The Bonaventure sits on the edge of downtown, away from a lot of the action and looking a bit dated. But the hotel is also a prime example of postmodern architecture, and is one of the most filmed buildings in the city.

If you walk a few blocks west of downtown Los Angeles’ liveliest areas you’ll eventually come to a glassy building that looks like it belongs in a 1980s office park. It’s not easy to access; if you’re on foot and coming from the east, the building rises like a fortress, confronting pedestrians with large concrete walls and a labyrinth of elevated walkways. But it’s worth the effort to get in.

The building is the Bonaventure Hotel, and for all of its weirdness it’s one of the most iconic — and interesting — structures in Los Angeles.

The hotel was designed by architect John Portman — who is also known for his involvement with the Peachtree Center in Atlanta — and finished in 1976.

The component parts of the Bonaventure look like they might belong to other architectural styles. The sheer glass exterior draws from modernism; the extensive use of concrete — which is particularly visible on the interior — feels an awful lot like brutalism.

But the sum is a postmodern hodgepodge. And lest there be any doubt, the interior is trimmed with neon lights and a decidedly 80s food court. (During my recent visit on a Saturday the food court was almost entirely empty, which only added to the strange ambiance.)

Like it or hate it, the Bonaventure is architecturally significant, and the LA Conservancy describes it as “a 1970s vision of the future using circular shapes, massive forms, and the concept of space as experience.”

For those reasons, the Bonaventure is actually a pleasure to experience. I recently spent the better part of an afternoon exploring the vast atrium and riding the glass elevators up and down. They offer sweeping and unparalleled views of the city.

Thanks to the Bonaventure’s distinctive forms, and its location in the movie capital of the world, it has also been featured in numerous films over the years. I don’t have space to go into all of them here, but some include The Dark Knight Rises, This is Spinal Tap, True Lies, Mission Impossible III, and Hancock.

My favorite example of the Bonaventure on film, though, is Interstellar because it prominently and obviously features the concrete interior.

The Bonaventure’s long and (sometimes) illustrious life on film is documented well in the video below, from Colin Marshall:

Ultimately, the Bonaventure Hotel is one of Los Angeles’ more unique, and overlooked, spots. That’s understandable, given how many glassy towers most cities have now. But after wandering the halls and elevators for a few hours, I was surprised at how enjoyable it is. And if nothing else, it’s a chance to take in soaring views and wander a living film set.

If you go:

The Bonaventure Hotel is open to the public and free to wander. No one seemed to even notice that I rode each elevator up and down multiple times. It’s located at 404 S. Figueroa St., and is within walking distance of most other downtown destinations.

Related reading:

Four classic, affordable, and non-touristy Los Angeles restaurants

The High Tower Neighborhood: Romantic serenity in the middle of L.A.

Almost no one goes to this awesome spot in Los Angeles

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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