A vanished city lives again...

Friday, May 2, 2014

Little House on Pearl Street

This is Los Angeles, almost exactly a century ago. Doesn't look very familiar, does it? That's because, with the exception of a few homes in the hills in the far distance, every single structure you see in this photo is now vanished off the face of the earth.

"Panoramic view of Los Angeles, showing Sixth Street, Figueroa Street, Flower Street, east side of Sixth Street, ca.1916" (detail), C.C. Pierce, photographer. Courtesy USC Digital Library/California Historical Society. Link to full-res image.

When the picture was taken in 1916, this area was called the Apartment District. Today, it's the heart of the Financial District. The street to the left is Figueroa (formerly Pearl), and that's its intersection with Fifth Street at left. From 1928-1968, to our immediate right and just in back of us here, the late, lamented Richfield Building once stood. Now, the twin towers of City National Plaza would be directly in front of us, and past the Streicher Apartments, that entire city block is now occupied by the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. From the left edge of this picture into the hills to the north, the Harbor Freeway (I-110) now cuts a wide swath through this old residential neighborhood, and atop the hill at far upper right (if we could see through the buildings in front of us, that is), we would be able to catch a glimpse of the top of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion just beyond.


But this post isn't about any of these grand modern buildings. It's about the oldest structure you see in the photo above that was still standing in 1957 when the photo below was taken. See that rather forlorn-looking little wooden house in the rear of the parking lot?

"Oldest building in downtown Los Angeles," Palmer Connor, photographer. From the Palmer Connor Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

That's the exact same building with the square white side that's in the right foreground of the picture at top. Although some architectural elements of the house suggest it might be from the 1870s, the structure actually makes its first appearance on a Sanborn fire insurance map in Volume 3 of the 1894 edition (it was not present in the 1888 edition). Its original address was 516 Pearl Street. When the St. Dunston Hotel was built on that property not long after the turn of the last century, though, the little house was moved to the rear of the lot and became 516-1/2 Figueroa. It was this move back from the street frontage that probably saved it from the wreckers for as long as it was.

Quite amazing to think that, in 1957, the "oldest building in downtown Los Angeles" had only been standing for about 65 years. And yet, 60-70 years was pretty much the maximum life span of any 19th century building in the old city. Los Angeles, impermanence is thy name...

(For more on this story, click here.)



R Davis said...

Regarding "the oldest building in downtown Los Angeles": I believe that the Charnock Block, still standing (although recently gutted for remodeling) at the SE corner of Main Street & 5th Street, was built in 1888. I have not confirmed this with the Sanborn map.

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