Literary Tourism: The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California

Literary Tourism: The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California

A couple of weeks ago, I celebrated my 28th birthday by visiting my best friend Ethan in LA and I couldn’t pass up the plentiful opportunities for book nerdery!

I tend to do my literary tourism series where one post is dedicated to a whole city, but that’s just not going to work for LA. I went to four bookstores while there, as well as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and have over 100 pictures. And those are just the good ones––I took more.

Plus, The Last Book Store is perhaps the most bookishly Instagrammable place I’ve ever been, so it needs its own post. Keep reading; it won’t be hard to convince you why.

The Last Bookstore is in downtown LA in a massive building that formerly housed a bank. It takes up the better part of a city block and several of the bank’s quirks, like the vaults, are still visible and have been put to beautiful use by the bookstore.

My friend and my best friend’s partner, Kyle, accompanied me on the trip and helped me capture the magic. AKA, followed me around the store, waiting patiently to take my picture while I tried not to cry tears of joy.

 [image description: the store window of The Last Bookstore. The window has potted plants at the bottom and is reflecting the building across the street and has “The Last Bookstore” painted in gold lettering.]

[image description: the store window of The Last Bookstore. The window has potted plants at the bottom and is reflecting the building across the street and has “The Last Bookstore” painted in gold lettering.]

The first thing you do when you walk in is look up. The ceiling is two stories high, adding a majestic air to the space. As if bookstores weren’t majestic enough on their own.

 [image description: Inside The Last Bookstore, there’s a huge sculpture made of books on the wall. It’s books fashioned into a huge wave that spans across the upper wall on one side of the store. Below the sculpture is the store window and the t-shirt display.]

[image description: Inside The Last Bookstore, there’s a huge sculpture made of books on the wall. It’s books fashioned into a huge wave that spans across the upper wall on one side of the store. Below the sculpture is the store window and the t-shirt display.]

One of the first things I immediately noticed about The Last Bookstore is that they value visual art just as much as books and they don’t think that books are too sacred to make epic sculptures out of.

Ironically, this added an even more reverential air to the store. The sculptures are truly beautiful, born of love, not some misguided desire to destroy books, and you can’t help but be drawn in by them.

 [image description: The comics and graphic novel section of The Last Bookstores. There’s a vintage sign hanging overhead that reads “Secret Headquarters Dungeon Dungeon.”]

[image description: The comics and graphic novel section of The Last Bookstores. There’s a vintage sign hanging overhead that reads “Secret Headquarters Dungeon Dungeon.”]

The Last Bookstore also has a sense of humor. The marquee going into the comics and graphic section for one. But the best part was the sign you see upon exiting this same section (and I regret forgetting to get a picture of this!). It says something to the effect of “Please do not remove the books from this section unless you’re planning on buying the damn thing.”

 [image description: One of the old bank vaults in The Last Bookstore that’s been repurposed into a room with old books. It’s dimly lit and there are two benches in the middle for people to sit and read.]

[image description: One of the old bank vaults in The Last Bookstore that’s been repurposed into a room with old books. It’s dimly lit and there are two benches in the middle for people to sit and read.]

This is one of those bank vaults that has been repurposed into a reading room. It seems appropriate that old books are in a cozy, cute little room of their own.

 [image description: One of the many bookshelf sculptures in The Last Bookstore. This one is a handful of wooden crates made into a shelf sitting on mannequin legs. Piano hammers extend outward from the boxes like sun rays. There’s a small painting of the Madonna and child at the top of the sculpture where the head would be.]

[image description: One of the many bookshelf sculptures in The Last Bookstore. This one is a handful of wooden crates made into a shelf sitting on mannequin legs. Piano hammers extend outward from the boxes like sun rays. There’s a small painting of the Madonna and child at the top of the sculpture where the head would be.]

 [image description: Another book sculpture. This one is a writing desk with a globe and typewriter with a long stream of paper coming from the typewriter and curling into the air.]

[image description: Another book sculpture. This one is a writing desk with a globe and typewriter with a long stream of paper coming from the typewriter and curling into the air.]

 [image description: another look at the aforementioned book sculpture. This angle shows that the ream of paper curling from the typewriter extends to the ceiling and curls around the ceiling into the stairwell.]

[image description: another look at the aforementioned book sculpture. This angle shows that the ream of paper curling from the typewriter extends to the ceiling and curls around the ceiling into the stairwell.]

These book sculptures were my favorite. And after the wedding crafts I did with old copies of Reader’s Digest, I’m feeling a little inspired to recreate these in my house… But I’d have to give up some of my beloved shelf space for books I actually want to read, so that’s the only thing that’s stopping me.

 [image description: Another book sculpture where the shelf is oddly shaped––small at the bottom, angular and large at the top. It’s packed with old books and other books are placed to look like birds flying off the shelf. There’s also a sculpture of a trash can piled high with balls of crumpled paper in a teetering pyramid.]

[image description: Another book sculpture where the shelf is oddly shaped––small at the bottom, angular and large at the top. It’s packed with old books and other books are placed to look like birds flying off the shelf. There’s also a sculpture of a trash can piled high with balls of crumpled paper in a teetering pyramid.]

 [image description: An up close look at the aforementioned sculpture. The books open like birds are more clearly visible.]

[image description: An up close look at the aforementioned sculpture. The books open like birds are more clearly visible.]

 [image description: A bird’s eye view of the lower floor of the bookstore from the balcony of the bookstore. There are large fluted columns from floor to ceiling, the massive book sculpture across the back wall, rows and rows of books, and shoppers browsing throughout.]

[image description: A bird’s eye view of the lower floor of the bookstore from the balcony of the bookstore. There are large fluted columns from floor to ceiling, the massive book sculpture across the back wall, rows and rows of books, and shoppers browsing throughout.]

This view! I told you this place was majestic!

 [image description: A low ramp with arcs of books overhead. I’m standing on the ramp with my arms outstretched, smiling up at the books. I’m a white woman of average height and build, with long hair, wearing jeans, sandals, and a gray tank top.]

[image description: A low ramp with arcs of books overhead. I’m standing on the ramp with my arms outstretched, smiling up at the books. I’m a white woman of average height and build, with long hair, wearing jeans, sandals, and a gray tank top.]

And of course I went for the obligatory Instagram shot. You’ve probably seen this book arch all over the internet, but it was too cool not to experience for myself.

 [image description: A view of the back of the aforementioned archway of books over the ramp. It’s a wall of stacked books, curving from the top of wide, low shelf at the bottom to the wall where it meets the ceiling on the other side.]

[image description: A view of the back of the aforementioned archway of books over the ramp. It’s a wall of stacked books, curving from the top of wide, low shelf at the bottom to the wall where it meets the ceiling on the other side.]

 [image description: A piece of book art on the wall in front of an old air grate. It’s a soldier, similar in appearance to those in World War I (dressed in all brown with a rifle with a bayonet slung over his shoulder), holding a stack of books that’s nearly as tall as he is.]

[image description: A piece of book art on the wall in front of an old air grate. It’s a soldier, similar in appearance to those in World War I (dressed in all brown with a rifle with a bayonet slung over his shoulder), holding a stack of books that’s nearly as tall as he is.]

It looks so basic compared to the other pieces of art all over The Last Bookstore, but THIS piece is my favorite. It speaks to me because, even as a little kid, I’ve always known that books could change the world and the education paves the way for peace.

I think the world would be a better place if we replaced weapons of mass destruction with weapons of mass education. Books, not bombs. Books, not guns.

 [image description: The back of a bookshelf that was decorated with windows, wood panels, shingles, and picture frames. It’s all in a hodgepodge, like a collage of wood.]

[image description: The back of a bookshelf that was decorated with windows, wood panels, shingles, and picture frames. It’s all in a hodgepodge, like a collage of wood.]

 '[image description: A bookshelf with a window built into it. Just one of the many artistic touches in The Last Bookstore.]

'[image description: A bookshelf with a window built into it. Just one of the many artistic touches in The Last Bookstore.]

 [image descriptions: One of the hanging sculptures above the bookshelves. This one is a string of globes, magnifying glasses, and dart boards hanging from the ceiling.]

[image descriptions: One of the hanging sculptures above the bookshelves. This one is a string of globes, magnifying glasses, and dart boards hanging from the ceiling.]

 [image description: A yellow sign on the wall with black text that reads, “Labyrinth above The Last Bookstore.” Then below, the words, “Spring Arts Collective,” referring to the artist retail spaces the bookstore rents out to local artists.]

[image description: A yellow sign on the wall with black text that reads, “Labyrinth above The Last Bookstore.” Then below, the words, “Spring Arts Collective,” referring to the artist retail spaces the bookstore rents out to local artists.]

The labyrinth is where most of the art is, including the book arch and the cool shelves. It’s like a winding maze into a wonderland of books. It sounds cliche to say it’s magic, but it’s hard to describe it with honesty any other way.

 [image description: A sculpture built into a bookshelf. It’s a series of portholes, dials, radio knobs, switches, and gages all put together haphazardly.]

[image description: A sculpture built into a bookshelf. It’s a series of portholes, dials, radio knobs, switches, and gages all put together haphazardly.]

 [image description: A sculpture built into a bookshelf. In this one, it’s old books laid on their sides and arranged in a way to make a circular window through the bookshelf. The photo is of me as seen through the window of books. I’m smiling at the photographer.]

[image description: A sculpture built into a bookshelf. In this one, it’s old books laid on their sides and arranged in a way to make a circular window through the bookshelf. The photo is of me as seen through the window of books. I’m smiling at the photographer.]

 [image description: Another view of the lower floor of the bookstore as seen from the balcony. There are fluted columns from floor to ceiling, rows of bookshelves and tables full of books, and a number of red leather chairs, some of which have customers resting in them. There’s a large taxidermic elephant head on the wall, which I hope is fake.]

[image description: Another view of the lower floor of the bookstore as seen from the balcony. There are fluted columns from floor to ceiling, rows of bookshelves and tables full of books, and a number of red leather chairs, some of which have customers resting in them. There’s a large taxidermic elephant head on the wall, which I hope is fake.]

I don’t know if the elephant head is real or not, but I really hope not.

 

I don’t much believe in competition, as I believe there’s always more room at the top and always more room for cool stuff. But if I had to pick a new favorite bookstore… The Last Bookstore takes the cake. I say that because it’s a bookstore, but it’s also an experience.

One of the many reasons book nerds read is because they want to be whisked away into a new reality. For a bookstore to recreate that experience is beyond lovely. If you ever get the chance to go, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

And of course I bought a book! Eve Babitz is one of the quintessential LA writers, so I went with her recently reissued novel Sex & Rage.

 
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