by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This installment of “Through the Viewfinder” takes us to one of the busiest sections of a bustling and widely expanding downtown Los Angeles in a photo from the Homestead collection dating to about the late 1920s.
The view appears to be from the rooftop of the Bullock’s Department Store building at the northeast corner of Seventh and Broadway looking west. Across from Bullock’s on the southeastern corner of that intersection are the Spreckels and Sun buildings, both of which stand today (the latter is now known as the Great Western).
The two-story building on the southwest corner of Broadway and Seventh helps date the photo, because the structure was razed and became, in 1929, the home of the Foreman and Clark Building, which sold this past spring for over $50 million. Beyond that, where the Wetherby-Kayser Shoe Company sign is, is a 1917 three-story structure that has survived, as has the six-story building at the southeast corner of Seventh and Olive that was recently the “L.A. Jewelry Mart” but used to be the home of the “Ville de Paris” department store
This section, in fact, has long been part of the Jewelry District in downtown, but, as this July 2016 article from the Los Angeles Times notes, times are changing for the jewelers who have plied their trade in the area for quite some time.
Also on the left of the photo is the Brockman Building, constructed in 1912, and then housing the “New York Store”, opened five years later by J.J. Haggarty and which occupied the first floor on the Seventh side and four stories on the Grand Avenue frontage.
On the right, behind the American flag, is the distinctive dome atop the Pantages Theater, built at the northwest corner of Seventh and Hill in 1920. There is a remarkable story about how Alexander Pantages, the impresario who built the theater was offered $8 million in early 1929 by Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the Boston-area clan that spawned President John F. Kennedy and brothers Robert and Edward (Ted), and was rebuffed.
It was said Kennedy hired a young woman from Orange County to accuse Panrages of rape and a lurid and sensational criminal trial followed, upon which Pantages was acquitted (though he was involved in another sex scandal a couple of years later). But, he wound up selling the structure to Kennedy and his recently acquired RKO Pictures. The theater, however, was soon turned over to Warner Brothers and later was a church. More recently, it has also been part of the Jewelry District.
Finally, there is the Los Angeles Athletic Club, an old institution dating back to 1880 and featuring many local power brokers as members, from Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler of the Times to oil tycoons Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield to transportation magnates Henry Huntington, Eli Clark and Moses Sherman and many more. The club moved into its Seventh Street digs in 1912 and the building not only houses the institution, but in recent years was renovated to include a boutique hotel to boot.
As for other elements of the image, note the steady flow of pedestrians, the automobiles and the several streetcars plying Seventh Street, which was then the major shopping district of Los Angeles. Today, as its jewelry focus has been receding, the area is becoming a residential and commercial zone, with the Brockman Building being one example of the conversion of former offices to lofts, while ground floor spaces are turned into restaurants and other retail spaces.
As downtown Los Angeles is redefined and remade, the signs of activity that marked this late Twenties photo are returning in different ways. It sure would be interesting to get a “Then and Now” comparison if someone was able to get a photo of the same view today!