Traveling by the Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles: The Darkroom

Follow along: Page 127 of the Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles. (The Guidebook publishes in late November, but you can pre-order your copy here.)

There is a plaque that sits in the middle of the Franklin Canyon Park claiming to represent LA’s precise center of gravity. Small and made out in loose, jagged letters, it reads (somewhat enigmatically): “POINT OF BALANCE OF THE PLANE OF THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES.”

What has always struck me as most amusing about this isn’t just that the core and cœur of the city is in an uncharacteristically wild and uninhabited area. Rather, it’s the very poetry of the idea that the most wild and natural part of our beloved sprawl represents where the city, streaked with actors and palm-trees-cum-telephone-poles, hangs its balance. Arguing that LA—home of screens silver, small, and green—isn't accurately defined by its wilderness is not a hard-fought battle.

Instead, I might suggest embracing that reality of built, LA artifice. After all, it’s given us our most marketable persona and industry. Consider starting with a visit to one of the city’s most unassuming and quietly hidden landmarks: The Darkroom. Our last post warned you about our fondness for LA’s programmatic architecture, and The Darkroom continues that theme.

While the actual Darkroom camera shop has long since been replaced by a restaurant, the black Virtolite façade of a nine-foot tall camera is protected by the city. In this way, it’s frozen in time and undisturbed by the revolving door of restaurants that grow around its premises. It continues to sit stubbornly, a camera trained on the Miracle Mile passersby like the paparazzi equivalent of a commercial fishing net. Years ago, the “lens” housed a small projector that played newsreels for those same passersby. Crystallized in time, it characterizes the very center of gravity of Los Angeles in a way Franklin Canyon Park never could.

From the upcoming Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles:

The Darkroom 1936 • Marcus P. Miller • 5370 Wilshire Blvd. One of the classic remnants of Los Angeles’s catalog of Programmatic buildings. It is clothed in black vitrolite with silver trim. Streamline Moderne, the conventional nautical porthole in this case is placed in the middle of a plate-glass window and thus becomes the lens of a camera.

Just like our film and television industry, The Darkroom is one of LA’s most exported pieces of architectural design. Disney Studios Paris, Disney-MGM Studios, and Universal Studios Orlando all feature a replica of the original Darkroom camera shop façade. The latter two even mimic the art deco neon sign, which now calls the Museum of Neon Art home.

As we said, the camera shop no longer exists, but that’s no excuse to skip a visit the heart of Los Angeles.

 Based on Gebhard and Winter's An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles

This fresh look at The Darkroom was written for Angel City Press by Martha Avtandilian.