The LA Times Leaves A World Of History In Its Move To El Segundo. We Took One Of The Final Tours

L.A. Times staffer Darrell Kunitomi, front right, takes a selfie with several interns while in the lobby of the paper's soon-to-be-former downtown headquarters. (Photo by Leo Duran/KPCC)

The Los Angeles Times has called downtown L.A. home for more than a century. Since 1935, its headquarters was an impressive concrete Art Deco monument located on 1st Street, kitty-corner from City Hall. But that ends this week. The paper is entering the final stage of vacating the building.

Its new owner, billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, is moving the staff to a campus in El Segundo about 20 miles away. The new sign is already up.

KPCC's Take Two took one of the last tours by Times staffer and longtime guide Darrell Kunitomi, who told us the story behind the historic building — and what will stay and go when the company completes its big move.

The historic L.A. Times building at 202 W. 1st St. in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Eason via Flickr)

This downtown L.A. building isn't the paper's first headquarters. The Times started close to Olvera Street, powered by water from the nearby L.A. river.

In 1886, the company moved to the corner it occupies now. It was originally a horse stable, and in its place the paper built a structure to house its many employees and a printing press.

That building is no more. In 1910, brothers John and James McNamara, who were angry with the Times's anti-union coverage, bombed it.

"It turned out on behalf of the unions, they were blowing up buildings across the United States," Kunitomi said. "The L.A. Times explosion was the first one to kill anybody."

The blast and resulting fire killed 21 people. The building collapsed and the flames consumed the Times' printing press.

The new headquarters was rebuilt and completed in 1935. It was designed by Gordon Kaufmann, the architect behind the Hoover Dam, Santa Anita Park and the Athenaeum at the California Institute of Technology.

The Times' new home was designed to withstand any attack. Kunitomi explained that the "overbuilt" structure used extra steel, which was surrounded in asbestos, which was encased in concrete.

The L.A. Times' Globe Lobby, which features several murals depicting different pieces of the city's history. (Photo by Leo Duran/KPCC)

The centerpiece of the lobby is a 9-foot-tall globe sculpture. It was part of the grand opening in 1935, and features a metallic belt and a spiky star atop the North Pole.

It sits on a bronze pedestal 5 ½ feet in diameter inlaid with reliefs that depict different cultures. Circling the globe on the ceiling are several murals that depict the history of Los Angeles.

The large globe sculpture in the lobby of the LA Times' downtown headquarters rests on this large disk pedestal. It features several elaborate metal reliefs, but its future is unclear once the paper vacates the building (Photo by Leo Duran/KPCC)

It's unclear if this world will make the move. Reasons are complicated. The company's new home in El Segundo might not have the ceiling space for it. And if it's moved, the large marble pedestal will have to be destroyed in the process.

"If we don't take it, it's not protected," Kunitomi said. "This building has no historic designation or protection."

Towards the back of the lobby by the elevators is the Times Eagle, dated 1891.

The Times Eagle statue is located in the LA Times' downtown L.A. headquarters. It was designed in the 1890s by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, famous for also creating Mount Rushmore. (credit: Leo Duran/KPCC)

Its 7-foot wingspan spreads wall-to-wall, and the sculpture was sitting atop the building in 1910 when that building was attacked, but survived the explosion and fire. The eagle was crafted by sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the creator of Mount Rushmore.

But even if this eagle can't take flight, Darrell Kunitomi will make sure it can make the journey to the paper's new home. He'll be taking the bird himself.

Because 202 W. 1st St. isn't a protected site, and because the newspaper hasn't owned the building for a few years, its future is unclear.

But it will likely be the latest property to fall prey to redevelopment, as the current owner plans to repurpose the whole block into a high-rise for homes, office spaces, restaurants and more.

Setting aside the Times' legacy, there is also immense personal history from the reporters, editors, photographers and other staff that have started or built their careers in this historic newsroom. L.A. Times data editor Ben Welsh gave a great, off-the-cuff tour of the hidden, cluttered and storied parts of the office. You can check it out here.


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Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the current L.A. Times building as the newspaper's second. It is the second location. LAist regrets the error.