different from the original).

Los Angeles City Hall: Mayor Tom Bradley RoomThe 27th reception room is named after Mayor Tom Bradley. © LMC
Mayor Tom Bradley Room

The Reception Room has the original glazed terra-cotta colored concrete ("chemically-stained cement of a pleasing color") and light fixtures (re-wired for fluorescent bulbs). The eight bronze light fixtures on the floor were demolished in the 1960s but the original design documents were found and the fixtures were re-created. The walls are painted the original white with light blue trim, ascertained by a paint conservator who examined the room. They have a series of pilasters framing each of the five tall windows on every side.

The ceiling has deeply colored coffers with a special acoustic material, and lightly colored beams. Inscriptions in gold in the frieze of the cornice complete the decorative scheme.

North wall
"No Government Demands So Much from the Citizens as Democracy and None Gives So Much Back" - James Bryce

West wall
"The City Came into Being To Preserve Life, It Came for the Good Life" - Aristotle

South wall
"With Written Laws, The Humblest in the State Is Sure of Equal Justice with the Great" - Euripides

East wall
"That Government Is the Strongest of Which Every Man Feels Himself A Part" - Thomas Jefferson


There are wonderful views. There are plaques identifying nearby buildings, and on June 28 1964 the Kawada Club gave the Friendship Bell as a gift to the City. The bell has been completely restored and is in working order.

North view The Puebo is right there, as is Union Station. To the left is the Hall of Justice, a big, richly-decorated, imposing box of a structure. Further away is the dragon gate marking Chinatown.

West view Now a barren, messy construction zone, there was once a beautiful park leading up to the Music Center. The Hollywood sign is off in the distance, as is Griffith Observatory to the right of it.

South view The Financial District is to your right. Straight ahead you can see Long Beach's cranes in the distance. The furthest-away mountain is Catalina Island, easily visible on a clear day.

East view City Hall East is immediately there with its helicopter landing. This building hides Parker Center.


The pyramid was originally of granite blocks, but issues with leaking necessitated its replacement with a hollow aluminum structure. From the balcony is a stairway (closed to the public) leading to dark, windowless quarters for machinery, water tanks and other utilities. Heading higher, the stairway opens onto a balcony with satellite dishes and City Hall's pyramid.

The pyramid is less glorious up-close than from the street. Inside it is dark and totally empty except for support beams; indeed, it is like any other attic space.

Lindbergh Beacon

The Lindbergh Beacon stood atop LA City Hall's ziggurat and shot a 1,000 watt beam of light towards LAX as an aid to pilots. It was on all the time and revolved six times per minute; it could be seen for 60 miles in all directions, as far away as Pomona and Santa Monica. The Lindbergh Beacon was dedicated to Charles Lindbergh. When he flew the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight in May 1927, Los Angeles held a parade in his honor with over a million attendees. He was showered with gifts, including a pony and a motorcycle. But what he asked for was for Los Angeles leader to make a gift toward aviation. Photographer George Watson suggested a beacon to help pilots identify the city and to make City Hall visible to pilots. Thus the Lindbergh Beacon came to be, a crown atop LA City Hall in honor of a celebrated pioneer. It was first turned on during the City Hall dedication ceremony -- it was activated from the White House via a telegraph key by President Calvin Coolidge. Beneath it a revolving light blinked LA in morse code.

However, the light was misleading. While flying toward LA, it was Lindbergh himself who misunderstood the light and expected to find a landing strip. "Instead, all I saw were rooftops and gas tanks." He had to quickly alter his course and landed in Long Beach. Complaints from other pilots piled up too and the US Department of Commerce (which then monitored air traffic) ruled that the white light had to either be dimmed or change to red. The latter prevailed, much to Mayor John Clinton Porter's chagrin about its symbolism -- "we will not have a red light atop City Hall."

The beacon and light were shut off during WWII for fear of attracting enemy bombers.

A few years later they were put in storage, then restored and put on display at LAX. To crown the renovted building, they were returned to their perch atop City Hall in 2001. They were briefly relighted in 1947 but then were taken down and left to collect dust in City Hall's basement. In 1992, Project Restore found the beacon and light and had them re-wired and restored with funds from the Cultural Affairs Department. They went on display at LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal, relighted in 1992 to welcome LAX's travelers.

City Hall's 1998 - 2001 renovation was the perfect opportunity to return the Lindbergh Beacon and the light to their original perch. To create the same effect it had in 1928, the voltage had to be increased from original 1,000 watts to its current 2,500 watts.

The beacon and light were re-installed on September 8 2001 and they were supposed to be relit on September 22 as part of a planned dedication ceremony.

"But instead of hanging bunting and building bandstands, city workers found themselves putting up barricades. After the horror of jetliners crashing into skyscrapers, the last thing anyone wanted was to spotlight a civic landmark, a tall one at that." (LA Times, 2001 12 22) It was finally lit by December and shined through January 1st 2002 from 5pm to midnight.

The light is only lit during special civic occasions, subject each time to approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. While originally it celebrated the aviation era, now it also memorializes Los Angeles' burgeoning pride in its deep civic history.

Facts and fiction

City Hall has been in hundreds of films and shows, including the 1953 film War of the Worlds. It was the Daily Planet’s headquarters in the first Superman television series. It featured in Chinatown and sheep were herded into the ornate city council chamber. It was police headquarters in the "Dragnet" TV series. City Hall served as the U.S. Capitol in "The Jimmy Hoffa Story". It was the Vatican in "The Thornbirds." In a 1986 episode of "Hill Street Blues" Captain Furillo was shot at the Spring Street entrance.

Many street addresses in Los Angeles are determined by their distance from 1st and Main, where City Hall stands. Also, streets are given an east, west, north or south prefix based on quadrants defined from 1st and Main. Cities such as Pasadena, Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Glendale have their own numbering systems. Also, not all of Los Angeles is a grid: there are curls, twists, dead-ends, cul-de-sacs and non-conforming suburban subdivisions. Also, some streets such as Highland Park's Avenue 66 defy explanation. The longest street in Los Angeles is Sepulveda Boulevard and the shortest is the 13' Powers Place. The steepest is Fargo Street in Silver Lake, which has a 32° angle.


LA Times, 2001 09 09
(Earlier city hall buildings.)

LA Times, 1984 04 16
(Charming notes on the grand opening.)

LA Times, 2001 05 25
(The move back to City Hall at the end of the 1998-2001 renovation.)

LA Times, 2001 06 29
(City Council returns after the 1998-2001 renovation.)

LA Times, 1998 11 29

LA Times, 1993 04 24
(Deplorable state of the building in 1993.)

LA Times, 2001 07 07
(Glitches in moving into the new City Hall.)

LA Times, 2001 04 14
(Politicking regarding the 1998-2001 renovation.)

LA Times, 2002 04 27
(The 2002 re-dedication.)

LA Times, 1988 11 19
(The 1988-1989 renovation.)

LA Times, 1987 03 21
(City Hall decay in the late 1980s.)

LA Times, 1996 02 28
(Op-ed about City Hall becoming like a set piece.)

LA Times, 2001 07 17
(Details on restoring City Hall decorations.)

LA Times, 1995 02 15
(The move after the Northridge earthquake.)

LA Times, 2006 04 26
(The 1928 dedication ceremony.)

LA Times, 2001 06 29
(The re-dedication of the City Council Chamber in 2001.)

LA Times, 2000 11 27
(Cute piece on the numbering system for LA streets.)

LA Times, 2000 08 01
($26 million in additional funding for the 1998-2001 renovation.)

LA Times, 2001 07 06
(The renovation's less celebrated elements and an analysis of City Hall's blend of styles.)

LA Times, 1996 01 23
(Film roles and debate about a full restoration.)

Gleye, Paul. The Architecture of Los Angeles. 1981. Los Angeles: Rosebud Books.

City Hall Tours Information Manual (Article on the Lindbergh Beacon) (Another article on the Lindbergh Beacon)