County of Los Angeles, Hall of Records

Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997.

County of Los Angeles, Hall of Records


The site commands center stage in the east-west axis forming the civic heart of downtown Los Angeles. Sloping away for the south lies the rest of the older retail areas; to the east, City Hall; to the west, the Los Angeles Music Center and the remarkable 1964 Department of Water and Power. The site of the new Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank O. Gehry is two blocks away; diagonally across the street from the Hall of Records the city’s new cathedral by Jose Rafael Moneo is now quickly rising. The purpose of this large, primarily T-shaped structure, a purpose now extinct, was the administration and storage of county paper records, which explains why the stem of the T pointing south is a large sealed box, indicatively designed as 13 half-stories to compress space needed for the files. Neutra himself called attention to a Los Angeles Times article from 11 January, 1962 that called the $13 million, steel-framed building “the world’s largest filing cabinet.”

The arms of the T are dramatically different. On each of the south elevations flanking the box, were a series of 100′ high movable louvers operated electronically to “compensate for the rotation of the earth.” According to Neutra, their second function was actually to cool the window facades: solar gain on the louvers heated the metal, lifting the air and generating a “flue action.” Finally, along with the short louvers attached to the north side of the building, they were designed to cut down on “annoying side glare” for the office workers. The aluminum louvers could also shut tight when winds achieved a certain dangerous level. The exterior is clad in glass and off-white or brown glazed terracotta panels laid vertically, in other areas small mosaic tile and aluminum screens in a V-shaped pattern mimic the shape of their larger counterparts in a game of scale. On the north side, the building juts out in offices with balconies whose base and side are clad in bright red mosaic tile; just beyond to the west, a lily pond surrounds an 80-foot glass mosaic mural by Joseph Young. The most articulated portion of the building occurs at the roof in the “penthouse cafeteria.” Here there is more of Neutra’s signature play between planes and lines.

What is surprising years later is the Hall’s crispness of detail, a sharpness which stands out ever more strongly against the increasingly coarse detailing of new and neighboring buildings. Los Angeles County has never maintained the building with much care, the louvers are now stained and motionless, spattered with pigeon dong. Neutra never suggested his buildings were completely maintenance-free, often pointing out the annual white-washing of Greek houses which made them so brilliant in the sun as good role models … and so memorable for tourists.

Project Detail

Year Built


Project Architect

Neutra & Alexander with Honnold and Rex, Herman Charles Light and James Friend


County of Los Angeles


320 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA