By Greg Aragon
Even though I was born and raised in Southern California I rarely visit Downtown Los Angeles and still find it to be a unique and exciting place. So when a friend recently invited me to lunch in the heart of the city I jumped at the chance and decided to make a day of it.
My getaway began at the Gold Line train station in Pasadena, where I boarded a train to Union Station in Downtown. After a 25-minute ride I arrived at the station and walked about one mile down Main Street to the diner. Along the way I strolled through Little Tokyo, a roughly five-block area of Japanese museums, shopping and great restaurants. Begun at the beginning of the 20th century, the area is the cultural center for Japanese Americans in Southern California. It was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1995.
Past Little Tokyo I walked another block and found the Nickel Diner (www.nickeldiner.com), where I met my friend for a classic American diner experience. Located in the shell of a long-forgotten eatery from the 1930s and 40s, the place drips with history and has been described as a model, pre-WWII-era diner. The décor is highlighted by high ceilings; vintage booths, wrapped in red leather; wooden tables; and an old-fashioned, open kitchen surrounded by stainless steel.
While devouring a Lowrider burger, with poblano chilis, pepperjack cheese, pickled onions, lettuce, tomatoes and spicy aioli, I read some of the signs on the walls from the 40s depicting 25-cent hamburgers, 19-cent hotdogs, 30-cent chili, and beans for 15 cents. It is easy to see why the Nickel Diner has become a new hot spot in a formerly-suspicious part of town.
After lunch, we walked to about a mile to The Broad contemporary art museum.
Situated in a giant honeycomb-looking structure, The Broad houses 2,000 masterpieces from around the world. The mega-gallery, which opened to the public a couple years ago, was developed by philanthropists and longtime art collectors Eli and Edythe Broad. “We built this collection and this museum so that contemporary art could be accessible to all,” says Eli Broad.
Located on Grand Avenue, in the art and cultural center of LA, The Broad’s unique and innovative design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro along with Gensler, rivals the shimmering, wavy architecture of it neighbor, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was created by Frank Gheary.
The building design is a unique, three-story “vault-and-veil,” with a strong, concrete and glass base surrounded by a flowing, honeycomb-shaped exterior component. With this style, the museum contrasts Disney’s shiny and smooth metallic finish by being porous and brittle and bringing in lots of natural light.
The exterior “veil” of the museum is a structural exoskeleton comprised of 2,500 fiberglass reinforced concrete panels and 650 tons of steel that drape over The Broad and appear to lift up at two corners to expose street-level entrances. A highlight of the honeycomb exterior is the “oculus,” located in the center of the building on the Grand Avenue side. This architectural feature is a huge, curved indentation in the side of the building, making it look like it was hit by a giant golf ball.
The 120,000-sq-ft, three-story museum building houses nearly the entire Broad collection, while providing 15,000 sq-ft of exhibition space on the ground floor and 35,000 sq-ft of column-free space on the third floor, with filtered natural light from skylights and windows.
The “vault” component of the building is the heart of the interior, where the museum store’s its overflow of world-class art. The heavy, opaque volume of the “vault” is always in view, hovering midway in the building. Its carved underside shapes the lobby below and the public circulation routes.
Once the public enters The Broad from the street level, they are transported upward by a 105-ft escalator, tunneling through the vault toward the light above to arrive onto the third-floor gallery. Visitors then descend through the vault via a winding stair that offers glimpses into the vast holdings of the collection through overlook windows into storage areas.