Sunset Boulevard may be more famous, but Wilshire Boulevard is Los Angeles’ main and Main Street. It’s a true microcosm of L.A. Everything that was or is in Los Angeles can be found on Wilshire today. It is also, in the best L.A. tradition, thoroughly idiosyncratic.
The boulevard was underwritten by a “socialist millionaire,” Gaylord Wilshire. The west end, in Santa Monica, and the east end near downtown Los Angeles were built in the 19th century, but the entire 16-mile span was not completed until 1934.
The first neon sign in the U.S. was imported from Paris and displayed on Wilshire in 1924.
There’re office buildings at its eastern end, and a Streamline Moderne sculpture of Saint Monica and the Pacific Ocean at its western end. From its western terminus in Santa Monica, it curves through Brentwood, Westwood, Beverly Hills, the Miracle Mile, the Wilshire District, Koreatown, MacArthur Park and ends in downtown.
And it is lined with notable landmarks, including some of the first and most elegant apartment hotels, the Ambassador Hotel and its famed Coconut Grove nightclub (now closed), the gorgeous Art Deco Bullocks Wilshire Department Store, (now part of the Southwestern University Law School), the restored Wiltern Theater, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and La Brea tar pits.
Now, as the pilot event of its new program, “Curating Los Angeles,” which has been funded by the Getty Center, the Los Angeles Conservancy, with help from the Santa Monica Conservancy, will offer a self-guided tour of Wilshire Boulevard on Sunday, October 2. Docents will be present at six sites – the Elks Club, now the Park Plaza Hotel, Bullocks Wilshire, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Johnie’s Coffee Shop, Wadsworth Chapel in Westwood, and Miles Playhouse in Santa Monica.
“Curating The City: Wilshire Boulevard” will take participants from downtown Los Angeles, through Beverly Hills, to Santa Monica while examining its architectural and cultural history. Wilshire not only passes through the densest and most ethnically diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles, it contains virtually every dominant building type of the 20th century; and demonstrates the role of the automobile in the growth of the region.
A guidebook and a children’s activity book are included in the ticket price. Tour goers may drive their own cars or take the Wilshire Metro bus.
The Santa Monica Conservancy will host the tour of Miles Memorial Playhouse, a local landmark and will distribute self-guided tour brochures of Palisades Park.
The Spanish Colonial Revival Miles Playhouse in Christine Reed Park (1130 Lincoln Boulevard) was designed by renowned local architect John Byers and built in 1929. The building tour includes a display of an exclusive, private collection of vintage Santa Monica postcards.
The Palisades Park brochure points out the historic and cultural sites in the1.4-mile city park, including the famed Camera Obscura which is open to visitors.
The Wilshire Boulevard tour is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets, which include the tour of Miles Playhouse and the Palisades Park guidebook, are available for $35 at www.laconservancy.org., or phone (213) 623-2489.The October 2 performance of the new production of the 1937 Broadway classic musical by Rodgers and Hart, Babes in Arms, at Miles Playhouse will be a benefit for the Santa Monica Conservancy. The performance begins at 5 p.m. For theatre tickets, call (310) 397-3244, or visit www.ruskingrouptheatre.com.