top of page

The Dynamic 1970s: Downtown Los Angeles' Ever-Evolving Story

The 1970s were a transformative and pivotal decade for downtown Los Angeles, leaving an indelible mark on the city's identity and shaping its future trajectory. In this in-depth exploration, we delve into the dynamic history of downtown LA during this era, highlighting the key elements that defined its remarkable evolution.

Amidst the challenges faced by urban centers across America, downtown Los Angeles experienced a significant revitalization surge in the 1970s. At the heart of this revitalization was the establishment of the Los Angeles Music Center, a cultural landmark that played a pivotal role in restoring the area's vibrancy. The Music Center, encompassing iconic venues such as the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum, became a beacon of artistic excellence and a symbol of cultural resurgence. Its presence not only attracted visitors and residents alike but also served as a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown LA's cultural scene.

During this transformative era, two of downtown LA's ethnic enclaves, Chinatown and Little Tokyo, experienced a renaissance of their own. These historically significant neighborhoods underwent comprehensive revitalization efforts, witnessing the emergence of new businesses, cultural institutions, and art galleries. Chinatown and Little Tokyo became cultural hubs, preserving the heritage and traditions of their respective communities while contributing to the diverse fabric of downtown Los Angeles. The revival of these enclaves not only enriched the city's cultural landscape but also served as a testament to the enduring spirit and resilience of these communities.

The 1970s also presented downtown LA with a series of urban challenges. Urban decay and the flight of businesses to the suburbs posed significant obstacles to the area's growth and development. However, it was during this period that community activism emerged as a powerful force for change. Skid Row, a neighborhood in downtown LA, became a focal point for addressing issues of homelessness and poverty. The plight of those living in poverty drew attention and inspired community organizations and programs aimed at providing support and addressing the needs of the vulnerable population. This era marked a turning point in downtown LA's social consciousness, with the community mobilizing to address social justice issues and promote positive change.

The 1970s were a dynamic and transformative period for downtown Los Angeles, leaving a lasting impact on its cultural, social, and urban landscape. The revitalization brought about by the establishment of the Los Angeles Music Center not only restored the area's cultural vibrancy but also laid the foundation for its continued growth as a cultural hub. The resurgence of Chinatown and Little Tokyo celebrated the diversity and cultural heritage of downtown LA, while community activism addressed pressing social issues, providing a voice for the marginalized and underserved. Today, downtown Los Angeles stands as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of a city that embraces change while preserving its rich history. The legacy of the 1970s continues to shape and influence the vibrant urban center we know today, reminding us of the ongoing commitment to revitalization, cultural pride, and social justice that defines downtown Los Angeles.


Pic 1: From L to R, the taller skyscrapers are:

  • The Union Bank Plaza (when completed in 1968 it was the first DTLA skyscraper to surpass the old City Hall height limit).

  • Behind the Union Bank Plaza is the Bank of America Plaza under construction. At the time of this photo it was known as Security Pacific Plaza.

  • The twin towers of ARCO Plaza completed in 1972 (now City National Plaza).

  • 611 Place (then Crocker Citizens Plaza) is peeking out from behind the Aon Center.

  • The Aon Center (then the United California Bank Building) which is almost complete in this pic. It would be the tallest building in LA until 1989 when the US Bank Tower opened I would be remiss not to mention the old Stater Hotel at center. When it was built in the early 50s, it was the first major hotel development since the Biltmore. It closed in 2011 & today is the site of LA's tallest building

  • The Wilshire Grand Center. Pic from the UCLA Archives.

Pic 2: The Bonaventure under construction - 1975. Pic by Roy Hankey.

Pic 3: The old & new all in one - St. Viviana's (built in 1876) taking center stage with the Union Bank Plaza in the background on the left & the Security Pacific Plaza on the right - 1973. Pic by John Malmin.

Pic 4: DTLA businessmen walking across Union Bank Plaza with one of the Bunker Hill Towers in the background - 1974. Pic by Roy Hankey.

Pic 5: Looking at north from the Transamerica Building - 1975. One thing I always notice about LA in the 70s - the parking lots! Pic by Roy Hankey.

Pic 6: 6th St. from Los Angeles St. - 1977. Shoutout to Cole's! Pic from Flickr.

Pic 7: A1970 aerial showing a very different DTLA. A completely leveled Bunker Hill is at almost center. Pic from the USC Archives.

Pic 8: Speaking of Bunker Hill... here's a Palmer Conner pic taken the same year showing grading ready for construction. * the view this affords of the Edison Building & the LAPL though, I have to say.

Pic 9: Another 1970 Palmer Conner shot showing 4th St. going up to Hope St. with the Pacific Bell Tower in the distance.

Pic 10: Angels Flight in storage - 1975. Pic by Roy Hankey.

View this post and more on our TikTok and Instagram!


L.A. Explained Blog

bottom of page