A vanished city lives again...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Palms puzzle finally solved

For the better part of five years, I have been curious about the origins and subsequent history of the "Longstreet Palms," which may be the oldest trees in Los Angeles. Yesterday, reader Bradford Caslon pointed me to this online excerpt from the 2008 Images of America book, "West Adams," by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Don Lynch and John G. Kurtz, which has provided the crucial last pieces of the palms puzzle.

The authors make clear something that I have known for some time: that the "Longstreet" whose name is associated with the ancient palms is NOT the Confederate Civil War General James Longstreet. The man who built the mansion off West Adams Boulevard with its once-world-famous twin lines of Washingtonia fan palms was a Mister Charles Longstreet, who died in Los Angeles in 1877. The year of his death suggests that the date given by the USC Digital Library for one of the earliest photos of Palm Drive (c.1875) is very likely correct. The even older image below (the earliest-known photo of the Longstreet Mansion and Palm Drive) therefore probably dates to c.1870, which I now feel comfortable assigning as the time that the palms were actually planted. Since fan palms of that height are no less than 5 years old, I therefore believe it has now been conclusively established that these trees did, in fact, begin their lives during the American Civil War, approximately 150 years ago.

Dating to c.1865, then, these palms are older than almost every man-made structure not only in Los Angeles, but in all of Los Angeles County, as well. I am so gratified to know that the remaining palms are now recognized for their historical significance by the good people of Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital, who I'm sure will protect these venerable Civil War veterans for as long as they shall live.



Monday, October 31, 2011

Court House revisited

Nice postcard of the old County Court House circa 1909, viewed from what today would be the intersection of Temple and Spring Streets. At the present time, the trial of Michael Jackson's personal physician is underway at this exact location, though obviously not in this exact building.

I'm amused by "Chester's" description on the reverse – how buildings typically "look better on post cards than they do real where you can get a good look at them." Presumably that was Chester's opinion with regard to the Court House in particular.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Main Street at Temple, Then & Now

Looking south on Main Street from Temple.

c.1879:  On the corner, the Temple Block.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

2011:  Now it's all City Hall.

Photo by J Scott Shannon.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

My first (and last) ride on the Red Car

Back in 1961, my mom took me on one of the last Pacific Electric trolley runs down to Long Beach – a train ride exactly like the one depicted in this film. Although I was only 6 at the time, I still have some very clear memories of that day-trip, half-a-century ago. Looking back now, I realize that this was my first-ever excursion into Los Angeles past.

One morning at breakfast (I think it was actually a school day), Mom just told me out-of-the-blue that we were going Downtown to ride the last of the street cars. She wanted me to experience something that was an important part of her daily life when she was young; something that was now about to vanish into history.

Before we rode the Red Car, though, we went to Angels Flight. That was the first of the two times I got to ride it, and it was a big thrill. Afterward, we stood at a busy street corner for awhile – it was probably Third and Hill – waiting for a bus to take us to the PE station. I'll never forget the NOISE of that intersection; how LOUD the general hustle-and-bustle of the city was. It was nothing like out in the suburbs. I was especially impressed by the electric arcs and sparks that shot out from the trolleys' contact with the overhead wires. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The Red Car ride to Long Beach was actually pretty boring for a fidgety 6-year-old, despite it being my first time ever on an inter-urban train. I do remember the car was filled to capacity. I guess nostalgia was thick among the passengers, as there was little talking. Mostly just the sound of the train wheels going clickity-clack, clickity-clack, all along the rail road track.

When we got to Long Beach, Mom took me to an immense old cafeteria downtown. The ceiling seemed like it was two stories high. It was crowded and noisy, and kind of dark inside, even though it was mid-day. I can't recall the name of the big cafeteria, but I think my mom probably went there a lot when she had relatives living in Long Beach in the '40s.

I don't remember the ride back at all. Likely I slept all the way. But overall, it was a very memorable day! I think Mom would be surprised how much I remember. At the time, she probably concluded that the experience was wasted on a little child like me, but it turned out it wasn't at all. I really wish I could tell her now how much it meant to me, and thank her accordingly.

I'm really struck by how ancient and worn this film looks. Knowing I was on one of those trains, well, it makes ME feel old, too. I have to say, though, that I am in much better shape after 50 years than this footage is! That's at least some consolation for a man my age. :-)


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Drive Through Bunker Hill, 1948.

Richard Schave of Esotouric recently uncovered some remarkable film footage of 1940s Los Angeles on Archive.org.

Go to this page and have a look! (I tried embedding the video here, but it doesn't play satisfactorily at all at DSL speeds.)

The 6-minute film consists of three clips. In the first two, the car with the camera drives west up Second Street starting just west of Olive, then turns south on Grand. In the second clip, the car turns west from Grand onto Fifth Street and drives past the Central Library. The third clip starts just north of Fifth and Flower, proceeds up Flower to First, and ends just as the camera car crests the very top of Bunker Hill.

I think I can date this film pretty precisely to Summer, 1948. Just north of Fifth and Flower is a billboard for RCA Victor televisions that depicts a cartoon donkey and elephant wearing boxing gloves, with a caption saying "Pick a sure winner!" This suggests to me that this is a post-war national election year, with the national party conventions soon to be broadcast (these have always taken place in mid-summer). The style of television depicted on the billboard also looks post-war.

Then, just as the car turns east on First, another billboard advertises a show at the Hollywood Bowl running from July 25-Sept 5; another clue that this is summertime. Also, several of the cars in the film are post-WWII models. Although I'm no real expert on the subject, I don't see any autos here that date later than the 1948-49 model year.

Anyway, I highly recommend downloading the hi-resolution 217.8 MB MPEG4 file on the Archive.org webpage. The size and detail of the image is amazing. It really brings Bunker Hill back to life!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Baker Block

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection/Litho. C.L. Smith & Co., Oakland, CA.

The Baker Block was the architectural showpiece of Los Angeles during the city's centennial decade. In a town still consisting mostly of simple frame houses and adobes, this palace of commerce must have been a truly wondrous apparition. Standing for 65 years – from c.1877-1942 – the Baker Block was located at the southeast corner of Main and Arcadia Sts., only a few hundred feet south of the original Pueblo de Los Angeles. An excellent summary of the history of the Baker Block can be found on Brian Hsu's Urban Diachrony weblog. Here are some pictures of this grand old edifice.

Main Street looking north from atop the Temple Block, c.1880; the Baker Block just right of center. (This vantage point is now occupied by City Hall.)

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

The uptown commercial heart of the old city, c.1880. The Baker Block at left, and the old Bella Union Hotel building at far right.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Southeast corner of Arcadia and Main Sts., 1880.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Fifty years later.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.


Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

1938. There goes the neighborhood: the new Federal Building begins to rise across Main Street.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection/Herman Schultheis, Photographer.

Not long for this world, c.1940.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Today, the 101 "Slot" runs right through the site where the Baker Block once stood...


Friday, August 12, 2011

Civic Center panorama, 1946

The Los Angeles Civic Center, viewed from Broadway, March 11, 1946.

Source: Library of Congress.

Link to full-resolution TIFF file at loc.gov (4.6 MB).


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rancho lands in 1898

These highly-detailed maps show the boundaries of the former Spanish land grant Ranchos around Los Angeles County in 1898. Click on the link at the bottom of each map below to examine them closeup.


Here is the section covering the San Gabriel and Walnut valleys. This one actually interests me more, personally, because this is the part of L.A. County that I grew up in.


I hope you enjoy them. I can study these maps for literally hours on end...


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1929 Postcard

I've wanted this particular postcard for a long time, and now I finally have one of my own. The coloring is way off, but the aerial perspective of the Civic Center in 1929 is great. What's most striking to me isn't the Graf Zeppelin; it's that City Hall (left) and the Hall of Justice (far right) are the ONLY two buildings in this entire view that are still standing today. Everything else – every structure, tree, even the hill just beyond the Civic Center – is gone off the face of the earth. And this is Progress!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Urban Diachrony blog

Just wanted to put in an enthusiastic plug for a relatively new L.A. history blog called Urban Diachrony. Its principal subject matter is "Then & Now" photographs of various locations within the city.

The blogger, Brian Hsu, not only does an excellent job of taking his "Now" photos from the exact same vantage point as "Then," his accompanying descriptions are very detailed and always interesting. I learn something new about L.A. history with every post. Definitely check it out! I guarantee you will find it worthwhile.

I'm going to have cataract surgery on my left eye tomorrow. Hopefully I can start posting to my own blog more often after I get my normal vision back. This bad eye of mine has been a real impediment to me in recent months...


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Time-traveling to Old L.A.

Reader and past contributor Nathan Marsak posited a question the other day: what if you had a time machine, and you could pop back to Old L.A. for a weekend. What time in the city's history would you choose?

For me, without a doubt, it would be the weekend of October 14-16, 1910.

Why? Mostly, it would be to attend the Saturday dedication of the brand new 'Million-Dollar' Post Officethe building which first sparked my interest in L.A. history.

U.S.C. Digital Library.

For my accommodations, I'd book the top-floor corner room at the United States Hotel at Main and Market Sts., which would have an absolutely perfect vantage point for viewing the festivities in Temple Square.

U.S.C. Digital Library.

There'd be plenty of other things to see and do while I was there, of course. Assuming I could get my hands on a period camera, I'd take a ton of good pictures of various buildings for posterity, especially the ruins of the L.A. Times Building, which had been terror-bombed only two Saturdays ago.

I would also love to take a 360-degree panorama from the top of the 1888 Court House. (1910 would be the last year you could do that, with the Hall of Records rising immediately south of the Court House at that time.)

I'd also try to get an Edison cylinder recording of the bell chimes of the old Court House (and the 1888 City Hall's bells, if there actually were bells in that tower – does anyone know for sure?).

And I'd probably walk the old diagonal alignment of Spring Street about a dozen times. I'd ride Court Flight over and over, too, until they kicked me off of it. (Never mind Angels Flight – been there, done that, 50 years later.) ;)

Court Flight.

Re: dining – I'd probably eat breakfasts at the Hollenbeck Hotel and the Hotel Nadeau, and at least one lunch at the little hole-in-the-wall indicated in this old postcard. It had to be good! Someone actually wrote home about it!

But mostly I'd eat as much "Spanish" food (as Mexican food was called at the time) as I could. I'd be very curious to know what the native cuisine tasted like a hundred years ago!

I'd do a bunch of other things, too, including a mandatory jaunt down to the Longstreet Palms. World-famous at the time, no visit to old L.A. would be complete without seeing them!

Another time I'd like to travel back to would be October of 1936, so I could see the Los Angeles that my mother knew when she first moved there. Of course, Number One on my list of places to visit then would be the incredible Richfield Building. I'd also take my own set of panoramic photos from atop City Hall, and go to the Paris Inn every night for dinner, too. My kind of place, definitely!

But most of all, I'd make sure to be hanging out at the northwest corner of Olympic and Broadway during lunch hour on Tuesday, October 20th, so I could watch a certain snooty young lady get her picture taken by a street photographer. 8)

Ooooh, now here's a Twilight Zone thought for you – what if Mom's photographer actually turned out to be time-traveler Me?!  D:


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Temple Square: Then, Then, Then & Now

Temple Square – the former junction of Main, Temple and Spring Streets – photographed from the roof of the Bella Union Hotel.


Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.


Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.


Link to image on Flickr.

And here is the view from the former site of the Bella Union in the present day...

Photo by J Scott Shannon.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mom's first car at the Silver Lake Auto Court

Mother's new position as General Secretary of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera was apparently sufficiently remunerative for her to be able to buy her first car. It was a used 1936 Pontiac Master Six Coupe. Here she is with her new Pride and Joy at the Silver Lake Auto Court at 2500 Glendale Blvd. in July, 1938.

Link to original photo on Flickr.

I know Mom did not live there, though. In 1938, she and her sister were living in their first apartment at the Barker Hotel in Westlake.

Here is a contemporaneous linen postcard of the auto rest.

On the reverse of the card it states: "A 67 unit Auto Court with Trailer Sites. Resort Atmosphere in the heart of the City, well known for its Hospitality and Service. Rates Most Reasonable."

Here is an aerial view. As best as I'm able to determine, Mom was posing with her car near the spot where the red arrow is pointing.


Remarkably, Michael Smith, a/k/a Kansas Sebastian on flickr, posted this Then & Now composite of the Silver Lake Auto Court in the 1920s with a comparison shot from 2010. His sleuthing revealed that the older aerial view was taken approximately 11 years before Mother was there posing with her Pontiac.

Click image to view the original photo on Flickr.

Amazing the things one can find on the 'net, eh!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Los Angeles's THREE historical Plazas

Fellow Los Angeles history buff "Richard R." recently found a very interesting webpage which details and summarizes various pieces of historical evidence pertaining to the location of the original pueblo and its plazas. Yes, that's "plazas," plural.

Article from the website La Nopalera.

tl;dr version – It turns out there have actually been three different locations for La Plaza de Los Angeles:

• The first plaza dates to the founding of the pueblo in the 1770s. It is believed to have been located to the south and east of the present Plaza. Constructed on low ground adjacent to the Los Angeles River, the first plaza was obliterated by the Flood of 1815.

• The second plaza and the re-built pueblo were re-located to higher ground a few dozen meters to the north and west of the present Plaza Church, on the west side of Main Street. The approximate location of the second plaza is shown on the map below:

Map by Howard Hurtig Metcalfe from his webpage La Nopalera.

The second plaza was in existence for only a decade or two, though, from the post-Flood of 1815 period to c.1830, when it was moved to its present location east of Main Street and south of the southern terminus of Wine (Olvera) Street. This is "La Plaza" that all latter-day Angelenos are familiar with. The general assumption that La Plaza has always been located where it is today, however, is now known to be demonstrably incorrect. Somewhere along the line, the knowledge that there had been two historical locations which pre-date the present Plaza was mostly forgotten.

Some general awareness of the location of the second plaza lingered on into the mid-20th century, however. In 1950, the "Plaza de Los Angeles, Inc." submitted this re-development plan to the State Park Commission. N.b. the yellowed label pointing to the "Original Plaza" at what would then have been the northwest corner of Main and Marchessault Sts.

Courtesy USC Digital Library-Los Angeles Examiner.

"Richard R." also found this interesting account in the Department of Water and Power database hosted by the Los Angeles Public Library:

Historical Photo Collection of the Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles.

It should be noted that the docent website of El Pueblo de Los Angeles does, in fact, acknowledge that the present Plaza is actually Los Angeles's third such town square. It was certainly surprising news to me, though, and I'm sure it remains an unknown fact to all but a handful of knowledgeable L.A. historians.

And what now occupies the former site of the second plaza? What else but a parking lot!

View Larger Map

A big thank you to "Richard R." for his excellent historical sleuthing!


Monday, January 31, 2011

View from atop Angels Flight, 100 years ago

A panoramic postcard view of Downtown Los Angeles from atop the observation deck of Angels Flight, just over 100 years ago.

Click image for a nice 2592x503 enlargement.

I believe this photo can be dated fairly precisely to late summer 1910, as the second Los Angeles Times Building has not yet been bombed, and the Hall Of Records behind it is in the earliest stage of its construction. Quite a remarkable view, in my layman's opinion!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Los Angeles past

An historical chronology from the 1943 Renie Road atlas of L.A. City and County. It's interesting to me to note what events/dates were thought to be significant at the time...


Blog Archive