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You Can’t Fight It--but You Can Repair It

Times Staff Writer

The pointed, 27-story City Hall downtown is the most recognizable symbol of Los Angeles. For decades it was the only tall building--by local law--and it has starred in more movies and television series than most actors.

But the old place, clad in California granite and opened in 1928, has not worn well the years of political whim.

So Thursday some of the city’s leading architects and builders stood alongside Mayor Tom Bradley to announce that they will lead a plan to make repairs and restore some of the building’s original stylings.

Their announcement was made in the courtyard outside the main Spring Street entrance (Capt. Furillo was shot there in a recent episode of television’s “Hill Street Blues”) where the work will commence. The only artworks left in the courtyard are two obviously fake fountains. The few City Hall workers who dare to lunch there fear the advances of staggering derelicts.

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But Bradley said the courtyard would be dressed up into the pleasant public space that he remembers from years past.

“I can remember my mother and father bringing me down here on a streetcar and, from across the street, looking up at this magnificent building the week it was dedicated,” the 68-year-old mayor said.

Initiated After Pleasant Discovery

The renovation, called Project Restore, was initiated after Public Works Commissioner Edward J. Avila made some pleasant discoveries while trying to upgrade the dreary chambers where his commission has met since the building opened.

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When the heavy drapes were removed, Avila said Thursday, he found that natural light cascaded into the room through the tall windows. Black cork padding was pried off the walls to reveal white pumice tiles that give the room and its vaulted ceiling added brightness.

Elsewhere in the building, which served as the “Daily Planet” newspaper in the “Superman” television series, floors are buckling and tiles are cracked, Avila said.

Work in the first year will be limited to completing the job in the Board of Public Works chambers and restoring the City Council chambers, the outside courtyard and a ceremonial gallery located atop the City Hall tower on the 27th floor. All are open to the public.

“They are shabby,” said Albert C. Martin Jr., a prominent Los Angeles architect who is chairman of the project. “Very little attention has been given to the aesthetics.”

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Martin’s father helped design City Hall, which was built for less than $5 million and made use of sand from every California county and water gathered from each of the state’s 21 original Roman Catholic missions.

The first year’s work is expected to cost about $1.8 million. Martin said they will use money the city had already planned to spend on repairs, but will finance most of the work privately. Corporate donations of $5,000 have been sought to begin work, and public contributions have been encouraged.

In future years, Martin said, the group would like to restore the mayor’s third-floor conference room and other private spaces within the building. The group said it also intends to renovate smaller municipal buildings designed to look like City Hall in Van Nuys and San Pedro.

City Hall was the only building taller than 13 stories from its opening until a local height limit was rescinded in 1958. It is notable also for a special foundation designed to withstand the jarring of earthquakes.

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