The Flâneur & The City: Walker & Eisen, the Calculus of Aesthetics

This tour is now full. If you want to try to get a space on the tour, you may attend the LAVA Sunday Salon and ask about openings before the tour departs.

ABOUT THIS TOUR: For the fourth installment of urban historian Richard Schave’s site-specific discussion series “The Flaneur & The City,” Richard (Esotouric) is joined by architectural historian Nathan Marsak (1947project, On Bunker Hill).

On this excursion we’ll focus on several landmark buildings by the architectural firm of Albert R. Walker and Percy A. Eisen. The firm’s significant contributions to the downtown skyline have been overshadowed by the massive structures erected since the 1957 ordinance permitting buildings to be taller than 150’. On this tour, we’ll ignore such behemoths while shining our spotlight on the modest beauties that Walker and Eisen constructed in the Historic Core.

Walker & Eisen made their mark on downtown during the building boom which immediately followed the first World War. What we think of as “Jazz Age” L.A. architecture is in large part defined by this very successful team. In the year 1923, Los Angeles recorded $185,000,000 in building expenditures. Walker & Eisen at that time employed fifty draftsmen in their office, while the great civic architectural firm Parkinson & Parkinson had just 13. In the 21 years of partnership (1920-41), Walker & Eisen were responsible for $40,000,000 worth of buildings.

Walker & Eisen were the spiritual heirs of the now-forgotten Victorian-era architects Robert A. Young & Burgess J. Reeve, who shaped Los Angeles during its early boom years and depressions, and on which our last tour focused. Standing on their shoulders, and in the shadow of C.C. Julian’s financial scandal, Walker & Eisen quietly, distinctly, and on budget, translated the hopes, dreams, and sometimes outright arrogance of their clients into beautiful meditations on surface treatment and the play between light, window and wall.

The two buildings of prime focus will be the Oviatt (1927) and the Fine Arts Building (1928). We will not be visiting the penthouse of the Oviatt, and it will be at the discretion of the building’s management if we are permitted a peek inside the the former Oviatt & Alexander haberdashery. The Fine Arts Building lobby will be open, and we plan on spending a fair amount of time in it, amongst the Batchelder tile.

While the calculus to minimize the route and maximize other Walker & Eisen buildings along its path has yet to be computed, attendees can be assured that there will be a great deal to see, and yet more to talk about.

The tour will begin in the exterior lobby of the Oviatt Building at 1:30pm. Please wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately for the weather, as we will walking at least six blocks and possibly farther before the tour’s end.

ABOUT THE TOUR SERIES: “The Flaneur & The City” is an ongoing attempt to explore some of the more important issues revealed by the constantly changing heart of the metropolis. The core notion of the series is of culture and history as commodities that are packaged and sold to a target demographic; meanwhile, it’s the ignored and seemingly worthless scraps of meaning found on the sidewalks and marketplaces where the true remnants of positive public space can be found. All interpretations and nuisances of the word flaneur are examined—from the modern-day aesthete dreaming of Baudelaire while carried along in the human tide past the stalls and shops of Broadway, to its more recent and perhaps relevant use, someone who is loitering. At its heart this series is a celebration of the simple act of getting out of your car, walking through a neighborhood and learning to see it with your own eyes.