March 4, 2018 • Los Angeles
In Penstock Canyon, protagonist Mason sneaks into Fort Ronnie, a monstrous state office building in downtown LA that is, unfortunately, all too real. Constructed in the 1980s, architecturally it shows the worst of its era and echoes of even worse eras. It really is a blight on the city—along the street are shuttered windows and blank walls, alienating the passerby, shutting out the public, and creating urban blight. Take a look at photos of it here and you’ll see why it has been labeled fascist architecture—it seems designed to separate the individual from the massive power of the state. Using pink stone does nothing to reduce this effect. How difficult would it have been to put a bodega, a café, or a shoe store facing the street, so that walking past it didn’t feel like a stroll around Alcatraz?
Fascist regimes have intentionally built things like this, but it seems shameful that public money in a state like ours was used to create something so anti-people. A good example is the 1926 NRW Forum in Dusseldorf, built when the fascists were coming to power in Germany. Walking along the building is much like the Fort Ronnie experience—the windows are high overhead where you can’t look into them, but Big Brother can watch you; the stonework at sidewalk level reminds you that you are insignificant in the face of power (see the image).
Even buildings designed with the separation of people from power in mind, like the federal courthouse on Main Street, home to the U.S. Marshals and the probation department, strike a better balance of neoclassical and power vibes without alienating us.
If you’re downtown strolling around, check it out with a critical eye, unless you’re subject to nausea; it occupies almost the entire block between Spring and Main, and Third and Fourth streets. It’s probably unreasonable to suggest that a thirty-year-old office building be demolished and replaced with something more humane, but as long as Fort Ronnie stands, that whole neighborhood will be as boring and sterile as the inside of a rock.