‘Citrus groves have been turned into movie lots, ravines flattened and filled, and the glittering high-rises of downtown have replaced the old Victorian buildings.’
So states Los Angeles Then and Now, a book that chronicles LA’s fascinating transformation and evolution since the 1870s.
Written by actress and journalist Rosemary Lord and covering over 50 sites, the book, published by Pavilion, compares archival photographs of the city with modern shots taken from the same viewpoint.
Rosemary writes: ‘Surviving disastrous flooding, fires, riots and of course, earthquakes, Los Angeles continues to attract new residents and visitors alike.
‘This revealing book matches historic nineteenth and early twentieth-century images with photographs of modern Los Angeles, showing how the multifaceted, multicultural “Dream City” has evolved while retaining its appeal as a place where dreams are born.’
Scroll down here to see some of the book’s riveting photographs, with old and new placed side by side.
OLVERA STREET: The photo on the left shows Olvera Street – considered to be the oldest street in Los Angeles – in 1940. It was originally a lane known as Wine Street but according to Rosemary it was renamed in 1877 ‘in honor of one of its residents, Agustin Olvera, the county’s first judge’. Sadly, by the time the 1920s rolled around, the street had fallen into disrepair. The author explains: ‘In 1926 civic leader Christine Sterling, shocked to find it now a slum, began a campaign to renovate the street, enlisting her wealthy friends to save this historic heart of Los Angeles.’ The street was later paved in bricks by a local prison gang. In 1930, Olvera Street reopened as a Mexican marketplace and hoards of tourists soon showed up. Today, the street’s 1818 Avila adobe, Christine Sterling’s home until her death in 1963, is the oldest building in the city and the street is an ‘exciting tourist and cultural draw with Mexican artefacts, museums, crafts, restaurants, and Aztec dancers’
VIEW FROM TEMPLE AND MAIN: The picture on the left dates to 1896, and shows the Silver Republicans gathering on Main Street for a parade for their candidate, William Jennings Bryan. Rosemary explains: ‘In the center is one of the seven 150-foot lampposts. Each of the tall masts carried three carbon-arc lamps of 3,000 candlepower.’ All seven installations together were said to provide as much light as the full moon. On the right side of the archival photograph is the three-story Baker Block, one of the most expensive structures built south of San Francisco at the time of its completion in 1877. Baker Block housed businesses, stores and apartments, but after 1900, Rosemary reveals, the once-grand building ‘lost tenants and business waned’. It was demolished in 1942. In the modern-day picture on the right, the site where Temple and Spring Streets met Main Street has been demolished, while Main Street has been elevated and the Hollywood Freeway now runs underneath. Rosemary says: ‘The main foreground seen in the archival photograph is now the site of government buildings, including the Criminal Court Building and the Hall of Records’
BROADWAY FROM OLYMPIC: The photo on the left was captured in 1933 and shows the Broadway theater district. ‘Broadway started out as a dirt road named Eternity street, because it led to the cemetery,’ Rosemary reveals. The street was renamed in 1890, and was recognized as the main entertainment street in Los Angeles until the 1960s. Around the time this photo was taken, Rosemary says ‘it boasted the most vaudeville and movie palaces in the country’. But Broadway fell into a state of neglect. The author says: ‘A largely immigrant population of vendors took over the old theatres of the 1920s. The sumptuous movie palaces became discount shops and flea markets.’ Thankfully, there’s been a turnaround. The United Artists Theatre pictured has been refurbished, old buildings converted into loft apartments and art and performances venues introduced by young residents. Rosemary says: ‘This is bringing people back to downtown Los Angeles, home to the largest surviving group of pre-World War II theaters’
BILTMORE HOTEL: The legacy of the Biltmore Hotel, pictured on the left in 1928, is intertwined with Hollywood glitz and glamour. It was an early home for the Academy Awards ceremony, for two years, and Rosemary reveals that ‘foreign royalty and numerous US presidents have slept here… and The Beatles were once helicoptered on to the hotel roof and hid here for days’. Its ties with the Oscars run deep. Rosemary says: ‘The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded at a lunch in the Crystal Ballroom in May 1927. Legend has it that MGM director Cedric Gibbons sketched the design for the Oscar statue on a linen Biltmore napkin.’ However, the dawn of World War II brought the short run of Biltmore hosting the Academy Awards ceremony to an end. Over the years millions have been spent renovating the hotel, now the Millennium Biltmore, and it is still a popular location for films and TV shows, Rosemary reveals. Meanwhile, the adjacent Pershing Square has been upgraded with a concert stage, a seasonal ice rink and a public seating area’
LOS ANGELES COLISEUM: If you look to the left, you’ll see the Los Angeles Coliseum as it appeared in 1923, the year it opened. It had been commissioned two years earlier to honor veterans of World War I, the author reveals. Costing just under $1million to build, it originally had a seating capacity of 75,144. The very first sporting event to play out on the field was a football game between Pomana College and the University of Southern California – the latter won with a score of 23-7. Rosemary says: ‘By 1930 Los Angeles had emerged on to the world stage and earned the honor of hosting the 1932 Olympic Games. The city scrambled to accommodate everyone, expanding the Coliseum’s seating to 101,574.’ More than half a century later, the stadium did it again and successfully hosted the 1984 Olympics. Today, the site ‘is the only stadium in the world to have hosted two Olympic Games, as well as the only Olympic stadium to have hosted the Super Bowl and the World Series’
WILSHIRE BOULEVARD: Cast your eye to the left and you’ll find a 1928 photograph of Wilshire Boulevard. The road was named after Henry Gaylord Wilshire who, the book reveals, laid the foundations for the street by clearing out a path in his barley field in the 1890s. Eventually, the road stretched out 16 miles and connected five of the city’s major business districts with Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. ‘Wilshire Boulevard is lined with buildings representing virtually every major architectural style of the twentieth century,’ Rosemary writes. In the archival picture, billboards can be seen advertising movies. To the right of the shot, a sliver of the Brown Derby restaurant and the Wilshire Boulevard Church is visible. Today, the restaurant is long gone, but the church remains, now under a new name – Oasis Church. The house of prayer is ‘dwarfed by condos and office towers’ in the area which, according to Rosemary, now has a diverse residential population of about 130,000
BEACHWOOD GATES: The photo on the left dates back to 1924, showing the Beachwood Gates. ‘Developer Albert Beach paved the way to the Hollywood Hills with a road named after himself – Beachwood Drive,’ says Rosemary. The newly-formed Hollywoodland Tract Realty later built two stone towers on either side of Beachwood Drive, promising to create a gated community as part of a suburban housing development. Potential buyers would take a bus tour of the site to scope out the plots on offer. ‘Relatively unchanged, Beachwood village today is home to many writers, actors and artists,’ says Rosemary. There, you’ll find the Village Café, where ‘stars go for breakfast with the rest of the world’. Rosemary adds that the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers – which filmed scenes in Beachwood Canyon – helped to make the area famous
VENICE PIER: The photograph on the left was taken in 1925. It shows the 1,200-foot-long Kinney Pier, which was once the main attraction in this part of LA. According to the book, the pier’s namesake, Abbot Kinney, bought two miles of oceanfront real estate, dug canals and drained the marshes to build on the land, hoping to create a resort as impressive as Venice. LA annexed the beach after Kinney’s death in 1920 and the pier was closed. ‘Discovery of oil nearby added to the decay of the place as a resort,’ Rosemary explains. Today the area is hugely popular with tourists and bodybuilders visit to work out at the Muscle Beach weight pen, once frequented by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The area in fact has long been frequented by famous types. Rosemary reveals: ‘Venice is where Jim Morrison met Ray Manzarek to form the Doors and an endless series of movie scenes have been shot here’
BEL AIR GATES: Alphonso Bell founded the ultra-posh residential area of Bel Air in the 1920s, with the image of its Spanish Gates on Sunset Boulevard on the left captured in 1925. In 1946, the Bel Air hotel opened, which over the years has welcomed guests including the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Ronald Reagan, Alfred Hitchcock and Elizabeth Taylor. The classic TV series The Beverly Hillbillies was filmed here, as well as The Rockford Files and Get Shorty – ‘but normally such intrusions are forbidden’, says Rosemary
VIEW OF SANTA MONICA BEACH: Taken in 1920, the snapshot on the left shows the popular seaside resort town of Santa Monica, which was founded in 1875. Rosemary explains that ornate bathhouses were built near the shoreline for changing into swimming costumes, and visitors competed in ‘bathing-beauty’ contests on the beach. ‘Movie stars and the wealthy built summer homes here,’ the author says. However, by the 1970s, the remaining bathhouses had been torn down. ‘The fancy oceanside homes remain, although in recent years some have been lost to high-tide damage and floods,’ says the author. Many of the piers that dotted the shoreline crumbled or burned down. The Santa Monica Pier is still standing, as is the pier’s nine-story Pacific Wheel, which is ‘the only Ferris wheel in California situated over the ocean’. Now, the beach – famed for its beautiful sunsets – is a hotspot for Los Angelenos, tourists, skateboarders and surfers
Los Angeles – Then and Now by Rosemary Lord is published by Pavilion, priced $20.67 (£14.99)