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What is L.A.’s most beloved landmark? We put it to a vote

What landmark says "L.A." more than any other?
What landmark says “L.A.” more than any other?
(Mikki Paek / For the Times)

What landmark says “L.A.” more than any other? Walt Disney Concert Hall? Watts Towers? The Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard?

The Times’ arts team asked itself that question in debating where architect Renzo Piano‘s “Death Star” — the new orb-shaped theater and viewing terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures — would rank in such a list.

For the record:

5:30 p.m. Sept. 8, 2021An earlier version of this article misattributed Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” to Mike Kelley.

As part of a wholly unscientific exercise, we brainstormed a ballot of 25 sites that stand as visual icons of L.A. We included postcard classics as well as some fun wildcards like Pink’s hot dog stand, Randy’s Donuts and the 1989 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Western Avenue designed by Grinstein + Daniels Architects — a bucket-shaped paean to postmodernism. (Yes, it was lunchtime when we started brainstorming.)

Landmarks earned points for varied reasons. The Petersen Automotive Museum went onto the ballot simply because it’s across the street from the Academy Museum and impossible to miss (for better or for worse). The LAX Theme Building landed at No. 2 on one ballot because of its symbolism and sentiment: It’s the place where so many L.A. dreams begin, and it at once summons nostalgia for the past and hope for the future.

After writers and editors started filling out their ballots, other possibilities did suddenly become obvious: Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl. The Norton Simon Museum and the Huntington Botanical Gardens. The Venice Canals and the L.A. River. Grand Central Market and Musso & Frank. The Paramount water tower and the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. But we stuck to the original ballot and figured all the possible omissions can be part of your second-guessing fun.

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The Hollywood sign ranked No. 1 on three ballots. Griffith Observatory, Disney Hall and Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art topped others’ lists. In fairness to Piano and the Death Star, some landmarks need time to win over skeptics. While reviewing early Times photography of the glass-topped circular theater, editors noticed that when it’s viewed from a low angle, Piano’s creation looked less like a Death Star and more like a cute, minimalist farm animal. Perhaps it just needs a different nickname to rocket up the landmark rankings. “The Piggy,” anyone?

Our cumulative staff ranking, from worst to best, illustrated by Mikki Paek:

• • • • •
25
Petersen’s Automotive Museum

Illustration of Petersen's Automotive Museum
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
24
PoMo KFC in Koreatown

illo of PoMo KFC
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
23.
The Broad

Illustration of the Broad
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
22
2nd Street Tunnel, downtown L.A.

Illustration of the 2nd Street tunnel in DTLA.
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
21
Academy Museum’s sphere (The “Death Star”)

Illustration of the Academy Museum
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
20
Pink’s

Illustration of Pink's
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
19
Whittier Boulevard arch, East L.A.

Illustration of the Whittier arch
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
18
Pacific Design Center, the “Blue Whale”

Illustration of the Pacific Design Center
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
17
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House

Illustration of Hollyhock House
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
16
Randy’s Donuts

Illustration of Randy's Donuts
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
15
John Lautner’s Chemosphere house

Illustration of Chemosphere
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
14
Santa Monica Pier

Spot illo of santa monica pier sign
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
13
The Getty Center

Spot illo of the getty center
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
12
Mammoths at La Brea Tar Pits

Spot illo of the la brea tar pits
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
11
LAX Theme Building

Spot illo of LAX building
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
10
Cinerama Dome

Illustration of the Cinerama Dome
(Mikki Paek / For The Times
)

• • • • •
9
L.A. City Hall

spot illo of city hall
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
8
“Urban Light” at LACMA

Illustration of Chris Burden's "Urban Light" installation at LACMA.
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
7
Chinese Theatre

Illustration of the TCL Chinese Theatre
(Mikki Paek / For The Times)
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• • • • •
6
Hollywood Bowl

illustration of the Hollywood Bowl
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)

• • • • •
5
Capitol Records building

Illustration of the Capitol Records Building
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
4
Watts Towers

Illustration of Watts Towers
(Mikki Paek / For The Times)

• • • • •
3
Griffith Observatory

Illustration of Griffith Observatory
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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• • • • •
2
Walt Disney Concert Hall

Illustration of Walt Disney Concert Hall
(Mikki Paek / For The Times)

• • • • •
1
Hollywood sign

Illustration of the Hollywood sign
(Mikki Paek/For The Times)
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The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens Sept. 30 as a celebration of Hollywood history, Oscar lore and today’s movie makers. Get a sneak peek.


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