Ideas That Matter

Bunker Hill Steps

Lisa Gimmy
Bunker Hill Steps


Halprin stands in front of his rendering for Bunker Hill Steps.

By Jeff Graham, ASLA

 Los Angeles is often thought of as a horizontal city, but downtown’s Bunker Hill, which rises five stories above the adjacent business district, has always provided a connectivity challenge. Angel’s Flight, constructed in 1901, was an early attempt to solve the problem; Lawrence Halprin’s Bunker Hill Steps (1990) provide a robust pedestrian link between the two levels.

The opportunity to create the steps arose when developer Rob Maguire transferred air rights from the Central Library to an adjacent site. Architects Pei Cobb Freed created the Library Tower (now US Bank Tower), a graceful 73-story skyscraper. Space for the steps was carved out on the west side of the tower to connect Hope Street, to the north, with 5th Street and the Central Library to the south.

Robert Graham's Source Figure at the top Fountain.

Lawrence Halprin’s vision for the steps was based upon his visits to Italy and his experience of the vitality of the Spanish Steps. He adopted that vocabulary for Bunker Hill, developing a lively water feature that travels from the source fountain at the top, through two levels, to the basin below. He created gathering places at the two intermediate levels that feature a small cafe and retail. The perimeter of the steps is lined with flowering trees and colorful shrubs that soften the edge and create a human scale.

The final pool at 5th Street.

These 103 stairs not only provide an important and practical connection between these two districts, but also are a vital segment in Halprin’s Open Space Network for Los Angeles. Check back with us next week as we discuss an interior space within that network, Wells Fargo Court.



The Cultural Landscape Foundation: Landscape as Catalyst: Lawrence Halprin's Legacy and Los Angeles


Writer and Media Management Consultant Taylor Van Arsdale provided research and contributed to this article.


Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture

Helms Bakery Building
8800 Venice Blvd., Suite 216
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Phone: (310) 202-8320
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Creating landscapes for California living



Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture is a professional consulting firm offering master planning, site planning, and landscape design. Since its founding in 1992, LGLA has designed landscapes for schools, campuses, boutique hotels, buildings, public parks, estates, and private residences. At LGLA each project is viewed as an opportunity to explore a series of relationships: between the site and the region, architecture and landscape, and most importantly, between the landscape and the people who will use and enjoy it.

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