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Theme Building
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia/Michael ZaraTheme Building

A guide to Los Angeles architecture

Brush up on what separates Art Deco towers from Googie diners with our guide to Los Angeles architecture

Michael Juliano
Written by
Michael Juliano
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Though its skyline will never measure up to the likes of New York or Chicago, Los Angeles has carved out its own architectural identity. Look below the glassy skyscrapers and you'll find Art Deco high-rises in Downtown Los Angeles, craftsman bungalows in Pasadena and envious estates along the hills and beaches. We think Los Angeles architecture is worth celebrating, so we've put together this guide to some of the city's most remarkable buildings and styles.

A quick primer on Los Angeles architectural styles

Want to learn more about the city's buildings? Brush up on some terms and movements first.

American Craftsman

This reaction against mass-production produced stunning handmade bungalows between the 1890s and 1930s. Example: Gamble House

Art Deco

With an eye on both classical aesthetics and the future, this movement between the 1920s and '40s gave rise to some of LA's most iconic landmarks. Examples: Eastern Columbia Building, Bullocks Wilshire, Los Angeles City Hall

Googie

This midcentury obsession with cars and the Space Age most promintently lives on in LA's retro diners. Examples: Norms, Theme Building, Mel's Drive-In

Midcentury modern

This clean-looking movement arose in private residences between the 1930s and '60s; we've been chasing its jetsetting style ever since. Examples: Stahl House, Eames House, Cinerama Dome

Mission Revival

Builders around the turn of the 20th century channeled California's heritage of Spanish missions into their designs. Examples: Union Station, Pasadena Playhouse

Postmodern

This loosely defined reaction against the coldness of modern architecture marked a return to ornamentation starting in the late 1970s—which just so happened to coincide with the start of Downtown's skyscraper boom. Examples: US Bank Tower, Westin Bonaventure

Programmatic

Otherwise known as novelty architecture, this movement tried to catch car drivers' attention with unusual shapes and oversized objects. Examples: Randy's Donuts, Idle Hour

Victorian

Though we tend to associate this 19th-century movement more with the East Coast, a few examples survive in LA's old ornate houses. Examples: Heritage Square, Carroll Avenue, Point Fermin Lighthouse

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