Curating the City: The '70s Turn 50 | Los Angeles Conservancy
Image by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

The Los Angeles Conservancy is excited to present The '70s Turn 50, an initiative exploring the 1970s’ lasting imprint on L.A. County’s built environment.

The fifty-year mark is significant when it comes to preserving buildings.

One of the criteria for designation on the National Register of Historic Places states that properties under the age of fifty should not be considered eligible unless the property is of “exceptional importance.” While there is no age limit in Los Angeles for local landmark designation, the fifty-year rule remains a benchmark for examining buildings and structures from a period not yet long-gone. It serves as a rallying cry for preservationists anxious to spotlight places that may be at risk. Instilling value for structures that may not yet be in the collective consciousness is half the battle when it comes to preserving them.

Recently, structures from the 1970s have moved increasingly into the cross-hairs. This is due in part to the faltering materials that were used to build them.  The emphasis on cheap construction materials in this time period resulted in buildings that were difficult and expensive to maintain. 1970s buildings also face an increased threat due to a lack of enthusiasm for the aesthetics of the era.  The design features and fads iconic to it (shag carpet, faux wood-grain paneling, platform shoes, and macramé), tend to be polarizing ones, and its architecture may be equally difficult for many to embrace.

In the Southland, the '70s marked a time of unprecedented architectural exploration, and the structures left in its wake are some of the finest examples of that creative spirit.

In the 1970s, large architectural firms expanded beyond the plain International Style glass box with a variety of building shapes and experimented with glass-skinned exteriors that gave their corporate commissions a simple yet beautiful aesthetic. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel (John Portman, 1976), the colorful Pacific Design Center (Pelli and Gruen Associates, 1975) and the FAA Headquarters (Cesar Pelli, Anthony Lumsden, DMJM, 1973) exemplify the originality of the decade as applied to non-vernacular structures.

Simultaneously, schools of architecture, such as the newly-formed Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA, The School of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University Pomona, and the radical Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), joined the ranks of the University of Southern California’s established architecture school in producing many of the leading architects of the time. 

Frank Gehry’s use of cheap and accessible materials seen in his Santa Monica residence, from 1978, catapulted the Los Angeles Deconstructivism movement onto the national stage.

On the social and cultural front, the '70s were a period known for strong civic engagement and activism.

Pasadena Heritage, the Whittier Conservancy, and the Los Angeles Conservancy, among many other preservation and heritage groups, were founded in the 1970s in response to the demolition and threatened destruction of historic sites across the County. 

Similarly, the environmental movement, which gained national attention with landmark legislation, such as the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, solidified in Los Angeles through the efforts of new organizations like TreePeople and the California Conservation Corps. 

Begun in the '60s, the battle for civil rights continued, now in tandem with and alongside anti-Vietnam War marches and protests. The Chicano Moratorium took place in 1970, imprinting East Los Angeles with the memories of its message, marchers, and casualties. In the following years, both the women's and LGBTQ+ liberation movements would make their presence known across Southern California as well. 

Throughout 2020, we will tell the story of the '70s and the decade's lasting legacy. Use this microsite to keep up to date with our upcoming programming, advocacy efforts, and the efforts of our partner organizations.