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Meet the man who miniaturized LA's formerly iconic landmarks




Saddened by the demolition of Richfield Tower, Gerald Cox began to craft a miniaturized version of it. It was the first of many that he's made over the years.
Saddened by the demolition of Richfield Tower, Gerald Cox began to craft a miniaturized version of it. It was the first of many that he's made over the years.
Julian Burrell
Saddened by the demolition of Richfield Tower, Gerald Cox began to craft a miniaturized version of it. It was the first of many that he's made over the years.
Gerald Cox crafted the Watts Towers before even getting to see them in person. He used photographs as his reference points.
Julian Burrell
Saddened by the demolition of Richfield Tower, Gerald Cox began to craft a miniaturized version of it. It was the first of many that he's made over the years.
The Formosa cafe was almost up for demolition until there was enough of an outcry to save it.
Julian Burrell/KPCC


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Many would consider Los Angeles to be a city with an eye on the future. A lot of old landmarks have been demolished or altered to make room for something new.

Some enjoy that change. Others have a greater taste for tradition.

"Los Angeles doesn't appreciate what it has, in my estimation," says Gerald Cox from Glendora. "They're too anxious to tear down the past, and they just build on the same location."

Cox has a big appreciation for L.A. history, especially the old buildings.

"Los Angeles architecture is special," he say

One of his favorites is the old Richfield Oil Company Building, also known as the Richfield Tower. In the mid-20th century the structure was a massive symbol of industry located in Downtown L.A. — it had a black-and-gold paint scheme with a wire frame tower on top.

"It was so iconic," Cox says. "And I remember in '55 the first time I drove through Los Angeles. It was at night. And that was one of the buildings you could see."

In 1968, demolition began on the Richfield building. For Cox, it was like saying good-bye to an old friend.

"I wanted to remember it, and so I started constructing it," he says.

That's right, Cox rebuilt the Richfield tower — as a miniature model. It was the first of roughly 20 miniature models of Los Angeles landmarks he's built over the years. Take Two's A Martinez joined him at his home in Glendale to see a bunch of the models in person.

Building his first building

The Richfield Building is one of the largest models in Cox's home. A roughly 1/8-scale version of the original — including the paint job, the angels around the rim, and the tower — is carefully constructed to a striking resemblance.

"I did not know how to construct the tower," Cox says. "And then I was in a hobby shop up in Pasadena and I saw this plastic ... bridge or something. And I thought I could utilize that."

Cox even went so far as to coat the lettering tower with neon paint to give it a glow. "It lights up if I have a blacklight on it."

Normally, his models are made of wood, plastic and paper. But Cox also goes out of his way to use other materials in unexpected places.

"Finding the materials is like the hunt," he says. "Some of the materials, you never know where you're going to find them."

The goal of miniaturizing the past

Cox says that his goal isn't to create an entire miniature form of Los Angeles. "Someone told me it would take about 20 square miles to do that," he says.

Rather, he just wants Angelenos to take a moment to notice the value of what's around them.

"L.A. has many architectural styles and they're interesting. It's part of our history and I hate to see it just tossed away."

And while he acknowledges the notion to only think in forward terms and that the past is just a distraction, he respectfully disagrees.

"I believe in moving forward, but I don't believe we have to plow up the past," Cox says. "I don't feel that everything should be saved. But I think that we should save things that could be passed on so that younger generations can see what it was like in the past.

Cox is also the subject of a new mini-documentary by filmmaker Matthew Arnold-Ladensack . It's entitled "LA// 1:87". 

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above.