The 10 best '99% Invisible' episodes about Los Angeles


Every day we come into contact with strange yet mundane sightings that we just take for granted: helicopters ceaselessly circling, those ugly diamond-shaped bolts on buildings and underground art. But 99% Invisible doesn't let those things pass by. The popular podcast dedicates bite-sized episodes to unnoticed architecture and design elements in everyday life. 99% Invisible—along with CriminalSong Exploder and seven other podcasts—will be appearing at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Wednesday, May 4, as part of Radiotopia Live. In anticipation of the live show, we decided to pick our 10 favorite episodes of 99% Invisible that take place in or pertain to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles used to have an amazing, extensive railway network, but it was torn up in favor of freeways thanks to Judge Doom—no, wait, that's the plot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But ask anyone about the dismantling of the Red Car network and you're likely to hear a similar conspiracy theory about auto industry schemes and corporate greed. This episode traces the history of the rail lines, from Henry Huntington to the rise of the automobile, to prove that the conspiracy may just be a myth.

Downtown commuters can attest to the fact that the 110 freeway's signs for the 5, 101, 10 and 60 exits may be the most confusing and poorly designed junctions in the entire city. Artist Richard Ankrom noticed, too, and decided to take matters into his own hands back in 2001—and it worked.

The Bradbury Building, one of Downtown's oldest and arguably most beautiful buildings, has doubled as everything from a moody ruin in Blade Runner to a chocolate factory in a Twix commercial. But the stunning structure's aesthetics aren't its only draw for the film industry—this episode traces its mystical history and foggy future.

Wallace Neff was responsible for designing movie stars' estates in his 1930s, but his oddest contribution to architecture still stands in Pasadena: a 1,000-square-foot concrete bubble house.

Maybe you've used Santa Monica's and Silver Lake's public staircases for a workout. Charles Fleming used them to write a book and conduct tours.

Palm trees are everywhere in LA, but that doesn't stop people from uprooting and stealing entire trees. Why? That has to do with the history of the tropical trees and what they've come to signify.

Take an LA police scanner, play some ambient music over it and display them both over a twinkly photo of the city: That's the basic concept behind the hypnotic site You Are Listening to Los Angeles, which has its history and inner workings detailed here.

Free parking is never free—that's the lesson learned from this short talk with UCLA professor and legendary parking guru Donald Shoup.

When we're standing in line at Trader Joe's or Eggslut, we're probably thinking more about our hunger than theories of queuing. While this episode isn't LA-specific, it does discuss Disneyland's Imagineers and their mastery of line design.

You've probably seen those inflatable wavey arm guys at car dealerships and gas stations, but where did they come from? Their story starts with a Caribbean island, Olympic ceremony plans and an epiphany during a test at an LA stadium.

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