An upcoming exhibition in Los Angeles focuses on the projects that were designed and proposed but never actually came to pass — including a robust public transit system, greenbelts, a Santa Monica Causeway... and a Tower of Civilization. It's a fascinating look at paths not taken in urban development.

Curators Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell drew on plans preserved in the city's archives for the exhibit at the Architecture and Design Museum. The exhibit is organized geographically, according to the real layout of the city, so if you stand "downtown," you'll see Frank Lloyd Wright's vision for an "acropolis of the city," in place of the Civic Center that actually sits there.


According to an article at KCET:

The product of more than two years of research, the exhibition — as well as a companion book, due out from Metropolis Books on April 30 — highlights architectural designs for both the public and private realms that would have transformed the way Los Angeles looks, functions, and thinks about itself. Goldin and Lubell scoured the archival collections of dozens of institutions — many of them L.A. as Subject members — in their search for unrealized proposals.

The earliest is Horace Dobbins' California Cycleway, an elevated, wooden bicycle path that would have connected Pasadena to Los Angeles. (Only a small, 1.25-mile stretch was ever completed.) Among the more recent is a 2002 design by Steven Holl for the Natural History Museum.

In many cases, Goldin said, the failures are a product of a decentralized city government that pits institutions against one another.

"That's a formula for not getting things done," he said. "It cedes a lot of power to developers and people with money. So they end up largely calling the shots."


Every decade brought a different plan for a rapid transit system that could grow with the city, starting in the 1920s, but one particularly strong plan was defeated after the Los Angeles Times editorialized aggressively against "the ugliness of elevated trains." You can see tons of proposals, dating from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, here. Meanwhile, the Santa Monica Causeway, pictured above, would have extended the Pacific Coast Freeway and created an artificial harbor.

Check out some of our favorite images from the show below, and more over at KCET:


Nearly 1,300 feet tall and built partly out of magnesium, the Tower of Civilization would have soared over the grounds of the Los Angeles World's Fair.

Lloyd Wright's plan for the Los Angeles Civic Center.


The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew plan, with greenbelts and parkways along with new parks and open spaces.

Harlan Georgescu's Sky Lots, which would have been build in downtown LA in 1964


1925 plan for a rapid transit system that could grow along with the city.

A 2002 plan for a Natural History Museum.