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!



Duncan said...

That shot of downtown--the same one that got me interested in Los Angeles as a kid after seeing Superman--any idea where that '49 Buick is sitting? Do you know of any contemporary photos taken at the same spot? Keep up the great work, Scott. There are several interesting LA history sites, but you've definitely got the best way to look at old LA that I know of. Reminds me of a modern version of those old cellophane-overlay books you'd get in Italy showing the changes since Roman times.

J Scott Shannon said...

The vantage point for that photo is the corner of North Boylston Street and Boston Street. Unfortunately, that spectacular view is today blocked by dense overgrown vegetation. It's completely obscured now...

Thanks for your kind words! Always nice to know someone appreciates it. This blog a labor of love, as you can probably tell. :-)

Duncan said...

But of course this blog wouldn't be as good as it is if it wasn't a labor of love. Speaking of N Boylston... I read somewhere that it was once N Figueroa and that at some point Figueroa was changed north of Pico to take over Pearl St (the street one block west of Flower), and N Fig's old routing from about Sixth St north became North Boylston. This switch must have happened some time between 1884 and 1897--Pearl St appears on the 1884 map, although the street north of Sixth in line with Figueroa (but interruped for several blocks between Pico and Sixth) appearing on that map does not bear the name N Fig or any name at all. Confusing, but all part of the game, right?

AimlessInLA said...

If you search the Times archives from about 1920 to 1940 for "razing" or "demolition", and you'll see numerous articles on one or another "cherished" or "beloved" landmark biting the dust. But what's immediately apparent is that most of them were destroyed for parking lots--the ugly street level lots which were just beginning to blight the cityscape. I can only assume that local economic conditions had reached a point where, if you owned half-a-block downtown, there was NOTHING that would deliver such high profits as--another parking lot. Thus for south of Temple, but what of the Plaza and north Downtown?

Again with the parking lots, which have replaced numerous buildings in the El Pueblo Historical Park property as recently as 1980 or so. In other words, the Park management has destroyed about half of its architectural inventory, to provide parking for just what's still there on Olvera Street plus a few forlorn buildings around the Plaza.

Besides people's attraction to cars and the need for parking which attends them, there was another factor at work. In the early decades of Olvera Street as a tourist attraction, its founder and guiding star was one Christine Sterling. As long as she could win the appropriations from the budget, she was a virtual dictator of the enterprise. She worked tirelessly to eliminate from the neighborhood anything that didn't fit in with her artificial Mexican themed street. And that included a considerable remnant of Old Chinatown that was still extant, years after Union Station was opened.

But there's more.

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