Exit the 101 Freeway at Hollywood Boulevard and head west. Drive past the Fonda Theater and the Soul Cycle and the Frolic Room and hang a right on Vine Street. Pull over halfway up the block and park. This is the first stop on our tour of the most important and most interesting bits of 20th and 21st century architecture in Los Angeles, the Capitol Records Building.
As much an icon of mid-century architecture as of the city of Los Angeles itself, the 150 foot tall Capitol Records Building was built between 1955 and 1956 by Welton Beckett & Associates, a huge LA-based firm. Contrary to myth, the tower’s shape was not inspired by a stack of records on a turntable; in fact, it’s an extrapolation of lead architect Lou Naidorf’s thesis from the Architecture program at UC Berkeley. As a side note, Naidorf graduated from UCB in 1951, meaning he was 25 when he got the Capitol assignment. I’m gonna let that sink in for a bit.
The Capitol Records Building was the first circular, reinforced concrete office tower in the world. Nothing like it had been seen before it was completed, and very little like it has been built in the 62 years since. It’s profile is synonymous with the Jet Age that Los Angeles embodied, and, speaking personally, the sight of it just fills me with joy. I love its complex surface but simple form, and its siting near the top of Vine between Hollywood and Yucca means it’s visible both from the freeway and from surface streets.
On the ground floor is Capitol Studios, made up of four recording studios (A, B, C, and, unsurprisingly, D) and, twenty feet below them, eight trapezoidal echo chambers for vocals. There is also a mastering facility on site, which house the lathes that cut the lacquer masters for albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings.
The thirteen floors above the studios are protected by sun shades that project from the outer walls, giving the tower its unique profile. At the top is a radio mast, with a blinking light that spells out the word “Hollywood” in Morse code. This mast is turned into a Christmas tree each year, and is a charming sight for harried shoppers and commuters in Hollywood.
Declared a Historic-Cultural Monument in 2006 by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, the Capitol Records Building stands today as a symbol of a city built with an eye to the future. In future installments of this series, we’ll be exploring more of the key architectural features of this city. In fact, next time, we’ll be heading back down Vine to Sunset, to visit one of my favorite places in the entire city.
Thanks for reading, happy Friday, and have fun posting today.