A vanished city lives again...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

L.A. Streets: Then and Now

Back when I was first learning about Los Angeles past, I made frequent use of Brent Dickerson's wonderful illustrated historical narrative, A Visit to Old Los Angeles and Environs. (I continue to learn a lot from it to this day, in fact.) Anyway, in his page about New High Street and Broadway, Mr. Dickerson presents a map of the street layout in downtown in the early 20th century. I've found it to be very useful a number of times, especially for finding streets that no longer exist.

A few months ago, though, I got the idea to superimpose a Google map from today over the old map, mostly to see exactly where the freeways were built in relation to the existing streets and neighborhoods of the '40s and '50s. Here was the result:

Unfortunately, I couldn't get the two maps to align precisely, but this was a good enough result for the purpose I intended, and much more. I hope you find the many possible comparisons as interesting as I do!

(Thanks to Mr. Dickerson for permission to post the modification of his original map.)

ADDENDUM: There are two much better overlay maps in this post. Check those out, if you haven't already.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

View from the Court House tower, circa 1900

Found a lovely image online yesterday of one of my very favorite views of old Los Angeles. It depicts downtown as seen looking south from the clock tower of the County Court House (1888-1936), formerly located at the corner of Broadway and Temple Street. I have almost a dozen postcards depicting this view, but none are anywhere near as nice as this one.

Wikimedia Commons.

If you live in L.A. today, ask yourself – does anything here look familiar to you? Anything at all? If I told you that's Spring Street at left and Broadway at right, would that help? Probably not, because hardly anything you see in this picture still exists today.

I'm no real expert, myself, but I can identify only four structures in this image that are still standing: the Bradbury (1893), Irvine-Byrne (1895) and Homer Laughlin (1896) buildings around Broadway and Third, and the Douglas Building (1898) at Spring and Third.

Because of the presence of the Douglas Building, this image can't be from earlier than 1898. However, it can't be later than 1903, because the Bryson-Bonebrake Block at the NW corner of Spring and Second still has its ornate Victorian gables, and construction of the Braly Building at the SE corner of Spring and Fourth has not yet begun. And actually, I think I can pin it down to 1900 exactly, because I have a photo of the gabled Bryson-Bonebrake dated 1900 that has at least two of the same three advertisements painted on the north side of the building.

*whew!* History can be really exhausting sometimes! ;)

Anyway, here is the old Court House from whose tower that picture was taken.

I guesstimate this view dates from roughly the same period as the vista of downtown. It's definitely from 1896-1908, because at least one of the smaller U.S. flags there has 45 stars. The height of the palms, however, makes me suspect that it's more likely closer to 1908 than 1896. That big flag has only 44 stars, though (that was our flag from 1891-1896), so who really knows. I'll still go with circa 1908, I think. It really can't be much later, because construction on the new Hall of Records just south of the Court House began the following year, and there's no evidence of that happening yet.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot – to get your bearings, the part of downtown where the majority of the really tall skyscrapers are today would be at the extreme right of the top picture. In fact, only one or two of them would be visible from this frame of reference if it existed now. Not only is this original vantage point gone, though, pretty much everything else someone could see from there is, too. So it goes in ever-changing Los Angeles...


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Western and Wilshire in 1925

Got this old postcard via eBay the other day. It shows Western Avenue from its intersection with "Wiltshire" Boulevard, from around 1925. I bought it almost as an afterthought, but having it in hand and looking closely at it, I've found it to be quite interesting.

First, just to get our bearings, the street corner at lower right by the blue car is where the Wiltern Theatre would be built about half-a-decade later. Today, across Wilshire, where the Standard Public Market is in the postcard, stands the new Solair residential and retail center. The neighborhood's changed quite a bit since 1925, hasn't it!

What really intrigues me in the postcard image is the traffic control device in the center of the intersection. Anyone know what that gizmo's called? It appears to have just a single red light, or maybe it's merely a red reflector, so it's not really a traffic signal as we know them. Also, look how the cars are bunched around it. It's almost like the sign is a marker for a place where autos are supposed to turn; sort of like a modern roundabout. Notice how the driver of that blue car is signaling for a left turn, but he's over near the right side of the road. I don't know – I've never seen this kind of traffic control before. Anyone else got any ideas, or maybe know the actual story behind this device?


Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Spring Street diagonal

Ever since I started collecting postcards of old Los Angeles, this 90-year-old view of the north end of Spring Street has been one of my "holy grails." One reason for its desirability is that it features the old Post Office that first got me interested in pre-WWII Los Angeles. Mostly, though, this card fascinates me because this particular stretch of Spring Street no longer exists at all.

In fact, this portion of Spring's not only completely vanished, this exact vantage point is today located inside L.A.'s City Hall! (See position of red arrow below.)

Google Earth.

Here's the backstory. Before 1927, when work on the new City Hall began, Spring Street north of First Street did not run parallel to Main Street and Broadway as it does today. Rather, north of First, Spring jogged east-northeasterly, following a diagonal course to the intersection of Main and Temple (the postcard view). This short diagonal portion (also in red, below) was actually the last vestige of an old indian footpath along the base of Bunker Hill which pre-dated the establishment of the Mexican pueblo itself.

Detail from the 1849 Ord survey map.

Here are a couple of other postcard views of Spring Street as it was before 1927. This first one shows the intersection of Spring and First Streets, looking north, around 1915. You can see that Spring continues straight through past the intersection for about 30 or 40 feet, then it turns at an angle to the right. That's the beginning of the old diagonal alignment.

Now, if we were to go up on the roof of the building at the NW corner of Spring and First and look further up the street, this is what we'd see.

And there, near the end of Spring, is that International Savings and Exchange Bank building again, and the 1910 Post Office just beyond that.

A later perspective: here's a photo of the Civic Center in 1938, after Spring Street had been straightened. That structure just to the immediate right of City Hall is the same International Savings and Exchange Bank. Note the angle of the facade. That was the last visible evidence of the old diagonal alignment of Spring Street...

gsjansen on Flickr.