by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The next installment of No Place Like Home takes in an unattributed cabinet card photograph of a couple of Queen Anne-style houses in the new and fashionable neighborhood of Bunker Hill in Los Angeles sometime around 1890.
Specifically, the location is the south side of 3rd Street and west of Hill Street. As the business district of the emerging city expanded further south , especially during the frenzied activity of the great boom of 1887-88, some of the well-heeled took the opportunity to build their “home with a view” on the hills along the western edges of town, including Bunker Hill.
In this case, the imposing structures shown here gave every appearance of solid, enduring stability and, undoubtedly, its builders and owners thought these impressive edifices would stand for a substantial period of time.
No one, however, could have predicted in the late 1880s just how rapidly Los Angeles and its environs would grow (“grow” seems too mild a word; “explode” might be more like it.) Within just a decade or so after this photo was taken, clearly intended to show the prosperity and solidity of these residences and the Bunker Hill district, growth was hungrily making its way their direction and soon to devour them.
By the early part of the twentieth century, these homes, not even twenty years old, would be demolished and replaced with apartment and commercial buildings. The sidewalk climbing the hill was taken out and the Angels Flight funicular railway installed there. The relentless march of growth and progress could not be slowed.
It wasn’t too much later that Bunker Hill began to decay as a residential area and, as suburbs sprung up in surrounding sections of the region, urban dwellers headed out to such locales as the Westside, the San Fernando Valley, the South Bay, and the San Gabriel Valley. The Victorian-era houses of the hill often became boarding and apartment houses serving working-class residents working in the downtown area.
In the post-World War II era, the area was slated for a new ver/vision of progress: the redevelopment of blighted areas. The new financial district was built there and the hills were refashioned to house the gleaming high rises and towers that mark the area now.
Without photographs like these, it would be impossible to see Bunker Hill today and conceive of how this was, for a short period at the end of the 1800s, a fashionable residential district filled with elaborately ornamented Victorian-era houses.
Again, it is just an opinion that this photo was taken to show off the neighborhood with its grand, substantial homes as a testament to prosperity and progress in a rapidly developing Los Angeles. If that was the intent, it was short-lived and ephemeral. Los Angeles is often characterized as a city heedless of its past, though there are many historic homes from the late 19th century that have survived and are still being lived in.
No Place Like Home will include examples, large and small, well-known and unknown, that make up the architectural and residential heritage of greater Los Angeles, so check back for more installments!