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When Union Bank Square Dethroned City Hall as L.A.'s Tallest Building

Union Bank Square (banner)
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City Hall’s reign had come to an end. When Union Bank Square opened its doors on Dec. 22, 1966, the 42-story office tower claimed its crown as the tallest building in Los Angeles.

It was certainly not downtown L.A.’s first modern skyscraper; the 267-foot California Bank Building had opened in 1960 and the 452-foot Occidental Center Tower in 1965. But the new, 516-foot Union Bank Square at Fifth and Figueroa was the first to finally dethrone 454-foot City Hall, long the beneficiary of a citywide 13-story height limit.

Freeway-adjacent Union Bank Square was an emblem of "Dynamic Los Angeles," according to this 1968 postcard
Freeway-adjacent Union Bank Square was an emblem of "Dynamic Los Angeles," according to this 1968 postcard, courtesy of the James H. Osborne Photograph Collection, CSUDH Archives.

Height wasn’t all that distinguished the building. It was also the first major development in the Bunker Hill redevelopment zone and it marked the first wave in a westward move of the city’s financial district from its traditional home along Spring Street. Also notable was a three-acre private park that topped a parking garage at the tower’s base.

Designed by Harrison and Abramowitz of New York with A.C. Martin and Associates consulting as local architects, and financed by Hartford-based Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., Union Bank Plaza flaunted its steel structure with prominent, white-and-grey metal piers set against dark, recessed windows. (A 1994-95 renovation since changed its look.) It also advertised its main tenant, Union Bank of California, in large block letters near its top. That practice, new then to downtown L.A. and frowned upon by many, has become commonplace now.

Union Bank Square under construction, circa 1966
Circa 1966 photo of Union Bank Square under construction, courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries.
Union Bank Square rises behind the Castle and the Salt Box, two of the last remnants of Victorian-era Bunker Hill, in 1966
Union Bank Square rises behind "The Castle," one of the last remnants of Victorian-era Bunker Hill, in 1968. Photo courtesy of the William Reagh Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Union Bank Square building, circa 1968
Circa 1968 photo of the Union Bank Square building, courtesy of the Security Pacific National Bank Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Union Bank Square in 1969
Union Bank Square in 1969. Photo courtesy of the L. Mildred Harris Slide Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Aerial view of the Union Bank Square building in 1968
Aerial view of the Union Bank Square building in 1968, standing in front of a Bunker Hill cleared for redevelopment, courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

This article first appeared on the Los Angeles Magazine website on April 2, 2014. It has been updated here with additional images.

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