Women have made a significant impact on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles for generations. From landmark event venues to Space Age restaurants and a pioneering LGBTQ nightclub, read on for locations where you can celebrate the legacy of extraordinary L.A. women.
Dorothy Buffum Chandler - The Music Center
One of the largest performing arts centers in the country, The Music Center includes four extraordinary venues (Ahmanson Theatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, Walt Disney Concert Hall) and is the home of four renowned resident companies – LA Phil, LA Opera, Center Theatre Group and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Music Center is also recognized for its acclaimed dance programming, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center.
The Pavilion is named for Dorothy Buffum Chandler, wife of Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler. A legendary patron of the arts, Mrs. Chandler almost single-handedly rescued the Hollywood Bowl from financial collapse with her “Save the Bowl” fundraising concerts in 1951. Beginning in 1955, Chandler raised almost $20 million in private donations for the construction of a permanent home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion opened on Dec. 6, 1964 with 28-year-old Zubin Mehta conducting the LA Phil in a program that included Jascha Heifetz, considered by many to be the greatest violinist of all time. Chandler was featured on the cover of the Dec. 18, 1964 issue of TIME magazine, which described her fundraising efforts as "perhaps the most impressive display of virtuoso money-raising and civic citizenship in the history of U.S. womanhood." The Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum opened in April 1967. Chandler was involved in the planning of Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003. Though Chandler passed away in 1997, her cultural legacy will continue to benefit L.A. for generations to come.
Lillian Disney - Walt Disney Concert Hall
Lillian Disney was an ink artist and married to Walt Disney from 1925 until his death in 1966. Lillian is famously credited with naming her husband's beloved cartoon character, Mickey Mouse. During a train trip from New York to California in 1928, Walt showed a drawing of "Mortimer Mouse" to Lillian, who said the name sounded "too depressing" and suggested "Mickey Mouse" instead of Mortimer.
In 1987, Lillian pledged a $50 million gift towards the construction of Walt Disney Concert Hall, which was designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2003, six years after her death. The Blue Ribbon Garden is the hidden rooftop garden at the Hall. One of the garden’s highlights is "A Rose for Lilly," the fountain that Gehry designed as a tribute to Lillian and her love for Royal Delft porcelain vases and roses. Lillian also helped fund the founding of the California Institute of the Arts (aka CalArts), which opened in 1971 and counts Tim Burton, Don Cheadle, Sofia Coppola and Academy Award winning Pixar animators among its many famous alumni.
Mary Pickford - The Theatre at Ace Hotel
Born Gladys Louise Smith in Toronto, Mary Pickford became world famous during the silent film era. Known in her prime as "America's Sweetheart," Pickford was much more than a movie star - she was one of the most important figures in young Hollywood. Along with Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, she co-founded the United Artists studio. Pickford was influential in the design of the flagship United Artists movie house, now known as The Theatre at Ace Hotel. She went on to produce films after she retired from acting in the early 1930s, and helped found both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Relief Fund. Pickford died in 1979 - the foundation that bears her name continues her philanthropic work.
Hotel Figueroa first opened in 1926 and originally served as an exclusive women's hostelry by the YWCA. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Downtown LA property was "financed, built and operated by and for femininity" and served as a haven for women travelers. Maude Bouldin was the hotel’s first managing director and is also recognized as the country’s first-ever female managing director.
In February 2018, Hotel Figueroa re-opened following an extensive renovation. Bella Gomez's stunning 12-story mural is an homage to the hotel's feminist roots and its ongoing support of the arts - Hotel Figueroa showcases the work of LA-based female artists and culture-makers, ranging from emerging to internationally established talents.
The hotel's Wellness programs include synchronized swimming classes created by the world-renowned Aqualillies; and daily outdoor Pilates and Yoga classes developed by Pamela Johnson, founder of The Bridge Mind Body Movement.
The Woman's Building
Founded in 1973 by artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven, the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) was one of the first independent art schools for women in the country. FSW originally opened in a space near MacArthur Park that they named The Woman's Building, an homage to a building designed by pioneering architect Sophia Hayden at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. FSW helped women develop their artistic skills and knowledge outside a traditional educational environment, and organized, sponsored and fostered numerous programs, activities and artist groups. Described by the Los Angeles Conservancy as "a cornerstone in late twentieth century lesbian and feminist culture," The Woman's Building became a "feminist mecca," housing other key organizations like the Sisterhood Bookstore, the Associated Women's Press, local chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Women's Liberation Union, and three galleries: Womanspace Gallery, Gallery 707 and Grandview. In 1975, FSW moved to a warehouse space on Spring Street in Downtown L.A. FSW operated from this building until the center closed in 1991.
Thanks to efforts by the Los Angeles Conservancy and community members, The Woman's Building was designated a Historic-Cultural Monument in June 2018.
Biddy Mason Memorial Park
Located near the historic Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A., Biddy Mason Memorial Park is dedicated to Bridget “Biddy” Mason, a former enslaved person who became a noted philanthropist and a founding member of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mason won her freedom in 1856 and settled in Los Angeles to work as a midwife. Ten years later, she bought a house where she operated an orphanage and eventually founded the city’s First A.M.E. Church on land she had purchased and then donated to the church. The park features a timeline that traces her remarkable life.
Christine Wetherill Stevenson - The Ford
An heiress of the Pittsburgh Paint Company and a patron of the arts, Christine Wetherill Stevenson had a vision to open an open-air theatre and produce her own plays. Stevenson realized her dream in 1920, when she opened the Pilgrimage Theatre and staged The Pilgrimage Play, her adaptation of the life of Christ. Stevenson died suddenly in 1922 - the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument (aka the Great Hollywood Cross) was erected in her memory a year later. Her play would continue to be performed every summer until 1929, when the original wooden structure was destroyed by a brush fire in October.
A new theatre, built on the same site with poured concrete and designed to evoke the gates of Jerusalem, opened in 1931. The Pilgrimage Play was performed there until 1964, interrupted only by World War II. The land was deeded to L.A. County in 1941. In 1976, the Pilgrimage Theatre was renamed the John Anson Ford Theatre in honor of the late L.A. County Supervisor and his important contributions to the arts in Los Angeles. Today, The Ford is one of L.A.'s top outdoor venues, hosting a wide range of cultural performances.
Jewel-Thais Williams - Catch One (Jewel’s Catch One)
Located on the border of Koreatown in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, Catch One is one of L.A.'s top nightclubs, featuring a wide-ranging lineup of electronic, hip hop, indie dance, metal and rock. Catch One was originally known as Jewel’s Catch One. Opened in 1973, Jewel’s was the first exclusively gay and lesbian disco for African Americans in the country. During the club's 40-year heyday, owner Jewel-Thais Williams welcomed everyone from Rick James and Madonna to the "Queen of Disco," Sylvester. To honor her contributions to the LGBT community, Thais-Williams was named the Grand Marshall of the 2016 LA PRIDE Parade & Festival in West Hollywood.
Helen Liu Fong - Norms & Pann's
Googie architecture developed and thrived in Los Angeles, where car culture lent itself to buildings and signage that was noticeable to those those driving along the city streets. One of the pioneers of this style was architect and interior designer Helen Liu Fong. Born in Chinatown, Fong went to work for the firm Armet & Davis, who were responsible for many iconic mid-20th century diners. She worked on projects like the landmark NORMS restaurant on La Cienega, Pann's in Inglewood, and Johnie's in the Miracle Mile. Located at Wilshire and Fairfax, Johnie's is a former coffee shop and popular film location, appearing in The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs and more.
Judy Baca - "The Great Wall of Los Angeles"
In a December 2021 Los Angeles Times article, Carolina A. Miranda wrote, "There are few artists who can claim they have shaped the literal landscape of Los Angeles. Artist Judy Baca is one of them." A world-class visual artist and co-founder of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), Baca is best known for The Great Wall of Los Angeles, a monumental half-mile long mural that depicts the history of California.
Painted on the west wall of the Tujunga Flood Control Channel in North Hollywood, The Great Wall of Los Angeles is one of the largest murals in the world - more than 13 feet high and stretching 2,754 feet. The mural is bounded by Oxnard Street to the north, Coldwater Canyon Boulevard to the east, Burbank Boulevard to the south, and the Coldwater Canyon Extension (aka Lancer Lane) to the west. Painted from 1974 to 1984 by more than 400 youth and their families from diverse backgrounds, the mural is arranged in chronological segments from prehistoric times through the 1960s. According to the National Park Service, the scenes "emphasize the role played by Native Americans, Latinos (focusing on those with Mexican heritage, sometimes self-identified as Chicano/a), African Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish Americans in creating California’s culture." The Great Wall of Los Angeles was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2017.
A $5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will double the mural's length and extend its timeline through 2020. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2028, in time for the Summer Olympics.
Wallis Annenberg is Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of the L.A.-based Annenberg Foundation, which provides funding and support to nonprofit organizations in the United States and globally. Annenberg has also spearheaded the opening of cultural venues such as the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, which closed in 2020. Other projects include the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, and the Annenberg Community Beach House, a free public swim and gathering facility in Santa Monica.
Norma Merrick Sklarek - Pacific Design Center
A trailblazing architect, Norma Merrick Sklarek's work spread across Los Angeles, from Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport to the Pacific Design Center and the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. When she earned her California architect license in 1962, she was the first black woman to do so in this state. (She had already earned a license in New York, where she was previously employed). Sklarek enjoyed a long career in architecture, but it was not an easy one; the L.A. Times obituary that ran after her 2012 death noted that Sklarek dealt with racist and sexist attitudes in her field. She went on to co-found an all-female firm in the mid 1980s and was ultimately elected to the American Institute of Architecture College of Fellows.
Marilyn Monroe - Van Nuys Airport
Spanning more than 730 acres of land, Van Nuys Airport (VNY) is located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley and is renowned as one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world. One of the first female flyers, Bobbi Trout set an endurance record in 1929 flying her Golden Eagle monoplane in circles over the airport for 12 hours, 11 minutes without refueling. Later that year, Amelia Earhart set a speed record of 184 mph. The following year, in October 1930, Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes beat Earhart’s record at 196.19 mph. Flying a Sunbeam bi-plane out of Metropolitan Airport in November 1929, Trout (as Van Nuys was known then) and Elinor Smith would set the first official women's record for endurance with mid-air refueling.
In June 1945, a curly-haired redhead named Norma Jeane Dougherty was working on a drone assembly line at the airport’s military factory when she was photographed for a story about war workers in Yank magazine. As legend has it, Norma Jeane secured a screen test as a result of the photo, reinvented herself as Marilyn Monroe, and the rest is history.