Los Angeles Past

A vanished city lives again...

Monday, May 19, 2014

"French Flats"

Some years ago, while browsing digital archives online, I came across this photo of a dilapidated old Los Angeles apartment building. I found its quirkiness to be instantly endearing. It looked totally ramshackle, but at the same time, its architectural details suggested to me that it might have had a much more elegant past.

William Reagh, photographer. Courtesy California State Library.


So where exactly was this intriguing structure? No way to tell. The photograph's description contained no information more specific than it was taken on Bunker Hill in Los Angeles in 1963.

Not long ago, I found another photo of the building, but this time in color. Looking closely, I could tell it was taken around the same time as the black-and-white one (note the same three potted plants on the bottom floor porch). Moreover, this photo's online description did contain a specific address. It was 224 South Olive Street.

"Bunker Hill from Clay Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets, looking west," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.


Now I was anxious to find out what it looked like from the front. Thankfully, after a little more searching on the Huntington Library site, I found exactly what I was looking for. 224 is the building at right in the photo below.

"Olive Street between 3rd and 2nd Streets," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

More history sleuthing after the jump!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Last Vestiges of Temple Square

City Hall is perhaps Los Angeles's most iconic and widely recognized landmark. Relatively few are aware, though, that for decades, one of L.A.'s earliest skyscrapers stood directly in the shadow of City Hall at the southeast corner of Spring and Temple Streets.

The International Savings & Exchange Bank Building was erected in 1907. When new, it towered over Temple Square and was among the most prestigious business addresses in the city.

"International Bank Building," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.


When construction of the present City Hall began in 1927, almost every structure on the site from Temple Street south to First Street was razed. For reasons that I've never been able to ascertain, however, the Bank of Italy Building, as it was then known, was spared demolition. This aerial view shows the Civic Center circa 1937. The now very much out-of-place bank building can be seen just to the right of City Hall, across Temple Street from the vacant lot where the old Post Office and Federal Building once stood.

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.


In contrast to the magnificent and monumental new City Hall, the dingy, aging Bank of Italy building became increasingly regarded as an eyesore. For years, it housed the city's Department of Public Health, but finally, in late 1954, the last remaining structure which stood along the old diagonal alignment of Spring Street was ordered taken down.

Here, looking far older than its actual years, the once-proud grand lady of Temple Square is succumbing to wreckers in January, 1955. The vantage point is the former site of the old 1888 Court House, at that time occupied by a cluster of wartime-era wood frame office structures.

"International Bank Building being demolished," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.

Going, going...

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Downtown Views, 1880s

Looking north on Main Street from the northwest corner of Fifth Street, circa 1886.

The house whose entrance can be seen at far left was built in 1869 at 343 South Main Street, and was the residence of one John H. Jones until 1900. In 1901, with a new address of 447 South Main, the house became The Belmont, a cafe specializing in oysters and other seafood. By 1907, the restaurant was known as The Beaumont. The Rosslyn Hotel was built on the site in 1911-1912. Today, it is known as Rosslyn Lofts.

Click image to see Google Maps Street View.

Fort Street (now Broadway) nearing First Street, also circa 1886.

In the background, the brand new home of the Los Angeles Times towers over its pueblo-era neighbors. The first three-storey brick structure built on Fort/Broadway, the Times Building heralded in the era during which the street grew to become the principal commercial district of old Los Angeles. The Times Building was destroyed in a unionist terror bombing in October, 1910.

Today, the Los Angeles Times occupies the entire city block bounded by Broadway, Spring, First and Second Streets. The Times' West Building (1972) looms at right.

Click image to see Google Maps Street View.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Little House on Pearl Street

This is Los Angeles, almost exactly a century ago. Doesn't look very familiar, does it? That's because, with the exception of a few homes in the hills in the far distance, every single structure you see in this photo is now vanished off the face of the earth.

"Panoramic view of Los Angeles, showing Sixth Street, Figueroa Street, Flower Street, east side of Sixth Street, ca.1916" (detail), C.C. Pierce, photographer. Courtesy USC Digital Library/California Historical Society. Link to full-res image.

When the picture was taken in 1916, this area was called the Apartment District. Today, it's the heart of the Financial District. The street to the left is Figueroa (formerly Pearl), and that's its intersection with Fifth Street at left. From 1928-1968, to our immediate right and just in back of us here, the late, lamented Richfield Building once stood. Now, the twin towers of City National Plaza would be directly in front of us, and past the Streicher Apartments, that entire city block is now occupied by the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. From the left edge of this picture into the hills to the north, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) now cuts a wide swath through this old residential neighborhood, and atop the hill at far upper right (if we could see through the buildings in front of us, that is), we would be able to catch a glimpse of the top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just beyond.


But this post isn't about any of these grand modern buildings. It's about the oldest structure you see in the photo above that was still standing in 1957 when the photo below was taken. See that rather forlorn-looking little wooden house in the rear of the parking lot?

"Oldest building in downtown Los Angeles," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

That's the exact same building with the square white side that's in the right foreground of the picture at top. Although some architectural elements of the house suggest it might be from the 1870s, the structure actually makes its first appearance on a Sanborn fire insurance map in Volume 3 of the 1894 edition (it was not present in the 1888 edition). Its original address was 516 Pearl Street. When the St. Dunston Hotel was built on that property not long after the turn of the last century, though, the little house was moved to the rear of the lot and became 516-1/2 Figueroa. It was this move back from the street frontage that probably saved it from the wreckers for as long as it was.

Quite amazing to think that, in 1957, the "oldest building in downtown Los Angeles" had only been standing for about 65 years. And yet, 60-70 years was pretty much the maximum life span of any 19th century building in the old city. Los Angeles, impermanence is thy name...

(For more on this story, click here.)


Friday, February 14, 2014

View from atop Crown Hill, c.1886

This has to be one of the more remarkable images of historical Los Angeles that I have ever seen. The year is around 1886, and we're looking south from the present site of Belmont High School, near the intersection of Beverly Blvd. and Glendale Blvd. What today is solid cityscape was then nothing but sparsely-settled open rangeland as far as the eye could see.

Click image to enlarge.

The photo was taken from the roof of the Belmont Hotel, which was located atop Crown Hill at the end of the old Second Street Cable Car line.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library, California Historical Society.

The contemporaneous photo below shows the Belmont Hotel (upper left) as seen from Bunker Hill. The vantage point is near what would later become Hope Street overlooking Third Street (the road at the extreme left edge of the photo is Third). Today, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) runs left/right directly through this little valley. The familiar hills overlooking Hollywood can be seen in the distance.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library, California Historical Society.

To learn more about the historic Belmont Hotel, click here.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gay Nineties' L.A.

Recently, I happened upon these nice views of Los Angeles from the 1890s.

The 200 block of South Broadway was one of the more active centers of civic life in its time.

Courtesy California State Library.

The almost brand new City Hall (1888-1928) dominates the right of the picture. Several other landmarks of the day can also be seen here. The tower of Los Angeles High School is partially visible to the left of the power poles. The clock tower in the distance is that of the Los Angeles County Court House. The tall spire next to that belongs to the First Presbyterian Church at the SE corner of Broadway and Second Street. And, the gothic structure just barely visible between City Hall and the Crocker Building (with the two bay windows) is Los Angeles's first Jewish synagogue.

Nothing special to see there today, unfortunately.

This quaint brick sideroad – complete with baths and a French restaurant – was Requeña Street (later renamed Market Street). The ornate Victorian on the left is the United States Hotel (1886-1939), and on the opposite corner is the Amestoy Block (1887-1958) – the first brick office building in town (and the first to have an elevator). The clock tower behind, once again, is the Court House.

Courtesy California State Library.

The U.S. Hotel and the Amestoy Block looked much nicer from the front. Click below to view the two from Main Street.

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J Scott Shannon
Dow's Prairie, CA, United States
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