APRIL 26, 1928. THE WHITE HOUSE... President Calvin Coolidge stands poised to push a telegraph key that will signal the lighting of a beacon atop the bunting-festooned, gleaming granite and terra-cotta-clad tower of the new Los Angeles City Hall. Once lit, the rotating beacon flashes LA in Morse code across the city. The night sky dazzles with such an exuberant display of fireworks that several of the new buildings windows are broken.
Amid the downtown throng of automobile traffic, busy newsstands, coffee shops and rushing passengers, Los Angeles, now the fifth-largest city in the nation and with ambitions to rival New York and Chicago, was toasting its future with the inauguration of its new city hall.
Erected by a community that saw itself as the epitome of the 20th century, the new building was an icon of power. It rose a monolithic 452 feet above the city a testament to modernity and ambition and, with a
distinct nod to D.W. Griffith, a whiff of Babylon. It embodied the citys self image and future dreams.
NOW, NEARLY 70 YEARS LATER, the landmark Los Angeles City Hall is the centerpiece of a new master plan which envisions a revitalized downtown that is well-served by public transportation, bringing employees to the largest concentration of government offices outside of Washington, D.C.
It is fitting that one of the moving forces behind this plan is Christopher C. Martin, grandson of one of the creators of the citys original landmark. He and his cousin David C. Martin, who head the firm of AC Martin Partners (until recently Albert C. Martin and Associates), are the third generation of a family of Los Angeles architects who have helped shape the metropolitan skyline since the turn of the century.
You cant envision Los Angeles without their work, notes Kevin Starr, California State Librarian and a professor in USCs School of Urban Planning and Development. They are among the half dozen architectural firms that over the last 100 years have given us the major buildings of Los Angeles, the city in its public dimension. Their involvement in the civic center master plan carries on that tradition.
In addition to their work on developing a Civic Center master plan for Los Angeles, AC Martin Partners developed this rendering of a proposed new sports arena complex to be built downtown near the Convention Center.
The impetus for the plan came from a contradiction Chris Martin observed in how the city was functioning.
Our government offices were quietly decentralizing away from our historic civic center while at the same time a movement was afoot to bring redline [Metrorail] systems and modern transportation into downtown, he says.
One side was saying were going to make downtown easily accessible, and at the same time they were saying were not going to be there.
The firm had been hired in 1992 by the State of California to do a study called The State Consolidation Plan, Los Angeles Basin, in which they advocated shared-use facilities for government buildings shared conference rooms, three vehicle maintenance facilities instead of 13, one child care center rather than 10 in a revitalized downtown served by mass transit. They published their findings the following year in a study called Completing the Vision.
Under the auspices of the Central City Association, whose executive board he headed in 1995, Chris asked federal, state, county and city agencies to consider developing a master plan for the Los Angeles Government Center.
Our study had found that there was as much as a 20 percent savings if you consolidated government office space into one location and created shared-use facilities, he says. We encouraged the Los Angeles Civic Center Authority to reconvene, which it did, for the first time in, I believe, 15 years!
To Chriss satisfaction, the Civic Center Authority then commissioned the study towards the master plan.
The Martin study formed the conceptual foundation for the Civic Center Master Plan, says Doug Suisman, a contributing designer to the plan (which was recently completed by a team of architects and urban planners Melendrez Associates, Johnson Fain Partners, RAW Architecture, Public Works Design and Landmark Partners).
Chris Martin is quick to point out that the effort leading up to the Master Plan was not just that of AC Martin. Many individuals, such as Jerry Epstein [president of the State Building Authority, Los Angeles], Joanne Kosberg [secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency], Tom Moran [USCs vice president for business affairs] and a wonderful collection of government agencies working together made it happen, he says.
The Martins occupy a special niche in the city, however.
A lot of people can dream about the future, says USC School of Architecture Dean Robert Timme, but it takes almost a family environment to get things accomplished.
The Martins are close to the center of this community. When something needs to be done, they know who to call.
The Martins are a strong Los Angeles family and a strong USC family.
COMMITMENT TO BUILDING A BETTER Los Angeles has been a family tradition with the Martins for nearly a century, since the firms founding father moved to town. Albert Carey Martin arrived in Los Angeles in 1904, two years after graduating from the University of Illinois as an architectural engineer. He was 25 years old. By 1906, he had established his own firm and soon became known to the citys foremost architect, John Parkinson, who had preceded him a decade earlier. When the city of Los Angeles anticipated a new City Hall, theirs was an easy collaboration.
Albert Carey Martin arrived in Los Angeles in 1904. By 1906 he had established the firm that was to make its mark on the landscape of the city with buildings such as Graumans Million Dollar Theatre, shown here, at Third and Broadway.
The firm and family he founded has had a long association with Los Angeles and with USC. A.C., as he is known, had six children Albert C. Jr., Evelyn, Margaret, Carolyn, Lucille and Edward all of whom attended the university.
Two of his sons, Al Jr. and Ed, studied in the School of Architecture; Al graduating with a B.A. in 1936 and Ed studying there for two years before moving on to the University of Illinois. It is said that A.C. was determined to have two sons to carry on the dynasty, one to be an architect and one to be a structural engineer. I was 35 years old before I found out that people chose their careers, quips Ed. My brother was going to be an architect and I was going to be a structural engineer.
A.C. Martins grandsons, David Martin 66 and Chris Martin 74, sons of Al and Ed Martin, respectively, are now in charge. Davids brother, Albert C. Martin III, and sister, Mary Martin Marquardt, also attended USC, as did Chriss brother, Nicholas Martin, and sister, Elizabeth Martin Ferguson.
(A fourth generation, Chris Martins son Patrick, is currently enrolled in the School of Architecture, prompting Al Martin to quip that the firm doesnt hire new partners, it breeds them!)
The three generations of AC Martin Partners have been responsible for an astounding number of landmark buildings in Los Angeles and Southern California, including:
The May Company building downtown (1906, formerly known as the Hamburger Building),
Graumans Million Dollar Theatre (1917) at Third and Broadway,
St. Vincent de Paul Church (1925),
The Los Angeles City Hall (1928),
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Headquarters (1965),
Arco Plaza (1972),
444 South Flower (1982, formerly the Wells Fargo Building),
The Sanwa Bank Plaza (1990) on Figueroa at Wilshire,
The Padre Serra Parish Church in Camarillo (1996 AIA Religious Architecture Award).
In addition to commissions in the countries of the Pacific Rim, the firm is currently at work on USCs 55,000-square-foot Jane Hoffman Popovich and J. Kristoffer Popovich Hall for the Marshall School of Business, due to be completed in late 1998, and recently completed the Tyler Environmental Prize Pavilion in USCs Von KleinSmid Center.
IN 1928 THE NEW CITY HALL was by far the tallest building in Los Angeles, and it would remain so for another 30 years. (A.C. Martin told his sons it had to be high so he could show his buddies what hed done from the fourth hole of the golf course at the Los Angeles Country Club.) Begun in March 1926, it had taken only 22 months to complete, at a cost of $5 million. Its trio of architects the politically savvy John Austin, the innovative structural engineer A.C. Martin and the dean of Los Angeles architects, John Parkinson had delivered a city hall worthy of its aspirations.
AC Martin Partners rendering of the City Hall restoration. With Project Restore, which is refurbishing the interior spaces, as well as a $273 million seismic rehabilitation by Albert C. Martins grandsons, the city is bringing its most recognized civic structure and a piece of its history full circle.
The building declared a Historic-Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles on March 24, 1976 has suffered from decades of decline. Now, however, Los Angeles is restoring the historic edifice it has so long taken for granted. With Project Restore, which is refurbishing the interior spaces, as well as a $273 million seismic rehabilitation by Albert C. Martins grandsons, the city is bringing its most recognized civic structure and a piece of its history full circle.
Nearly three-quarters of a century ago, all of Los Angeles had watched the skeletal frame of the building take shape above the city, its 8,167 tons of steel held together with 900,000 rivets. To withstand high winds, the tower was designed as an independent structure anchored to a solid mat of reinforced concrete resting on stiff blue clay. In the tower, an elastic joint is provided by the outer wall at each story to allow for expansion, contraction and oscillation. It is 1928 state-of-the-art architectural technology.
On trips to New York and Chicago, A.C. Martins wife, Carolyn, had held fast to her husbands belt as he leaned out of the windows of high-rise buildings to examine their skin. Noting that they had cracked with the stress of high winds, he isolated the terra-cotta skin of City Hall from the base. His intuition is being expanded upon 70 years later with the base isolation system now being installed by his grandsons.
City Hall has weathered hundreds of earthquakes, yet its foundation, base and structural steel frame remain remarkably strong. In the wake of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, however, the same cannot be said for its masonry walls. Exterior terra-cotta tiles are cracked and broken and the interior plaster displays characteristic X-pattern quake cracks. When the Martins put a black armband over the top of the building to prevent some of the terra-cotta from spilling off, Los Angeles seemed to be in mourning.
Delighted to be working on the building their grandfather had a hand in creating, the third generation of Martins are determined to see that City Hall thrives for another 70 years. To strengthen the building against future earthquake damage, over 400 base isolators are being inserted underneath it, one into each footing. In essence, the isolators (vulcanized rubber laminated between steel sheets) form a flexible suspension system which acts similarly to a cars springs and shock absorbers. The system proved itself in Japans Kobe quake. Los Angeles City Hall will benefit from one of the largest base isolation systems in the world.
When Ed Avila of the Board of Public Works ordered some tattered drapes removed from the windows of the Boards Session Room, he was struck by how magnificent the room appeared in the natural light. Thus was born Project Restore, which is renovating the interiors of Los Angeles City Hall.
The buildings interiors are also being renovated through the efforts of Project Restore, born some nine years ago when Ed Avila was president of the Los Angeles Board of Public Works. Ordering some tattered drapes to be removed from the windows of the Boards Session Room, he was struck by how magnificent the room appeared in the natural light. He asked Al Martin (now the projects chairman emeritus) to head a committee dedicated to restoring the buildings public areas.
Greek-born Georgía Rosenberry, City Halls staunchest advocate and president of Project Restore, likens the much-filmed and photographed building to the Statue of Lib-erty or the Greek Parthenon. Al Martin thinks his father would be pleased at the comparison.
City Hall was the biggest and most important project of Dads life up to that time, he says. I would think it was the one he was most proud of.