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Travel to U.S.: West: Los Angeles 1

We begin downtown, with a tour from 2002.


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The homeless bed down. It's disconcerting for visitors and maybe for residents, but taxi drivers show no mercy. "They get used to it," one said. Was there anyone under this blanket? Absolutely: a knee moved. At dusk, cardboard boxes were set up, even sewn together to form tubes.

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Close by, the Linda Lea Theater on Main Street used to show first-run international movies.

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"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

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How often do you see a diocesan headquarters permanently closed? It's the product of a double whammy: downtown depopulation and the Northridge earthquake of 1994.

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The belltower of St. Vibiana's, the closed cathedral. The church was built in 1876 but has been delisted as a city landmark. Oops! Although not evident in 2002, the cathedral had been purchased in 1999 for about $4.5 million by Tom Gilmore, and on 12 November 2005 it reopened as Vibiana Place, a performing-arts complex. Another stone in the mosaic of downtown's rebirth?

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Meanwhile, public buildings are transformed. Who would have anticipated barriers like these in a proud democracy?

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Broadway is still an important commercial street, but its character has changed hugely.  The former May Company department store was built in 1906 as Hamburger's Department Store. It claimed to be the biggest department store west of Chicago.

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Like so much else, the department stores began moving west in the 1920s. Case in point: this former Bullock's. In 1929 the company headed west with a spectacular store on Wilshire, which has itself now been recycled. (The Bullock's company was absorbed in 1996 by Macy's, part of Federated Department Stores.)

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The only hint that this particular store was a Bullocks is in this alley, where on the bridge you can make out the Bullock's emblem, with its "supreme quality reigns" motto.

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Broadway's once impressive theater district made the same westward jump in the 1930s. A generation earlier, it had begun here, near the Arcade Building, which is slated for conversion to apartments.

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The Arcade Theatre, the first Broadway theater, opened for vaudeville in 1910: you can still make out the name of Alexander "Something for Everyone" Pantages.

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Competition came from the Palace Theater, opened in 1911 as an Orpheum Theater; it continued as such until 1926, when a new Orpheum opened down the street.

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The Tower Theater was built in 1927. Later that year The Jazz Singer premiered here.

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Across the street, the Los Angeles Theater was modelled on San Francisco's now-demolished Fox Theater. It opened in 1931 to Chaplin's City Lights. Albert Einstein was in the audience.

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The Last Picture Show: the Roxi, built in 1932. This was the last theater to be built on Broadway; audiences now preferred theaters in Hollywood.

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The chief downtown icon: City Hall was built in the 1920s and was the tallest building in the city for about 30 years.

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Its rotunda echoes the Taj Mahal but is hard to get to these days, when all but one building door is locked--and that one is fitted with metal detectors and sign-in sheets.

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Germ of a new downtown: the Staples Center opened in October 1999 with a Bruce Springsteen concert; six months later, two million people had been inside.

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