Downtown Los Angeles has a new tourist destination.
About a thousand feet above the city, a clear glass slide attached to the side of the U.S. Bank building lets riders glide from the 70th floor to the 69th.
The Skyslide is a $3.5-million component of a $50-million renovation of the top floor of the building, which at 1,018 feet is currently the tallest building in the country west of the Mississippi. (Though it won’t hold that title for long -- the Wilshire Grand will have it beat when the 1,100-foot tower is unveiled in 2017.)
The slide and adjoining 360-degree observation deck will open to the public this Saturday. On Thursday morning, members of the media got a chance to try it out. At 45 feet long but made of glass only 1.25 inches thick, the slide looks straight down 70 stories to cars stuck in traffic on the street below.
To ride, you board a gray mat and pull it up over your feet -- kind of like a makeshift sled -- and scoot yourself over the precipice. Only one person can go at a time.
Forty-five feet sounds long, but the ride takes just a few seconds. Before you can get a really proper scream going, you’re launched out onto a safety mat on an outdoor deck on the 69th floor. Many of the people in attendance Thursday surprised themselves by wanting to take a second or third ride.
I was able to get a video of my second trip down:
The U.S. Bank building was acquired in 2013 by OUE Ltd., a Singapore-based company with a portfolio of hotels and commercial and residential buildings across Asia and the United States. Architect I.M. Pei’s New York firm originally designed the iconic circular office building, and construction was completed in 1989.
When the building first opened, it was more than 80% occupied. But by the time OUE completed its purchase, the space was just 56% leased.
Lucy Rumantir, the president and chief executive of OUE for the Americas, said the company began having meetings about six months after the acquisition to discuss what new elements could be added to attract more than just office workers.
The answer was an observation deck. It was a no-brainer: On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the ocean. But lots of tall buildings in big cities have observation decks. They needed something special.
A lot of ideas were thrown around: Bungee jumping from the roof. Cable cars going around the outside of the building. A zip line to the ground.
“We said, ‘We have to do something that doesn’t exist anywhere else,’” Rumantir said.
Ultimately, they went with an external glass slide. It’s incredibly safe: The slide is strong enough to hang a school bus filled with people off of it, she said.
In addition to the slide, the 70th floor (the Skyspace) has an observation deck wrapping around the entire building, as well as outdoor decks on the 69th floor with mounted binoculars to get a closer look at the city below. The 54th floor, where you transfer elevators, has an interactive digital exhibit. The Skyspace will offer light refreshments for guests with a bar that can be rented and used for special events.
Downtown Los Angeles has experienced a lot of growth over the past decade -- a change enthusiasts would call urban revitalization and cynics would call gentrification. The downtown area has transformed from a place you would tell tourists to actively avoid into a bustling metropolis with abundant restaurants and attractions for both Angelenos and visitors.
A few examples: L.A. Live, the area around the Staples Center and the L.A. Convention Center, has expanded into a restaurant and nightlife destination. The Ace Hotel opened in the old United Artist Theatre building in 2014. A Ralphs opened downtown in 2014, followed by a 40,000-square-foot Whole Foods in 2015. The Broad museum opened last fall and still commands daily lines of visitors snaking around the block. Just last month, the new Expo Line opened an extension that lets people take the subway all the way from the beach in Santa Monica to the heart of downtown.
Ernest Wooden Jr., the president and chief executive of the L.A. Tourism and Convention Board, said the city has an “embarrassment of riches” to lure tourists to downtown. The area has seen an influx of $20 billion in real estate development, he said, with an additional $10 billion worth in the works now.
“This is a new Los Angeles,” Wooden said. Tourism jumped from 42 million visitors in 2012 to 45.6 million in 2015. Wooden said he intends to see that number reach 50 million by 2020, and the Skyslide will be a big part of that.
“For the first time, I think, we have a real tourist-y kind of attraction right in the middle of downtown,” he said. He compared it to classic tourist activities like taking a selfie with the Hollywood sign or visiting the Walk of Fame: “We’re going to see lots and lot of tourists -- like we see in the streets of Hollywood, we’re going to see that downtown.”
Find Jessica Roy on Twitter @jessica_roy.