Things to Do in Downtown Los Angeles

USA, California, Los Angeles, cityscape, aerial view
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    Downtown Los Angeles Photo Tour

    Unlike other large cities, many people visit Los Angeles without ever setting foot Downtown. That's a shame, since Downtown LA is rich with historic architecture and cultural attractions, not to mention sports and entertainment complexes. This slide show gives you a preview of some of the cool things to do in Downtown Los Angeles that are worth a visit.

    For the rest of Los Angeles, check out our guide to Things to Do in LA

    Find a hotel in Downtown LA

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    Visit El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument at Olvera Street

    Shopping in Olvera Street
    ••• Museimage/Getty Images

    El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, also known simply as Olvera Street, is the location of the oldest remaining structure in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe. The building itself is often overlooked, since people are primarily drawn to Olvera Street for its Mexican Marketplace that offers a cleaned-up taste of old Mexico. It is the home of the LA Plaza de Cultural y Artes museum of Los Angeles history and The Chinese American Museum

    Olvera Street is a one-block pedestrian zone across from Union Station, which is served by the Red and Gold Lines of the Metro.

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    Visit OUE Skyspace LA for the Skyslide or Just the View

    The Skyslide at OUE Skyspace LA
    ••• The Skyslide at OUE Skyspace LA. Kayte Deioma

    Most major cities have an observation deck on top of a skyscraper. Los Angeles finally has one too. OUE Skyspace LA is a pair of observation decks on the 69th floor of the tallest building in LA, the US Bank Tower in the Downtown LA Financial District. 

    To go beyond the typical observation deck experience, OUE installed a glass sliding board from the 70th to the 69th floor. It's only a 2 to 3-second slide, but you can't beat the view.

    More on Skyspace LA

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    Visit the Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angeles

    The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles
    ••• Iwan Baan/Courtesy of The Broad

    The Broad, pronounced Brode, is a new contemporary art museum opening September 20, 2015 on Grand Avenue, next to the Walt Disney Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles.  Built by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, the 120,000 square foot museum will house their personal and Foundation art collections of over 2,000 works by more than 200 artists.

    Read more about The Broad.

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    See a Show at the Disney Concert Hall and the LA Music Center

    Walt Disney Concert Hall
    ••• Oleg Korshakov/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Music Center consists of the three original theaters that are home to the city's drama, dance and opera companies, as well as the more recently added Disney Concert Hall, which is the home of the LA Philharmonic. There are self-guided audio tours of the Disney Concert Hall, as well as daily guided tours of the Music Center.

    The best way to see the theatres is to see a show, from the LA Philharmonic at the Disney Concert Hall, the Los Angeles Ballet or Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or live theatre at the Mark Taper Forum or Ahmanson Theatre.

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    Grand Central Market in Downtown LA

    Grand Central Market, Downtown.
    ••• Lonely Planet/Getty Images

    Grand Central Market is an indoor public market that extends from Hill Street to Broadway at 3rd Street in Downtown LA.  The market has been open continuously since 1917. It has always housed a mix of greengrocers, butchers, delis, bakers and prepared food vendors. In recent years, offerings have gone from "fresh, local" to "artisanal and gourmet," sometimes referring to the same vendors with a new spin, but more often reflecting trendy newcomers.

    When I first visited the Grand Central Market a couple decades ago, shoppers were predominantly Latino and Asian families from the neighborhood. Now they're joined by hipsters of every background who are part of the new Downtown lifestyle. 

    Traditionally, Grand Central Market has closed early, but in mid-2014, they extended hours Thursday through Saturday from 8 am to 9 pm for dinner. the rest of the week, hours are 8 am to 6 pm. 

    Check out Traditions and New Trends at Grand Central Market

    Nearby: 

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    Visit the GRAMMY Museum in Downtown LA

    Media Preview Day For 'The Taylor Swift Experience' At The GRAMMY Museum
    ••• Michael Tullberg / Contributor/Getty Images

    The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles presents the history of recorded music and the history of the GRAMMY Awards that recognize the best in recorded music. 

    Read more about visiting the GRAMMY Museum

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    Shop and Explore the Fashion District in Los Angeles

    Downtown Los Angeles
    ••• Veronica Garbutt/Getty Images

    The Fashion District is a great place to shop for bargain clothes, textiles and accessories. People who can fit into sample sizes will find extreme bargains on designer garb. The Fashion District website includes a photo tour as well as a podcast tour you can download. It gets really crazy on Saturdays. Many businesses are closed on Sundays, so it's not as busy, but there's not as much selection.

    Read my Guide to the LA Fashion District.

    The Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM) at 9th and Grand just outside the Fashion district has a gallery that features costume exhibits from movies and TV.

    The Flower District, Jewelry District and Toy District are a few blocks each north of the Fashion District. 

    The Metro Blue Line San Pedro Station is one block south of the southern end of the Fashion District.

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    Visit the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District

    Downtown Los Angeles sculpture
    ••• Mitch Diamond / Getty Images

    Most people assume that the Downtown Art Walk happens in the Arts District. But Gallery Row is not actually in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. The Arts District is an industrial area in Downtown LA a few blocks to the east of Gallery Row that has been growing into an artists' community since the 1970's. It has the highest density of murals in the city, which you can explore on your own or on any number of tours. In addition to murals, street art, studios and galleries, the area has drawn film and media companies, ad agencies and other creatives.

    Read more and take a Photo Tour of the Los Angeles Arts District

    Getting from Gallery Row to the Arts District.

    At the north end, on 1st, 2nd or 3rd Streets, it's just a couple or four blocks to walk across Little Tokyo from Gallery Row to the top of the Arts District, but at the south end (5th Street or lower), because Spring and Main are at an angle, the two arts areas are up to 10 blocks apart, separated by Skid Row.

    Nearby:

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    Explore Chinatown in LA

    Chinese Moon Festival in Chinatown
    ••• Gary Conner/Getty Images

    Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, sometimes known as New Chinatown, was developed around the Central Plaza in 1938, just west of Old Chinatown, where Union Station is now. Before the move, this area was LA's Little Italy, and is still home to St. Peter's Italian Church and Casa Italiana Cultural Center. LA's Chinatown is less dense than New York or San Francisco. The shops don't line the streets as thickly, but there are still a few cute stores and plazas through the serpent gateway heading north on Broadway from Cesar Chavez. The neon pagoda lights and lanterns at Central Plaza make a colorful display at night. Most of the notable landmarks in Chinatown are a few blocks from the Chinatown Metro Station.

    The Chinese American Museum is not in Chinatown. It is a few blocks away at Olvera Street.

    Photo Tour of Chinatown's Instagram-Worthy Sights

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    Visit Union Station Los Angeles

    Facade Exterior of Union station ,Downtown Los Angeles
    ••• Union Station Los Angeles. Museimage/Getty Images

    Union Station is still the hub of long distance and commuter rail transportation in Los Angeles, serving Amtrak, MetroLink and MTA Metro trains. It's also worth visiting as an architectural landmark, with a gorgeous waiting hall and public areas.

    More on Union Station

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    Take a Tour of Los Angeles City Hall

    Low Angle View Of Los Angeles City Hall Against Blue Sky
    ••• Los Angeles City Hall. Zo Hamilton / EyeEm/Getty Images

    200 North Spring Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012
    (213) 978-1995
    www.lacity.org

    Built in 1928, the 32-story Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest building in the city until modern building methods allowed taller high rise buildings to appear in the 1960s. The building is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. It is still home to the mayor and city council office and council chambers. It is part of the Civic Center district, which also includes county, state and federal buildings.

    The iconic City Hall tower has appeared as itself and stood in for other locations in dozens of TV shows and movies.

    This photo shows City Hall with a street sign pointing toward all of the city's many sister cities.

    You can walk in (through the metal detectors) and explore on your own with the self-guided tour materials available at the information desk on the 3rd Floor. Be sure to take the elevator up to the observation deck on the 27th floor. You have to take the Express Elevator to the 22nd Floor, then another...MORE adjacent elevator to the 26th floor. Finally, you walk up one flight through the Mayor Tom Bradley Room and exit onto the Observation Balcony that circles the building.

    Docent-led City Hall Tours are available weekday mornings from 9 am to noon. The last tour usually leaves around 11, but it's not a fixed schedule. If you make a reservation, you're more likely to land on the right hour for a tour, and might even get your parking covered.

    At other times of day, there's 2-hour metered street parking within a block or two, or you can check Bestparking.com for nearby parking rates. City Hall can also be reached via Metro Red and Purple Lines to Civic Center Station.

    Nearby:

    • Grand Park is across the street.
    • The Music Center is on the opposite side of Grand Park - 3 blocks up the hill.
    • El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Site (Olvera Street) is 3 blocks northeast.
    • The Cathedral of Our Lady is three blocks northwest on Temple Street
    • Chinatown is four blocks north.
    • Little Tokyo is three blocks southeast down 1st Street.
    • It's also just 5 blocks to Union Station.
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    Grand Park in Downtown LA

    Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles.
    ••• Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles. Ted Soqui / Contributor/Getty Images

    Grand Park opened in July 2012, expanding green space 12 acres over the three blocks between the Los Angeles Music Center on Grand Avenue and Los Angeles City Hall on Spring Street. The sides of the park along all three blocks are bordered by public buildings that face Temple to the north and 1st Street to the south.

    At the west end of the park, the restored Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain includes a spouted wading area that is a popular place to cool off on hot summer days. At night, a light show draws romantic strolling couples and photo enthusiasts. 

    The park includes 24 botanic gardens inspired by the six Floristic Kingdoms of the world and plenty of green lawn for playing and relaxing. The only vendor in the park is a Starbucks near the fountain, which is in the same facility as the public restrooms.

    The middle block of Grand Park is designated as an event space, and hosts a variety of summer concerts, but the entire three blocks are used for bigger events including the annual Fourth...MORE of July and New Year's Eve block parties.

    The Civic Center/Grand Park Metro Station is at Hill Street and Grand Park. There is an underground parking garage. 

    Nearby:

    • The Cathedral if Our Lady of the Angels is 1/2 block north
    • Disney Concert Hall is 1 block south down Grand
    • The Museum of Contemporary Art and California Plaza are 2 blocks south down Grand
    • Chinatown is 2.5 blocks north
    • El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Site is 4 blocks north
    • The Bradbury Building is 4 blocks south on Broadway
    • Little Tokyo is 4 blocks southeast
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    Explore the Art at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

    Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles
    ••• Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Mark Williamson/Getty Images

    The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles, designed by Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo, was completed in 2002, replacing the Cathedral of St. Vibiana, which was damaged beyond repair in the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 and has now been converted to a rental wedding and event venue. The modern structure towers over the 101 Hollywood Freeway from its perch between Olvera Street and Chinatown. Even if you're not interested in the religious significance of the church, the art pieces, from the courtyard windows over the freeway, through the grand bronze doors to the community tapestry murals, are worth a visit.

    The modern gray architectural masterpiece that balances the opposite side of the freeway from the Cathedral is Central Los Angeles Arts High School #9.

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    Taste LA's Japanese Culture in Little Tokyo

    Japanese Village Plaza in Little Tokyo.
    ••• Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    Little Tokyo is the Japanese cultural center of Los Angeles, with Japanese shops, restaurants and bakeries populating a few short blocks. Of special note is the Japanese-American National Museum, dedicated to the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Every year in August, Little Tokyo celebrates Nisei Week, with back to back weekends of street festivals, pageants and other cultural celebrations.

    Little Tokyo is bounded by Temple Street on the north, 3rd Street (with some overflow) to the south, Los Angeles Street to the west, and Alameda to the east. The heart of Little Tokyo is the pedestrian zone between 1st and 2nd Streets just west of Central Avenue, across the street from the Japanese-American National Museum.

    Also nearby: The Geffen Contemporary, a branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art is located in Little Tokyo.

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    Museum of Contemporary Art

    The MOCA in Los Angeles
    ••• The MOCA in Los Angeles. Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Getty Images

    250 South Grand Avenue
    Los Angeles, CA 90012
    www.moca.org

    The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is located just down Grand Avenue and across the street from The Broad museum of contemporary art and the Music Center and Disney Concert Hall. The museum's collection and touring exhibits feature work created since 1940.

    MOCA also has another branch downtown, the Geffen Contemporary at 152 North Central Avenue in Little Tokyo, and a branch at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.

    Nearby:

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    Walk the GRAMMY Walk of Fame

    GRAMMY Walk of Fame at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles, CA
    ••• Kayte Deioma

    Not quite as long as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the GRAMMY Walk of Fame consists of a series of pavement medallions around L.A. Live, each recognizing the winners in the top 4 GRAMMY categories every year since the first awards in 1959. 

    Take the Grammy Walk of Fame Trivia Tour or check me out talking about the GRAMMY Walk of Fame with Gayle Anderson on the KTLA Morning News.

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    Attend an Event at L.A. Live and Staples Center

    Staples Center, home to the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles, California
    ••• Travel Images/UIG/Getty Images

    L.A. Live is a dining and entertainment complex next to the Staples Center in Downtown LA. Multiple live entertainment venues and restaurants surround the Nokia Plaza, which is adorned with a series of high definition outdoor screens with synchronized content to give a "bright lights, big city" feel of a miniature Times Square.

    Staples Center hosts the LA Lakers and Clippers basketball and the LA Kings hockey games, as well as other major concerts and stadium events.

    Check Goldstar for discount tickets for events at Staples Center and L.A. Live.

    Nearby: 

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    Los Angeles Central Library

    Interior of Downtown L.A. Central Library
    ••• Interior of Downtown L.A. Central Library. Mitch Diamond/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Central Library is a great place to visit on a budget. It costs nothing to admire the Art Deco architecture, explore the public art installations and temporary exhibits, settle in to read a newspaper or book in any of a dozen languages, or check your email online. There are also extensive public programs including author readings, lectures, discussion panels and performances.

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    The Last Bookstore

    The Last Bookstore, Downtown Los Angeles, CA
    ••• The Last Bookstore, Downtown Los Angeles, CA. P. Eoche/Getty Images

    The Last Bookstore
    453 S Spring St - Ground Floor
    Los Angeles, CA 90013
    (213) 488-0599
    lastbookstorela.com

    The Last Bookstore, at the corner of 5th and Spring in Downtown Los Angeles, has become an international tourist draw. The shop is located on two floors of a re-purposed historic bank building that also houses the Crocker Club - one of Downtown LA's Coolest Clubs. The address is on Spring Street, but the entrance is around the corner on 5th.

    They don't just sell, buy and trade second-hand books and records at the Last Bookstore. They've created an intriguing combination of quirky art and wide-ranging literature in a really unique space. The bones of the original architecture are allowed to shine through with a painted beamed ceiling supported by classic columns. The second floor wraps around the open first floor with a balcony walkway, keeping your eyes busy with everything going on above and below. 

    Upstairs houses unique art studios and galleries, a knitting shop and a Labyrinth of...MORE more books, including the dollar room, with over 100,000 books for $1. Several bookcases are organized by color - in case you need them for purely decorative purposes. In addition to the art studios and galleries, themed art installations, large and small, are scattered throughout. One of the most popular is the Tunnel of Books on the 2nd floor adjacent to the vault housing the crime and horror collection. There's a second vault downstairs in the children's section, with kid-size benches for reading. There's some overstuffed sofas and chairs around for reading, but you're as likely to see people pull up a spot on the floor wherever they've discovered treasure among the stacks. 

    The Last Bookstore hosts a variety of events from book signings, author talks and art openings to comedy shows, music performances and open mic nights. 

    There is metered street parking in the area, but some streets have no parking during rush hour. Check the signs for all the variations in parking restrictions.There are also a few pay lots nearby. The Pershing Square Metro Station is 2 blocks north on Spring.

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    Gallery Row in Downtown Los Angeles

    Most LA locals who don't live downtown, are vaguely aware that there's a Downtown LA Art Walk on the 2nd Thursday of the month, but have never been down there. The Art Walk, which draws thousands of people every month, developed along Gallery Row, an area located along Main and Spring between 2nd and 9th Streets. This stretch is lined with cutting-edge galleries and a few trendy bars and restaurants.  

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    Check Out Downtown LA Nightlife

    Most visitors think of Hollywood and West Hollywood for LA nightlife, but Downtown LA has some of the coolest clubs and bars in town, from a subterranean power plant and a historic bank vault to lofty high-rise terraces and rooftops, and secret hideaways. 

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    Los Angeles Conservancy Downtown Walking Tours

    Downtown Center Skyscrapers seen from Pershing Square.
    ••• Downtown Center Skyscrapers seen from Pershing Square. Richard Cummins/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Conservancy offers a variety of weekend walking tours featuring different sections of Downtown Los Angeles.  You can explore the historic Broadway Theatre and Commercial District, LA's Art Deco landmarks, modern developments, Union Station or the classic Millennium Biltmore Hotel, to name a few. The LA Conservancy also organizes the Last Remaining Seats movie screenings in classic downtown movie theatres.

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    The Bradbury Building

    Bradbury Building Interior
    ••• Bradbury Building Interior. Photo by Luke Jones licensed under CC by 2.0

    Driving by the Bradbury Building, you wouldn't even notice it, surrounded as it is by the more impressive Million Dollar Theatre and the Grand Central Market. But if you step inside, the almost steampunk ironwork and wood paneling, inspired by a science fiction book, is worth getting out of the car.

    On the South side of the Bradbury Building is Biddy Mason Park, which includes an 82-foot concrete wall called  "Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time,” that tells the story of Biddy Mason, born a slave, who became a wealthy Los Angeles philanthropist, helping to found the first Black church in LA at this location.

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    FIDM Gallery - Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising

    9th Annual Outstanding Art Of Television Costume Design Reception And Exhibition Media Preview
    ••• Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising in Downtown Los Angeles. Vincent Sandoval / Contributor/Getty Images

    The FIDM Museum and Galleries at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
    919 S. Grand Ave.
    Los Angeles, CA 90015
    1-800-624-1200
    fidmmuseum.org

    The Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising (FIDM) has a fashion and costume gallery that exhibits costumes from their permanent collection of more than 200 years of fashion history from haute couture to film costumes. They also host an annual exhibited of each year's Oscar-nominated movie costumes.

     

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    Take the Toddlers to Bob Baker Marionettes

    It's a little freaky to go to a marionette show if you don't have toddlers, but if you do, Bob Baker Marionettes in Downtown LA is a longstanding tradition for the LA pre-K crowd who sit on the floor to watch the puppets who are bigger than they are.

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    Take in a Baseball Game at Dodger Stadium

    Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA
    ••• Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. Victor Decolongon / Contributor / Getty Images

    Dodger Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball franchise, is a great place to take in a ball game during baseball season. You can also tour the iconic 1962 stadium any time of year. For attending games, a free shuttle runs from Union Station in Downtown LA, so it's easy to take public transportation.

    More on Dodger Stadium

     

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    Pershing Square

    Pershing Square is a public plaza in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles that hosts concerts, films, dance parties and other fun during the summer. During the winter, it's home to the Downtown on Ice skating rink and winter holiday festival. Pershing Square also hosts an annual St. Patrick's Day celebration and a Spring Eggstravaganza at Easter.

    There is a weekly Friday Farmers Market and Food Truck Lunch.

    A park has been at this location since 1886, but the current quirky park plan, with it's purple tower and brightly colored sculptures was designed by Architect Ricardo Legoretta and landscapist Laurie Olin in the early 1990s. 

    More on Summer Concert Series in LA

    More on Outdoor Ice Skating in Los Angeles

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    See a Grand Performances Show at California Plaza

    Grand Performances Concert at California Plaza in Los Angeles
    ••• Grand Performances Concert at California Plaza in Los Angeles. Kayte Deioma

    California Plaza is a space behind the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Los Angeles that is home to a summer full of concerts hosted by Grand Performances. A fountain separates the stage from the audience. Seating for performances consists of amphitheater benches on one side, blankets on the other, and chairs set up directly across from the stage. A second level balcony has benches and room for more blankets.

    More on Grand Performances

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    The Brewery Art Complex

    The Brewery art colony is an old brewery in Downtown LA that has been converted into artist studios and galleries. Fourteen buildings on 23 acres house over 500 artists and art-related businesses. Some galleries are open regularly, but most of the studios are only open for the twice yearly Brewery Art Walk, usually in April and October.  

    You can also visit the Brewery on one of the LA Art Tours that happens a couple times a month. 

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