As a child I often went to the Griffith Observatory, where my parents took me and my sisters to admire the view of the city and see the stars at night through the famous public telescopes. But what I’ll never forget is what greeted me inside, just through the main entrance, when I looked up.
In the central rotunda, a colorful ceiling mural made my jaw drop: there were frolicking animals, merry children and wondrous figures (some winged, some naked) having a party in the sky with the moon – and I wanted to join them.
The experience of seeing that 1934 mural – by artist and filmmaker Hugo Ballin, whose paintings can also be found in City Hall, Southern California’s Edison Building, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and the former Los Angeles Times building in the center – has stayed with me. All my life it has served as a reminder to look up — or miss the many visual feasts that exist directly above us.
Over the past few months, I’ve been visiting and revisiting LA destinations with breathtaking ceilings, now with my own young daughter by my side. I learned about their history and architecture and the enormous effort that went into preserving them. (While many of these ceilings are now protected by local and state ordinances, rapid development, natural disasters and our own vices – decades of cigar and cigarette smoke, for example – have taken their toll. If it weren’t for the passionate work of artisans, engineers, architects , conservationists, and financiers, many of these ceilings wouldn’t exist today.) Here I’m sharing the 32 most spectacular ceilings I’ve found, though the selections could easily triple in number.
Let this guide be a starting point for your search adventures. The list, presented in chronological order by each destination’s completion date (the oldest was unveiled in 1911), predictably includes historic movie palaces, performing arts venues, and places of worship—spaces meant to take us out of our everyday lives. But other destinations might surprise you: a tiny drinking hole, a neighborhood library, or office buildings right in downtown LA
There are masterpieces in every corner of the city worth getting a neck ache from.
To the old ceilings and to Angelenos who continue to push creative boundaries with everything that is way above our heads.