Levin and Los Angeles
by Joseph Giovannini
In the early 1980s, Brenda Levin was one of the chief engineers of a collective epiphany that the city of the perennial future had a past. Fresh from Harvard's Graduate School of Design, she was the right architect in the right spot at the right moment to restore a succession of historic buildings in Los Angeles.
This helped usher in a civic awareness that the city, which had sprawled its way into suburban amnesia, had an inventory of buildings of national interest in its historic center. Los Angeles was so geared towards a chromed mirage leading out of the city that it forgot the pedestrian streetscape and Red Line thoroughfares of its downtown and inner neighborhoods. Citizens had lost the sense that Los Angeles had been both urban and urbane. They had lost any notion of the city's depth of time.
In the early 1980s, no less than City Hall was trying to sell the ground out from under one of its major historic monuments, the Los Angeles Public Library, designed by Bertram Goodhue, to pocket the change and build the pancake library that is a cart-pushing librarian's dream.
Reversing a Destructive Trend
There was a void of cultural leadership about how to handle the city's built patrimony. Who can forget, then, the revelation of the Oviatt Building, only feet south of Pershing Square, when Levin restored that eclectic splendor, with all its art deco Rene Lalique glass, and helped convert the paneled haberdashery downstairs into the elegant Rex restaurant. >>>
This article is excerpted from Brenda Levin: Selected and Current Works by Joseph Giovannini, Frances Anderton, Richard Koshalek, Morris Newman, and Leon Whiteson, with permission of the publisher, The Images Publishing Group Pty. Ltd.
Lobby of the Oviatt Building in Los Angeles, restored by Brenda Levin in 1983. The open-air ceiling was designed by the architect and artist Jane Marquis.
Photo: Bruce Boehner
Historic view of the Oviatt Building.
Photo: Courtesy Brenda Levin
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