Some Skyscraper Climbing & History in L.A.



Last Friday, I had the chance to take part in my first ever stair climb for charity. It was fun, intense and I hope to do it again. Honestly though, I had no idea this was like a thing… but apparently stair climbing races have emerged as a popular sport for charity that Roy Wallack of the L.A. times described as a “weekend warrior obsession” to add to “marathon-mania and triathlon-mania”.

He explains, “L.A. now has three races, all downtown: The Fight for Air Climb, now 6 years old, will be held in the Aon next on March 30, 2013; the third annual 51-story, 1,274-step cystic fibrosis CF Climb for Life on Dec. 1; and the King Kong of the local upwardly mobile scene, the 18th annual Ketchum-Downtown YMCA Stair Climb for Los Angeles, held in the 75-story, 1,679-step U.S. Bank Tower on Sept. 28. At all three, elites make the ascent in less than 10 minutes; regular folk double or triple that.”

This year was the 20th year the YMCA event has taken place. I made the ascent (1,679 stairs and 1,018 feet) in about 20 minutes, give or take. Next year, hopefully I’ll fall into the elite category.

I have to agree with the advice given in Wallack’s 2012 article, “Start slow, don’t run!” This year, I ran with my nephew who started fast and ran! So did I, but quickly realized this was the wrong approach by about the 10th floor when breathing started to hurt! I paced myself, and ended up passing many people up on the 60th and 70th floors.

Maybe, I’ll get to this with the big boys in Chicago or NYC sometime… or with the next generation of skyscrapers in Asia or Dubai! Wow. And there are still all those other mountains, to climb, too. Honestly, I am not sure I actually have the dedication or tenacity to make this a regular sport, but I think it could be fun to take part in a few of these races each year, possibly in different cities, and most certainly here in L.A.

So, what are the rewards of actually taking part in this, at least in L.A.? Fitness, helping charity, nice views at the top, and a cool, shared experience with a bunch of bankers, and relatively diverse crowd, otherwise. Oh, and beer, wine, wall climbing, bungee fun, and of course, taco trucks, patiently waiting for all participants back at the the bottom.

So, yeah, gotta love L.A. stair climbing.


The U.S Bank tower (formerly known as the Library Tower) itself has been around since (started in 1987) 1989. Designed by principal architects Harvard-educated Henry Cobb and Harold Fredenburgh (Pei Cobb & Partners). It pays architectural homage to its much shorter ancestor, Bertram Goodhue’s 1926 Los Angeles Public Library, which is thankfully still around thanks to the advocacy and formation of the L.A Conservancy around 1978.

Cobb is best known for his design of the John Hancock Tower in Boston. And Goodhue has been credited with “creating a distinctive interpretation of Spanish Colonial architecture into the Spanish Colonial Revival Style as a dominant Californian regional vernacular”. (Wikipedia)

The complex, intricate and creative deal to save the original library involved selling its air rights for $125 million to Maguire Partners, enabling the construction of the new “Library Tower”, as well as of the Gas Company Tower, AND the bulk of the financing needed for the original library’s renovation and expansion. This was a much-needed preservation project for the library, after damaged incurred from an earthquake  and an two arson fires in 1986 and 1987. So, it was a case of… win, win, win.

Former L.A. Mayor, Tom Bradley raised other funding, at least 8 million, through his “Save the Books!” campaign, as well as through tax credits and bonds, and other interest income. In addition, ARCO CEO’s also played an important role in studies and campaigning for library preservation efforts, most probably out of a little bit of guilt, or in a way to make up for their demolition of the Richfield building in 1968.

The colors and shapes at the top and throughout the U.S. Bank Tower are supposed to mimic and complement the original library’s Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival features at its central tower.

According to a recent reuters article, the U.S Bank tower was also just sold and refinanced for about a 1/3 of billion dollars, to a holding firm based out of Indonesia, and had been struggling financially and only 52% leased up.

This definitely makes me wonder about how necessary it really is to keep building skyscrapers in Downtown, particularly in the historic core as proposed by veteran developers such as Joseph Hellen. That said, I am a fan of the design for the newest tower in town, housing the JW Marriot and Ritz Carlton, among other mixed uses.


Finally, one of the things I did not talk about or elaborate on in this post are all of the changes in the height limit that affected building in Los Angeles prior to and after 1957. In a nutshell, original building in L.A. was supposed to avoid Manhattanization or canyonization. “Planners didn’t want the city to be simply the West Coast version of Chicago or New York”, imposing height limits of 130 ft. or 12 floors first, then of 150 ft. or around 14 floors, that would remain in effect until 1957. (Cooper, et al.)

Earlier planners wanted L.A. to embrace its space and sun, which frankly, still makes local and geographic sense today. In fact, because of this policy, L.A. City Hall was the tallest building in L.A. until the 1960s, when new the city’s next generation of skyscrapers started going up, after the height limit was finally repealed. These buildings started at about 40 floors plus, far exceeding earlier skyscrapers like L.A. City Hall and the 151 ft., 13-story Continental Building, still considered to be L.A.’s first skyscraper.

More on this to come in future posts, but for now…

Signing Off,

~ Erica

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