Downtown LA keeps getting more and more fun - so we couldn't resist!  The Architectural Guild of South County signed up for a Hoffy Tour and, hopefully, came away with big smiles and a deeper view of many of the positive changes happening in our nation's second largest city.

The Architectural Guild of South County in the courtyard of One Santa Fe.

With 23 architects, landscape architects, urban planners and friends, we hopped on the VIP Mini-Coach and were at the Arts District in 55 minutes (405 to 710 to 5 to 101!).  Our first stop was the beautifully appointed Zinc Cafe and Market on Mateo Street for coffee and pastries.  With an inner olive tree courtyard, bar, patio seating and counter service, the Zinc is hard to beat.  We were joined by Arts District resident Bob Shilland and his girl friend who gave us an impromptu tour of the many new venues in the district.  People loved the Urth Cafe's art deco exterior, the DWP's creative use of scrap iron as a decorative element, the National Biscuit Company lofts and the countless murals.

Urth Cafe uses a beautiful Art Deco brick building with
stunning ceramic tiles.
     We checked out the biggest project in the area - One Santa Fe - a mixed-use, 1/4 mile long development containing 438 apartment units.  Designed by Michael Maltzan and opened in 2014, the building runs north to south just east of the Southern California Institute of Architecture and just west of the LA River.  The minimalist facade of brilliant whites and "Calderesque" reds is complemented by interior courtyards and attached parking.  Most of us walked away quite impressed, although concerns about affordability surfaced when we heard the market rents - $2010 - 2400 for one bedroom and $2770-4585 for two bedrooms.

Our next stop was Bunker Hill and its impressive array of architectural landmarks.  We chose Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.  His 2002 design uses adobe-colored concrete blocks in a facade with no right angles - certainly non-traditional and a little austere.  It is the interior of the cathedral which really impressed us.  The huge nave was filled with diffused light through the extensive use of alabaster (the most in the US), but the most eye-catching feature are the John Nava tapestries which line the walls.  The artist painted saints and anonymous folk and then digitized them before being sent to Belgium to be woven.   The resulting figures - averaging 10 feet in height - have an almost a photographic quality, softened somewhat by the rich browns and pinks of the fabric.  With its extensive plaza and landscaped courtyard perimeter, the Catholic Diocese has much to be proud of.
Nava's tapestries are extremely life-like with a rich color
scheme that complements the cathedral walls

From the cathedral, it was on to the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry.  The fanciful, almost organic stainless steel facade pours out towards Grand Avenue right next to the 1960s Music Center and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  On the other side is The Broad, the newest LA museum set to open in September.  With its white, porous, organic skin, the building is sure to become another conversation piece about the urbanization of Grand Avenue.  One hopes that the planned pedestrian connections and open space make the street a true gathering place.

Frank Gehry's stainless steel concert hall's facade had to be buffed
out to lesson the glare.  A blinding revelation.

Guests enjoy the second story garden and Gehry's tribute sculpture of broken Royal
 Deft porcelain to donor Lilly Disney.

The Broad museum will feature two levels of exhibit space and room for archives.  The fanciful building skin reminds
me a little of the new surface of the Peterson Automotive Museum on Museum Row on Wilshire.

Lunch found us at the always enjoyable San Antonio Winery.  Tucked down Lamar Street in a warehouse district just east of the LA River, the winery is truly one of downtown's hidden gems.  The buffet lunch is reasonably priced and always tasty.  You pick your entree, grab a drink and by the time you find your seat, the meal is there.  The Riboli family of vintners survived through Prohibition by supplying communion and sacramental wines.  They now are the largest winery in the county making an impressive array of reds and whites, growing grapes in central California and shipping them south.  I recommend the tour with the owner Santo Riboli.  He is passionate, informative and teaches even those with lots of wine knowledge.   Introductory tastings are free at the bar, and the gift shop is extensive.

Winery owner Santo Riboli even let me pour some fine reds on a recent tour.

Our tour also included two of downtown's most well-known districts: Olvera Street and Chinatown.  Olvera Street and the adjoining plaza constitute El Pueblo State Historic Park and represents LA's birthplace.  The plaza, originally laid out by the Spanish in 1781, is gorgeous with its central gazebo, majestic Morton Bay Fig trees, and colorful "paper picado" streamers.  Historic buildings abound with a Victorian fire station, Italianate hotel and theatre, the Avila Adobe, and the Mission style La Placita Church.  The recent uncovering of David Siquiero's controversial mural - America Tropical - is just one more reason to visit.  Olvera Street itself, basically a long, narrow alley,  is awash in color with its many vending stalls overflowing with Mexican artistry and trinkets.  If you know what to look for, Olvera Street and El Pueblo contain many treasures.

A rare, uncrowded day at Olvera Street.  Notice the string of"papel picado" hanging
over the street.  I only wish Olvera Street and the Pueblo was bigger.
Our group also visited Chinatown, one of LA's largest ethnic enclaves.  With a beautiful new dragon gateway and stylized-directional signs, the area is looking better and better.  There are wonderful bakeries, herb and ginseng shops, and plenty of restaurants.  The Central Plaza, with its statue of Sun Yat Sen and "kitschy and historic" architecture, is well scaled to the pedestrian and very colorful.  Across Hill Street, we explored Chung King Road, a somewhat hidden block of stores and galleries, that was devoid of visitors.  Perhaps the energy of the Asian community is continuing to move east to the San Gabriel Valley, but the accessibility and concentration of uses here should be strengthened.  A well-placed visitor center would go a long way towards helping guests enjoy and appreciate the area.

Our last stop on the downtown swing was the resurgent Broadway Street, a National Register Theatre and Commercial District.  This incredible street has the greatest concentration of movie palaces (built from 1913 to 1931) in the nation.  Built before zoning requirements for parking, Broadway contains a continuous blackface of ornate facades of Art Deco, Renaissance Revival and Gothic designs.  Many of these old theaters are being preserved thanks to the great work of the LA Conservancy which conducts walking tours of the street on weekends.  The latest gem to be restored is the ultra-ornate, Spanish Gothic revival Ace Theater (formerly the United Artist Theatre, 1926).  On the eastern flank of the street lies 100-year-old Grand Central Market which has recently been renovated to offer more diverse eateries.  I braved the line at Egg Slut and finally understood what the fuss was all about.  Finally, as a final act of urban love, the City of Los Angeles has closed off a lane of traffic to install parklets with tables, chairs and umbrellas at regular intervals along the boulevard.  Praise to the city!

Tour guide Bill Hoffman is thrilled that Broadway Street is
now an outdoor cafe.