A vanished city lives again...

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[Note: the information in this post is obsolete.]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