A vanished city lives again...

Monday, December 28, 2009

The complete picture

In May, I posted this entry about the image of Los Angeles below. It's a photochrom colorized photograph that was taken by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1899-1900 from the tower of the old County Court House.

Wikimedia Commons.

Well, it just so happens that I recently found two photos taken the same day from the Court House tower showing the complementing views to the east and west, as well. The panorama is complete!

This is the eastward view (actually more south-eastern). Today, City Hall would be in front of and to the left of us here, and looming very large.

Click image for source, and an enlargement.

And this is the westward prospect. Today, the skyscrapers would dominate the center and left of this picture; the Walt Disney Concert Hall would be visible near the upper right.

Click image for source, and an enlargement.

I especially like the latter view of 1900 Bunker Hill. The neighborhood is still very much in its heyday. Note that the Court Flight funicular railway (1904) has not yet been built on the dirt slope in the foreground at center right. And, in case you're curious, that large, remarkable Victorian residence at Court and Hill Streets is the Bradbury Mansion (1887-1929).

Do click on the images and have a look at the enlargements. The detail that can be seen is really quite impressive.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Madame of the Opera

I told you all that I had something special in the works. Well, here it is at long last – a Christmas present to my late mother...

One of the prime reasons I'm so interested in Los Angeles history is that my mom lived and worked in the city from 1934-1951. She moved there immediately after high school to attend Woodbury College, from which she graduated with her secretarial degree at the top of her class in 1936 at the ripe old age of 18. This was her Woodbury's senior class portrait.

Link to original photo on Flickr.

Mom started out big in the L.A. business world, securing her first position at the Huntington Land Company. She didn't stay there long, though. The following year, her dream job came her way, when she became the first General Secretary of the newly-founded Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Association, working directly under its founder, impresario Edwin Lester.

Here she is in her office in The Auditorium in April, 1938, dealing with Ed Lester's daily mountain of mail.

Link to original photo on Flickr.

(N.b., behind her head is the seating chart for Philharmonic Auditorium. To see it in greater detail, follow the flickr page link directly above and click on the Download icon and select 'View all sizes' for a high-res enlargement.)

The very first production of the LACLO was a musical adaptation of the life of classical composer Franz Schubert called "Blossom Time." Here's Mom's listing in the play's credits.

And here is a photo from the opening night of Blossom Time at Philharmonic Auditorium, June 16, 1938. Dead center is the world-famous actor Edward G. Robinson. Two rows back and to the right, the man picking his nose is none other than John Barrymore, and next to him is his wife, Elaine Barrie. At far upper left is Edwin Lester himself. And who is that smiling woman next to him? Ed Lester's date on his triumphal opening night was my very own mom!

Link to original photo on Flickr.

During the operetta's rehearsals, Mother became good friends with the star of Blossom Time: the famed opera baritone John Charles Thomas, who played Schubert in the LACLO production.

Link to original photo on Flickr.

Later, from 1942-1946, Mother would become J.C.T.'s private secretary during the singer's wartime years in Hollywood with the Westinghouse Radio Players.

Link to original photo on Flickr.

Mother remained lifelong friends with both John Charles Thomas and Edwin Lester. Mom had reserved 5th row center seats at every LACLO production for life, courtesy of Mr. Lester. He acknowledged that he couldn't have gotten LACLO off the ground were it not for my mom's assistance back in 1938. Lillian Lowney was, indeed, the original Madame of Los Angeles's Civic Light Opera! I'm proud that my mom had this bit part in L.A.'s musical/cultural history, and I'm glad I've finally gotten the opportunity to tell her story here.


Friday, December 18, 2009

L.A. Christmas, 1899


Friday, December 4, 2009

The Melrose

One of my favorite Bunker Hill landmarks was the old Hotel Melrose (1882-1957).

138 South Grand Avenue, ?1946.

Courtesy USC Digital Library-California Historical Society.

The Melrose and its next-door neighbor, the Hotel Richelieu.

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

The original and the "new" Melrose (at left).

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

120 South Grand:

Courtesy USC Digital Library-Los Angeles Examiner.

1957. Note proximity to other downtown landmarks:

Courtesy USC Digital Library-Los Angeles Examiner.

Many more photos below!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Old panoramic "birds-eye" maps

These "birds-eye" maps of old Los Angeles on the Library of Congress website are must-have resources for any serious student of L.A. history.

The 1909 map is, in my humble opinion, the Greatest Map of L.A. Ever! This is the image that I referred to in this older post that first put the hooks in me with regard to historical Los Angeles. I've practically memorized this map, I've looked at it so many times.

Viewing tip: when you click on the thumbnail image and go to the Library of Congress page, don't bother with the complicated inline viewer, just go to the lower left of each page where it says "Download JPEG2000 image," snag that file, then view it directly in your computer's default picture-viewing program.


Click image for source at the Library Of Congress.


Click image for source at the Library Of Congress.

This one is notable for the detail of the landmark buildings depicted on its margins.


Click image for source at the Library Of Congress.

This is the earliest birds-eye map of Los Angeles in the online LOC database. Note the covered bridge over the Los Angeles River at Macy Street...


Click image for source at the Library Of Congress.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Old Civic Center – south to City Hall

Broadway was the center of civil and commercial life in old Los Angeles. This was the view looking south on Broadway from the Hall Of Records in approximately 1915.

One block down, at the NE corner of Broadway and First, was the L.A. Times building, re-built after the 1910 labor bombing. In the distance, the structure with the pyramid-topped tower was the Los Angeles City Hall, erected in 1888 at 226-238 South Broadway. The postcard view below is from around the turn of the last century.

This grand Romanesque edifice of marble and red sandstone stood for only 40 years, however. It was torn down following the completion of the present City Hall in 1928.

Today, there's nothing to show that this was once an important site in Los Angeles history. It's just for parking now.

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

Actually, the old City Hall isn't completely gone. The Hosfield Building at right was built in 1914 as an annex to house city departments. I'd much rather the Hosfield Building was the one razed for parking, though. It really was a crime to demolish that elegant old civic landmark...


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Old Civic Center

These two postcard views give a really good idea of what the old Los Angeles Civic Center looked like, and where the buildings were in relation to each other.

In the top one, the intersection in the foreground is Broadway and Temple, and we're looking roughly north. At left, where the Broadway Tunnel and those trees are – that's where the 101 freeway "slot" is today. You'll recognize the 1922 Hall of Justice, of course, and the red sandstone building at right is the old Los Angeles County Court House (1888).

Now turn 90 degrees to the right, and see the familiar 1928 City Hall rising behind the Court House, and the Hall Of Records (1910) at right.

Judging by the similarity in the ivy growth on the Court House, I'd say that the two postcard photos were taken within a year or two of each other. The cars in the top one definitely look '20s-ish, and the presence of the new City Hall in the bottom image means it can't be earlier than 1928. So 1928-1930 seems a good guess for when this point in time existed in Los Angeles's past...


Monday, November 9, 2009

The old and the new

Main Street south from Republic Street, 1939:



Saturday, November 7, 2009

In only 30 years...

Cahuenga Pass, 1911:

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

Cahuenga Boulevard, 1941:

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

All this change in only 30 years! Not as much change since then, though; the Hollywood Freeway today still follows basically the same path as this old road. It's really something to see Cahuenga Pass when it was only a dirt road traversed by horse teams, though. It's amazing to think that was less than 100 years ago. Only 1-1/2 normal human lifetimes, and Cahuenga Pass is almost unrecognizable from what it originally was...


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Bryson-Bonebrake Block

At the time of its construction in 1888, the Bryson-Bonebrake Block was without question the most attractive and architecturally-significant office building in Los Angeles.

Photo courtesy Floyd Bariscale on Flickr.

Floyd Bariscale quotes a contemporary source describing the new civic showpiece:

"Designed by Joseph Cather Newsom in 1888, located on the northwest corner on 2nd and Spring in Los Angles. From a 1981 reprint of J.C. Newsom's Artistic Buildings and Homes of Los Angeles:

'Bryson-Bonebrake Block, commissioned by John Bryson, Sr., Los Angeles Mayor, and Major George H. Bonebrake, banker, this huge office building was Newsom's most ambitious and commercial structure. The Los Angeles Times, September 17, 1888 reports: "At the corner of Second and Springs streets, is one of the largest and most substantial in Southern California, and is most ornamental in appearance. It is six stories and a basement in height, and will contain four stories, one bank, 126 rooms, and a lodgeroom on the sixth floor. It has 120 feet frontage on Spring street and 103 feet frontage on Second steet. The rooms are all large and well ventilated, and the halls are wide and lighted by light wells. The principal features of the building are the massive and elegantly carved stone entrance, with its beautifully grained Colton marble shafts, carved stone caps and base of Moorish design, and the court in the center of the building throwing light into the corridors and inner rooms. The steps of the entrance are of the best granite, and the entrance is tiled and has marble wainscoting. On one side is a large bulletin-board, and on the other a richly-carved staircase with marble steps... The interior of the building is finished in cedar, and the plumbing is of the best... All the offices are heated and lighted with gas, and there are electric bells from each room to the bulletin board on the first floor. The elevator runs from the basement to the sixth floor. There is a fine [sic] hose reel on each floor for use in case of fire. Its cost will be $224,000.'"

More 19th century views of the Bryson block...

Grand opening, 1888 - The Court House on Pound Cake Hill in the distance right of center was also constructed this same year. Also, note how Spring Street originally veered to the right after its intersection with First Street.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

Looking west on Second Street from Spring.

Courtesy California State Library.

1905 - A nice close view showing the intricate exterior decorative elements of the Bryson block. Note that the entire original ornate top of the building has been removed and replaced by two additional storeys of offices.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

1934 - Only 46 years after its construction, demolition of the Bryson block is underway. An annex building of the Los Angeles Times occupies the site today.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.


Temple Square

From the 1860s to the 1930s, Temple Square was the original "civic center" of Los Angeles. Formed by the junction of Main, Temple and Spring Streets, it was the nexus of everyday life in the old city. Here are some postcard views of Temple Square from the first and second decades of the 20th century...

Today, no one looking at the intersection of Main and Temple could guess that a grand open public space once existed there. Temple Square has vanished without a trace from the face of the earth...


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Southwest from City Hall: Then & Now

I'm not quite done with the special project I've been working on of late, but I just got this old postcard and I can't wait to do a quick "Then & Now" with it.

As usual, I can't be absolutely certain about the date of this photo, but I'm thinking it's probably around 1962. The buildings around Angels Flight have been razed by this time, but The Dome is still alive and well at the corner of Second and Grand (upper right), so I think this is a good ballpark guess.

Taken by me from the observation deck of City Hall during my visit on July 10, 2009. I have to say – when I first saw that block-square open pit at First and Broadway, I had mixed feelings about it, but now that I see the building that was there before (The California State Office Building?), I have to say the current open space is a significant improvement.

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

It's interesting to me to think that the old photo is from a time that is actually within my living memory. This Then & Now comparison illustrates pretty much exactly the extent to which downtown Los Angeles has changed in the short space of my own lifetime...


Thursday, October 22, 2009


My apologies for the lack of updates recently. Due to Real Life circumstances, I've been forced to take a bit of a hiatus from writing about my favorite avocation here. When I come back, though, I'll have something really special to share – something quite different than what I usually post, and more personal, too. Anyway, rest assured, Los Angeles Past will be back again in a week or two. Stay tuned!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Palm Drive: Then & Now

Nathan Marsak recently sent me this lush postcard image of the palm drive of Singleton Court in West Adams, circa 1915. These are the Longstreet palms which I've written about previously. Planted circa 1875, the 23 Longstreet palms that remain today are quite possibly the oldest living things in Los Angeles. These trees have a continuous documented photographic history which alone affirmatively attests to their great age.

Palm Drive, Singleton Court, West Adams, c.1915:

The same view of Palm Drive, 2009:

Photo by J Scott Shannon.

These palms actually began life during the Civil War, almost a century and a half ago. Only five buildings still standing in all of Los Angeles are older (dead link) than these palm trees. They may look just like any others, but the Longstreet palms are really quite special, indeed...


Friday, September 25, 2009

Mission statement

It's "history" now (literally), but "Los Angeles Past" actually started out on LiveJournal. One feature of LJ that I liked was their profile page where you could write at length about yourself and why you're keeping a journal there – like a blog mission statement. Unfortunately, my LiveJournal "Bio" is too long for my Blogger profile, so I thought I'd post the LJ blurb here so readers can better understand my motivation for creating Los Angeles Past...

"Natural and man-made catastrophes have played a part in the destruction of many old cityscapes in the United States. The original buildings of our nation's capital city – Washington, D.C. – were torched by invading British troops during the War of 1812. Most of Chicago was wiped out by its Great Fire of 1871. Victorian San Francisco was destroyed by its famous earthquake and fire of 1906.

"Historical Los Angeles, though, suffered a no-less-thorough destruction of its own. This civic calamity was no act of war nor of God, however. Old L.A. was destroyed intentionally by its own government and citizenry in the name of 'progress.'

"So complete was this man-wrought devastation that a person born in Los Angeles in 1875 and living a normal life span of 75 years would have lived long enough to see virtually the entire city they grew up and grew old in wiped clean off the face of the earth. And whatever life there was left in Los Angeles by 1950 was finally bled out of it by the freeways.

"By the time I was born in an L.A. suburb in 1954, Los Angeles had become little more than a commuter destination. When I was growing up, that's all it ever was to me. I never knew Los Angeles as a living city, as my mother and father had. So when I left the L.A. area for greener pastures at the age of 28, I didn't feel like I was leaving anyplace particularly special.

"In recent years, however, I have been delving ever-deeper into the pre-WWII history of Los Angeles, and I'm finding it to be quite a revelatory experience. Piece by piece, I am uncovering a vanished world. This historical city is almost entirely new and unfamiliar to me. It's been a fascinating adventure thus far! Old Los Angeles was a truly amazing place. Have a look through this blog and you'll see what I mean!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Historical map overlays at ucla.edu

[Note: the information in this post is obsolete.]

Recently, reader Gregg D'Albert wrote to tell me about the "hypercities" project at ucla.edu. This is an archive of historical maps of Los Angeles city and county that you can view in their original form, and also view as overlays on today's Google maps. Got a few minutes to explore a little? Whenever you're ready, begin by opening the URL below into a new browser tab or window:


The site does have some limitations. For one thing, it can't be used with Internet Explorer. The interface is also a bit confusing at first. Here's how to view the maps and overlays.

First, go to the upper right of the map, and change the view from Satellite to Map. While you're up there, click the X box in the upper right of the sidebar to reveal the map selection menu.

Next, click the green button at upper left. Then, browse the available maps in the sidebar. Mouseovers of each menu item show the area covered by that map.

My favorite one to start out with is the 1898 "Official Map of the County of Los Angeles California." Click on that item in the sidebar, then wait for the map to load at left. (This can take awhile if you have slow DSL like I do.)

Now notice that there is a slide control inside the map's sidebar item. Move that back and forth to adjust the transparency of the historical level.

With the 1898 map, though, I recommend first just inspecting it as is for awhile. Zoom in there for a close look (remember to be patient as the historical map loads). The details are really fascinating! Find where you live now and see it as it was just over 100 years ago, and be amazed at the changes that have occurred here in the span of only 1-1/2 lifetimes...

Another one that's fun to explore is the 1897 Maxwell's City Directory street map. See Wilshire Boulevard when it was only 4 blocks long!

From 1897: The new Wilshire Boulevard at upper center (ats.ucla.edu).

Here, also, are two much better overlay "then and now" maps of the streets of Downtown than I presented in this post.

I hope the folks at ats.ucla.edu won't mind me reproducing this small portion of its wealth of old maps! That hypercities site really is quite addictive, I must say.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Plan for proposed Los Angeles Civic Center, 1940

At first glance it almost looks like something out of Stalin's USSR, or maybe even the Third Reich. Then parts of it start to look familiar. It's actually the Los Angeles Civic Center – at least someone's idea of what it should look like in the years after 1940.

Courtesy U.S.C. Digital Library.

Look at that completely absurd County government building palace in the foreground. It looks like Las Vegas in downtown L.A.! Thank goodness that monstrosity never got built...

I wish I knew the story behind this proposed but never-implemented plan, but I don't. Given the grandiose nature of that County building, though, it almost had to be the County's idea. ;-)


Saturday, September 12, 2009

South from 250 Spring, in the "Aughts"

Here's an interesting pair of postcards from the "aught" years of the 20th century. Both were taken from approximately the middle of the 200 block of Spring Street toward its intersection with Third Street. The top one faces the east side of Spring; the bottom one, the corresponding west side.

Note, in the one at top, the caption says, "...South from Elk's Hall..." Now, at far right in the bottom postcard, see the balcony with the mounted deer's head in the archway? (You may have to enlarge the pic to see it.) Logically, that must be the Elk's Hall! Curiously, the balcony and archway are both hung with black crepe, indicating mourning, and there's a portrait of the deceased in the center of the balcony's railing. I wonder who that could have been...

The bottom image is definitely older. I can maybe see one automobile among all those carriages and trolleys, so the photo was probably taken close to the turn of the last century. (So, could the deceased perhaps be President McKinley, assassinated in '01?) The top one could very well be right up-to-date with its 1907 inscription. At least three or four motor vehicles in that one.

What's still standing now? Not much. Less on the west side of the street, for sure. As far as I can tell, only the Douglas Building (the 5-storey block just left of center in the bottom postcard) remains today. On the east side of Spring, in the distance, there's the Hellman Building touched by the bottom tip of the hand-penned "7", and behind it, at the SE corner of Spring and Fourth, still stands the Braly Building. (Sorry, I obstinately refuse to call it the Continental Building. This was originally and always will be the Braly to me!)

Another pop quiz! Easy question: what is the name of the building at the extreme left edge of the top postcard – at the NE corner of Third and Spring? A bit more challenging: in the bottom pic, what's the building across Third Street from the Douglas? Don't be fooled! There were several similar-looking structures within a three-block radius of here in the old days.

Anyway, I just love the vibrant crispness of both of these images – the bustling street, the crowded sidewalks – how genuinely dynamic and alive it all appears. There's so much to appreciate in these old postcards, isn't there?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

New old Court House view

Another nice postcard view of one of my favorite buildings in the vanished city: the majestic Los Angeles County Court House, circa 1906. The vantage point was the intersection of Temple and New High Streets. No such intersection exists now, but Spring Street today crosses Temple within a few feet of this very spot...


Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Spring Street diagonal, revisited

In this post from May, I talked about the original diagonal alignment of Spring Street from its intersection with First north to Temple Street. I stated then that the old alignment was done away with when construction began on the new City Hall in 1927. I didn't make that up – I'd read it somewhere else before – but this past week, while looking up reference material on the LAPL website for my last post, I was delighted to discover photographic evidence that at least a portion of the old diagonal still existed until after the new City Hall was completed.

First, here is the Spring Street diagonal looking north from First Street circa 1883:

Photo courtesy U.S.C. Digital Archive.

And here is the same view, only 45 years later:

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

See? There's the southern section of the diagonal alignment, still intact, with the completed City Hall in the background!

Then I found this photo of a Spring Street in transition taken around the same time from atop the new City Hall:

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

Isn't that neat? I was especially surprised to see that the intersection of Spring and Franklin (foreground) still existed as late as 1928.

Finally, here's a view from the north side of the new City Hall. That trapezoidal building at center is the ancient Temple Block – once the center of civic life in 19th century Los Angeles – also still standing much later than I imagined.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

And, from this old post, here's the Temple Block and City Hall as viewed from Temple Square:

Photo from La Reina - Los Angeles in Three Centuries, Published by Security Trust & Savings Bank, Los Angeles, 1929.

I love discovering new stuff like this. It really brings the old city alive for me! :-)


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