The Westin Bonaventure Hotel is a star, but not the kind you find in Hollywood. This unique thirty-something year old is the largest hotel in the city, and resides in the heart of Downtown L.A., in Bunker Hill. According to the hotel’s website and for good reason, it’s “an architectural landmark… an international symbol of Los Angeles… and one of the most photographed buildings in the world.” It has been featured on CSI and on films such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, True Lies, Hard to Kill, and Mission Impossible III.
Not quite historic yet, construction of this building began in 1974 and ended in 1976. (Two years before I was born… ) The revolving cocktail lounge is up at the 34th floor, and needless to say, a great place to sip a cocktail, relax and take in all of L.A. from great heights. Its architect, John Portman, Jr., born in Atlanta in 1924 and now 87 years old, was one of the first architects to design and popularize multi-story interior atria. In fact, its partly because of its atrium, which add to its architectural complexity, and partly because of its size, that it’s often called a “City-within-a City.” It’s comprised of a six-story atrium with upscale boutiques, restaurants from around the world, about 1,354 guest rooms and suites, 110,000 square feet plus of meeting space, and the largest hotel ballroom in all of L.A.
You’re bound to get lost in it! That said, the hotel has also been featured in documentaries and books including Edward W. Soja’s book, Postmodern Geographies: the reassertion of space in critical social theory (1989) where he elaborates on how the hotel space is fragmented and disconcerting, and a sign of the times for the period. In the book, Soja says the following about the hotel:
“….a concentrated representation of the restructured spatiality of the late capitalist city: fragmented and fragmenting, homogeneous and homogenizing, divertingly packaged yet curiously incomprehensible, seemingly open in presenting itself to view but constantly pressing to enclose, to compartmentalize, to circumscribe, to incarcerate. Everything imaginable appears to be available in this micro-urb but real places are difficult to find, its spaces confuse an effective cognitive mapping, its pastiche of superficial reflections bewilder co-ordination and encourage submission instead. Entry by land is forbidding to those who carelessly walk but entrance is nevertheless encouraged at many different levels. Once inside, however, it becomes daunting to get out again without bureaucratic assistance. In so many ways, its architecture recapitulates and reflects the sprawling manufactured spaces of Los Angeles.”
Now put that in your pipe and smoke it… Can’t help but wonder if those were Portman’s actual intentions.
Ironically, the behemoth’s four sleek glass towers are supposed to help you find your way home, serving as a natural compass, pointing out towards north, east, south and west on a grid. For more information about the hotel including pictures of their suites and swanky bar up above, visit their website.
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