From The Archives
Volume 1, Issue 4, Winter 2017
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Spot Reference:
Los Angeles
Superior Courthouse

by Nick Ferreira

Coleman Lopes by Nick Ferreira
The Los Angeles Superior Court building is home to one of those spots that really just looks like it was built with no other purpose than for BMX and skateboarding. It even has a half-pipe and what is essentially a mini ramp with spines on both ends. I’d imagine the spot has been ridden as long as kids have been popping wheelies; Bob Haro did some endos there, and possibly some kick turns as well.

I first rode the courthouse at a Los Angeles street jam back in 2008. I don’t really remember that session other than I think we got kicked out pretty fast. But I do remember the first real good session. It was at night and I was shooting photos for my old zine, Holeshot. I remember it so distinctly because at that moment I felt like I was living out my dream -- photographing my friend that is good at riding his bike, on a weird transition-based spot in Southern California, on the clock with security -- you get the picture. The spot is just a quarterpipe (or many quarterpipes), but like so many street spots similar to the courthouse, it feels like so much more.

The courthouse was built in 1972 as the headquarters for the Chicago-based insurance company CNA by the architects Langdon and Wilson. The seemingly boring 19-story glass tower on the edge of Lafayette Park is actually pretty interesting. The mirrored windows reflect the dramatic California sky. I don’t know how environmentally friendly it is to make mirrored glass buildings anymore, but it certainly looks great. Architects: if it’s not bad for the planet, build more buildings with mirrored glass.

Superior Court Building as its previous CNA Building, photograph by Wayne Thom,
courtesy of USC Libraries Special Collections

I think I speak for everyone when I say we like looking at cool sunsets in as many ways as possible. But I guess the real treat is when you fix your view on the building’s plaza designed by Emmet L. Wemple. Wemple’s granite waves are quite the contrast to Langdon and Wilson’s glass box. The waves, and the building itself sit above Lafayette Park, a cool park in its own right. It has a famous rail and Rob Dyrdek built a skate plaza there with a skateable Carl’s Jr. star. Because we all know it isn’t really a public park unless it’s been partially funded by a corporation.

Emmet L. Wemple worked on other landscape projects around Los Angeles, most notably the very different Getty Center and the very interesting St. Basil Catholic Church. Etnies got a permit and filmed a commercial for one of their shoes on the courthouse’s quarterpipes and just this morning on Instagram I saw one of the people I met at that 2008 jam airing the quarterpipe.

Further Reading:
Christopher Hawthorne “Ground Level: The Superior Court Building near Lafayette Park in Los Angeles.” Los Angeles Times. Accessed 21 December 2017.

Robert, McG Thomas., Jr. “E. Wemple, 75; Shaped Landscape of Los Angeles.” New York Times, Jun 17, 1996, pp. 1. ︎