The hustle and bustle of Downtown Los Angeles faded, as the strumming of a guitar performed a soft rock song over the speakers and set the tone for the afternoon. People disappeared into aisles and others emerged from another section, scouring every shelf carefully, hoping not to miss something great. Some clutched their findings and sat in the main area, nestled into the leather chairs and couches of red, blue and green. A standstill wave, a living sculpture of books layered over each other, hovered over the first floor of The Last Bookstore.
Even a book lover may find it overwhelming, but it doesn’t take long before one is absorbed into this most unconventional bookstore. For one thing, books are not their only forte.
“[My friend] keeps taking me here, it’s a cool place to kick back,” said customer Daniel Puc. “I mostly come for movies and music, my favorites being like horror and rock n roll”.
Yes, even a bookstore keeps people coming back for non-book findings.
This is apparent with the people parading in the somewhat enclosed section that held comic books, their vividly colorful covers and graphics an immediate invite to any fan that happens to wander past. Across the way, big windows let in the outside just enough for the music section-mostly vinyl. Worn and tattered or sleek and glossy, the vinyl sleeves were like art. The red and blue records stuck on the windows glowed onto it all, with green plants placed throughout, even sprouting out of a record player or two.
The children’s section held everything practically, from unfortunate sequels from Snicket to iconic wordplay and illustrations from Seuss, nothing missed the mark here. The books were vintage, practically wilted, but somehow still as vibrant as ever, emitting a warm comfort like one’s childhood bedroom. So much so that one could almost ignore the Trump coloring book that lay on a nearby ottoman.
In the corner of this section, a dimly lit room was almost missed, with a sign that read “Rare Books”. It’s door was that of a bank vault, with golden bolts throughout (which makes sense since the whole building was once a prominent bank). Inside, the heavy smell of parchment permeates throughout the room with creaky wooden floors, with the two lights in the room partially reflected onto them; almost any book-lover’s dream. At any moment it felt like one would find a secret passageway in there, but even though that wasn’t the case, taking one’s hand over the fabric spines with titles of another time was a journey itself, as the hand met Steinbeck or possibly even an aging encyclopedia Britannica.
The first floor seemed to contain the bulk of it all, such as the classics, film, philosophy, and mythology. But towards the back near the information desk, a doorway led to the staircase to the alluring second floor. The railing that overlooked the store was of mangled and twisted rod and wire, almost like a metallic spider web. But this wasn’t the only curious and wondrously odd aspect of the famous second floor.
The steps were painted, foreshadowing the sections one would encounter once up there. On the landing, a box with mini Oscar statues around it and little puppets inside could be seen. By the time the top was reached, look straight ahead, and no walls could be seen.
Stacks upon stacks of books were there in the entrance room, including a circular book window that offered a peep into the upcoming room, and almost put the rabbit hole Alice looked down, to shame. Steps away was the Instagram famous rounded tunnel of books, resembling a paper version of a majestic pipeline wave in Hawaii. Rest assured, one had reached book paradise.
More people it seemed, wandered up there, some for photo ops but others still perusing the ever more extensive selections as well. It seemed like there would be no escape from these two giant rooms of covers and spines, including one that had a wooden wall with a little window looking in at a little reading nook. Towards the corner, away from the sculptures and partially open windows that let the city trickle in, a little doorless doorway with steps, led down to a white room.
It wasn’t just a white room, it was a white hallway that was the beginning of the not so well known art galleries and shops hidden away up there. On the left, abstract art hung on the walls, such as paintings with pigment streaked figures or colored sand images of adorable figures. But on the right, there were rooms with windows that gave away the artists themselves. One of them was Liz Huston, who sat at her desk, with her mythical and mystic-like work surrounding her.
“I do mostly painting, oil painting is my favorite,” said Huston. “I treat each of my paintings like stories, and it’s always been a dream of mine, I’ve always loved to work in the arts.”
After these studios, and another couple of walls of art, it had come full circle and back to the staircase that took it all back to reality.
The first floor still buzzed, and the information desk was not very busy. Alan Traylor, a clerk, browsed his computer.
“It’s a big place, but a lot of people come here for the book tunnel and window,” Traylor said. “I really like the people I work with though.”
There was hardly a line for checkout, and despite the signs that read “We are not a library”, nonetheless, people still held the books carefully as they skimmed excerpts. The city was in here, a literary city with people of different walks of life.
“Books are a huge gift to a city, not just this city but any city,” Huston said.
After leaving The Last Bookstore, one almosts forgets that they are still in Los Angeles, a city it seems that has a marriage of history and the cutting edge. But this bookstore, its survival, its thriving nature, lives with the nostalgia it yields. Be it from the smell of the books or just the community feel away from the metropolis rush, it lets you take a priceless vacation with every book or record or movie you stumble upon, even if just for a bit.