Downtown Los Angeles boasts one of the most magical bookstores in the country, if not the world. The Last Bookstore inspires readers and travelers alike to make the trek to downtown Los Angeles and immerse themselves in this literary haven.
A diverse selection of titles spans two floors, the second of which is a labyrinth of wonder; tunnels and passageways are made of old books, interspersed with art and riveting tales. For seven years, The Last Bookstore has existed within a historic bank building, drawing repeat visits from locals and curious tourists alike.
The Last Bookstore was founded by Josh Spencer in 2005, at which point it was functioning out of a loft in downtown Los Angeles. Spencer had already been selling books and other items online, so the shop was a tangible extension of the business he’d already been running. In 2009, The Last Bookstore moved into a small retail space at 4th and Main, before uprooting again in 2011 for a much larger space within the Spring Arts Tower at 5th and Spring.
The Spring Arts Tower is considered a historic building, opening in 1914. At the time of construction, the Los Angeles Times reported that the building – which cost more than $1,000,000 – was “planned by Architects Parkinson and Bergstrom and is being built by the Commercial Fireproof Building Company, as owner.” According to the report, the block would extend to full legal height, with a frontage of 155 feet (47.2 meters) on Fifth Street by 115 feet (35 meters) on Spring. “On the eleven upper floors will be 450 offices. The exterior will be handsomely faced with terra cotta, and the interior is to be finished in marble and tile.”
The original tenant was Citizens National Bank, which took over the basement and first three floors. In 1963, Citizens merged with Crocker-Anglo Bank, becoming Crocker-Citizens Bank. Though Crocker was acquired by Wells Fargo in the 1980s, visitors may note that the Crocker name still lives on in the building, in the form of The Crocker Club, a subterranean nightclub that still boasts the original bank vault.
The Last Bookstore is massive, taking up 22,000 square feet (2,044 square meters) of the building. With this much room for retail, there’s not much the discerning book lover won’t find here. In the front lobby, budgeters can browse shelves of used books on sale for but a buck each. The first floor is where new fiction and non-fiction titles are on display, as well as magazines and a selection of records. Unique items are kept in a rare-books annex, while young adults and children have their own sections. Graphic novels and comics are housed in an alcove known as Dungeon Dungeon, the sister shop of Silver Lake comic shop The Secret Headquarters.
Those who venture to the second-floor mezzanine will find a maze of genre fiction, including the “vault of horror,” and more non-fiction. This area is also where the endlessly Instagrammed sculptures made from books can be found, including a whimsical tunnel and a curious portal.
“The artwork is meant to stimulate the imagination and creative juices, just like the books much of it is made from,” Spencer told LAist in a 2016 interview.
Wander far enough, and the store soon shifts into the Spring Arts Collective Galleries, where customers can peruse art or purchase local works and gifts.
Though The Last Bookstore is something of a cheeky name, it may be a portent for things to come. It is one of the few remaining places in downtown Los Angeles where customers can browse and purchase actual bound books. Nearby Caravan Book Store announced its closure after 64 years in early 2018. Other downtown shops include Hennessey + Ingalls, which specializes in books on art and architecture; Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya; and Twenty Stories, which features 20 titles at a time, all housed in a van that is occasionally parked downtown.
The Last Bookstore maintains a robust event calendar of signings, lectures, performances and several monthly book clubs in a variety of interests and genres, including true crime, horror, feminism, local authors and obscure Victorian literature.