(from Invisible Geographies, a seminar in Writing, 1996)
Review(s) of Bonaventura Hotel, by John Portman.
Los Angles: Invisible Press, 1977.
The light was incredible--5:30 on a mid January afternoon. The Friday energy on the street was exhilirating. The children asked if we could please move downtown.
On paper, the Bonaventura is amazing, but practically, the building is an embodiment of the eccentricities and dreams of what society ought to be.
They built that building right into the clouds--probably the same clouds the architect's head was in in the planning of the building.
The Bonaventura aims to create a sort of technological utopia inside its walls. Outside the walls one can marvel at its glass elevators and massive structure--and only wonder what it feels like to ride one of the elevators. From the outside it's much like looking at planet earth from space.
Typically, we consider elevators to be enclosed systems of transport, steel cages moving us up and down. Elevators are associated with the inside of a building. Here, the notions of inside and outside are completely reshuffled and blurred.
This hotel has a lot more to offer than its appearance. It's an escape pod.
The revolving cocktail lounge was an incredibly queer experience, we probably never should have got off the elevator. The view was lovely, but that is all it was--a lovely view. We were not part of the city, we were up on the 34th floor of a glass tower totally insulated from the city.
Of course, this hotel could not survive like a Bio Dome (and even Bio Domes don't really seem to be able to survive) without the supplies of an outside world.
Looking at this building, entering its formidable walls, one must conclude that its unspoken thought was to avoid the masses, avoid those that would sully its utopian ideology.
when i woke up sunday evening i remembered i had to go check out the hotel when my friend terry called me to see if i was doing anything. "sleeping," i told her, "until you called," so i dragged her along as punishment.
What the hell is the Bonaventura Hotel?
This is an account of what a traveler would have to face upon arriving at the Bonaventura hotel. With baggage and assuming the taxi dropped them off at the main entrance on Figueroa, the guest would have to walk about 800 yards in and out of rooms and spaces and following signs etc. to go down two stories to the reception desk to check in. Then they have to hike it to the elevator and go up to a minimum 10th floor to begin the search for their room. This is of course assuming they got in the right elevator. No one on this earth want to lug their crap around for 8 miles of futurist labyrinth confusion to go to bed.
I have never been so scared in an elevator, as I was in the glass elevator of the Bonaventura. I felt like the floor was going to fall away from under me and I wold fall back to the ceiling of the twelfth floor.
As I left I stopped by the concierge desk and waited five minutes with another couple for the man to show up but he never did. It was perfect.
The function of the hotel as a residence is secondary to its function as a place of interaction.
I, on the other hand, encountered a rather uncrowded Bonaventura. I could almost count the number of people I had seen on two hands.
The lobby of the hotel is not simply a larger room; it consists of the first four floors of the building.
we entered on the second mezzanine level, looking down over a starbuck's outpost, a ring of "lakes," and a crowd of japanese guys lounging around in blue dodger warm-up jackets with "NOMO 16" on the back. for a minute, i thought they were a baseball team.
There is something of the anti-gravity staircase of Escher in the Bonaventura.
A group of business people were sitting at the bar/coffee area and suddenly I felt like I was being watched and needed a place to go. I eyed the towers which rose out of the layered building and got into the nearest one.
We pretended that a monster lives within the column and is allowed out only when the hotel is totally silent. When all the guests are asleep THEY let him out to scavenge through the hotel and eat rats and cockroaches and robbers. I felt an urge to protect my children from this particular type of hollowness.
We got mixed drinks that tasted so wired. There was something so sweet and artificial about the color and taste of my margarita--it was sort of perfect. Even the pretzels were insincere.
I felt part of a collective dream, everyone in the place dreaming of this same, strange, grandiose hotel.
The elevators were great though.
The Bonaventura hotel is the stupidest building on the planet. In is the epitome of 80's excess and yuppie striving for money and pretentious "artistic" expression.
We entered on the second floor, the shopping gallery. Gaia, the most practical thinker in the group, announced in a rather disappointed tone, "Mom, it's like a mall." I had a sudden urge to apologize. I had promised the children that we were going to explore a swank hotel and ride its elevators.
The shops are appallingly designed and filled with unimaginable kitsch.
the subway took credit cards, but the panda express didnt.
Looking back, remembering when it was lauded and championed as THE new building of Southen California, when the Bonventura Hotel was intended to bring a new phase, a new type of design that would bring back life into the heart of downtown. Instead, it shut everyone and everything out; in the end, sadly, it has become a new Acroplis, a new Nineveh, another Edsel of modern times.
Los Angeles is more a term than a place, more a cliche than a city.
The main entrance below was at street level and nothing more than a sandblasted version of the Berlin Wall. No style, no flashy signs, nothing that indicated it was even a hotel--the pool was the only real clue, but that was empty.
The fact that the exterior lacked a significant marquee and flashy bule mirror windows was considered in-tune with the withdrawn and protective function that was the cornerstone of Portman's purpose.
Inside, signs were everywhere, directing us to the wells fargo and arco bridges, numerous fast food outlets and other stores offering a dizzying array of goods and services.
A woman came up and needed directions to Bevery Hills and Planet Holloywood so I had to bid Ron, the concierge, farewell. He offered to write some "stuff" down for me if it would help. I told him that wouldn't be necessary but if he would write me a nice tight little short story for this fiction class I have I would really appreciate it.
As I sit typing on my recently purchased technically advanced pentium microprocessor chip 75 mhz computer, I can't help but analyze the technological context in which the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was built.
When I obtained directions from my employer he told me I'd recognize it, and that it had been in numerous movies.
On the ground floor, every pillar and staircase had a series of fountains and pools that gave the place a relaxing, mystical feeling. As I jumped into one of the glass elevators and began speeding up and out of the lobby area, I realized what was so mystical. The hotel was modelled after the future portrayed in Blade Runner.
the city fell away and i realized that it was the place where they shot in the line of fire.
It was like Willy Wonka and the Chocalate Factory, we busted through the roof, out of the oppressive lobby and into the night. It was so much fun that we rode the elevator back down and did it again. The second time we all screamed when we broke through.
The central column and the councourse floors connected to it give it a Stanley Kubrick-2001 feel. The Bonventura is like a space port, a free floating structure in outer space.
The Bonaventura is a high-tech cave. It is dark and subterranean.
I'm walking a line;
I'm thinking about empty motion
The sense of motion is conveyed in the geometry of the building. Squares, rectangles or other shapes with hard, definite edges are scarce. The use of oval shapes that have a continuous motion parallels the motion and interaction of all the people.
Round and round I went in a circular maze trying to find the right color. I found it really absurd.
The space seems to feed into itself.
If the Bonventura is Disneyland, the elevators are its main attraction, the L.A. FREEFALL.
Coming down the elevators is an experience of its own. My impressions in the 20 seconds it took to descend 32 floors:
slamming down from on high
looks/feels like I'm going to
crash into an immense sea of tinted glass,
like an unexpected twist on a rollercoaster,
shoot down through a snug cement hole,
moving so fast, so fast, so fast.
The Bonaventura may just be a state of mind, an attitude of cyclical motion, swirling and spiralling movement (ever-circular stairs leading somewhere, winding tiles like the road to Oz).
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