Through the Viewfinder: Broadway From Second Street, Los Angeles, 1890s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

While the Homestead has a nice collection of views of downtown Los Angeles from 1870 to 1930, showing the dramatic transformation of a small frontier town to a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis, it is interesting that there are few examples that show more than one view from a given spot.

Perhaps this is because many photographs have a specified subject, a given home or commercial building, a park or the Plaza, or an event like a parade.  On occasion, a photographer would take up a position on one of the hills flanking the west side of downtown and snap panoramic views in all directions (though not generally west, which developed later than the other cardinal points.)

What makes the photographs accompanying this post a bit unusual, at least for the Homestead’s collection, is that the photographer, hanging evidently out the window of a building on the west side of Broadway at Second Street, took his snapshots in both north and south directions.

Broadway North From First Los Angeles 2010.18.1.1

The views take in a relatively quiet thoroughfare, not long before known as Fort Street (because it led to Fort Moore atop the hill overlooking the Plaza to the north), though there are some notable elements.

For example, in the photo above, which looks north towards the newly completed (1889) Los Angeles County Courthouse, check out the gent walking his little white dog in the middle of the street, or the dude casually relaxing against a pole smoking a pipe.  A few horse-drawn vehicles are on or parked at the side of Broadway, while a streetcar makes its way south.

The block across Broadway and north of Second is now occupied by the Los Angeles Times, which has had its headquarters on the site for well over a century.  In 1910, two radical union members bombed the notoriously anti-labor and conservative publication in an act of domestic terrorism previously unknown in the city.

Broadway South From First Los Angeles 2010.18.1.2

In the view above, the photographer switched positions and leaned out the window taking in Broadway looking south.  The sidewalks are a little busier and there are also quite a few more horse-drawn conveyances, many parked in front of the Romanesque Revival building with the tall tower across the street.  That was City Hall, also completed in 1889 just as the famed Boom of the Eighties came to an end.  Presumably, the vehicles were there to take visitors to and from their business with the growing city.

The City Hall remained in that spot for almost forty years and, as Los Angeles expanded dramatically, it was far too small for the administrative needs of the burgeoning metropolis.  The city purchased an area northeast of this location in what had been known more recently as “Temple Square” and, prior to that, the “Temple Block”, a series of commercial buildings built by the brothers Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple between 1857 and 1871.  In the mid-1920s demolition of the block began and the new 28-story city hall rose up on the site.  The facility was completed in spring 1928 and is now approaching its 90th birthday.

Another streetcar heads north up Broadway past a four-story building that appears to be where a Times parking structure is located now.  Commercial structures line the east side of the thoroughfare as far as the eye can see, an indication of how, during that boom the preceding decade, the scope of commercial Los Angeles moved west from Spring and Main streets to Broadway.

These unusual dual views of Broadway at Second Street, sometime in the 1890s, are great examples of how this rapidly growing city, which was just a small town two decades before, was well on its way to being the commercial hub of the American southwest.  Within thirty years it would be a major metropolis on par with its older counterparts in the midwest and east.

Next in the “Through the Viewfinder” series, we’ll see another part of Los Angeles in the first years of the 20th century.

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