From Point A to Point B: A Transportation Quinfecta, Los Angeles, 1920s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It’s pretty rare to find an example like the photograph highlighted here which shows just about every mode of transportation available on an urban street.

This circa 1920s photograph from the Homestead’s collection was taken on the west side of Broadway between 1st and 2nd streets.  The most notable structure in the view is the Gothic Revival, with its highly distinctive clock tower, headquarters of the Los Angeles Times, at the northeast corner of 1st and Broadway, which was established there in the mid-1880s and which was the site of the notorious bombing of the strucure by union radicals in 1910.

The building was reconstructed afterward, but, in the mid-1930s, the Times moved to its current location south of 1st between Broadway and Spring, where the building at the far right in the photo with awnings and a sign noting the location of the headquarters of the Loyal Order of Moose (yes, it still exists!) fraternal society.  The old site, long empty and fenced off, is part of the extensive Grand Park project.

Further up Broadway past the Thorpe Building and other smaller commercial structures is the 11-story height-limit (because of earthquake concerns) Hall of Records, with its ornate architectural features, including rounded corners, conical roof towers, and highly ornamented facades at the roofline.  Completed in 1911, the structure housed county offices as well as public records, but, by the 1960s, it was vacated and the building was demolished in 1973. Just north and not visible in the photo was the county courthouse, built in 1889.

Also of interest, is the entrance to the Broadway Tunnel past the Hall of Records.  Carved through Fort Moore Hill and opened in 1901 for the use of horse-drawn vehicles heading north to and from downtown.  However, as construction for the 101 Freeway ensued in the post-World War II period, the reorientation of the area turned the tunnel area into an overpass and the tunnel was removed in 1949.

Broadway North From Near 1st St Los Angeles 2011.117.1.1
This 1920s photograph from the Homestead’s collection shows several methods of transportation on Broadway, just south of 1st Street.  Note pedestrians, a bicyclist delivering the Los Angeles Herald newspaper, a horse-drawn vehicle piled with what looks like textiles, a Pacific Electric Railway car, and several automobiles.  The headquarters of the Los Angeles Times is behind the streetcar, and the county’s Hall of Records and the Broadway Tunnel are further up the street.

With regards to the several forms of transportation shown in the photo, the most basic, obviously, is pedestrian.  Then, there is a bicyclist, albeit one with a three-wheeled one with a secured storage area marked “Herald,” meaning he was a newspaper carrier for the Los Angeles Herald daily.  The bicyclist is just behind a horse-drawn vehicle that appears to be loaded with carpets, rugs or bolts of fabric.

Next to the bicycle and the horse-drawn cart is a Pacific Electric streetcar heading for Western Avenue via 7th Street and Westlake Park.  While streetcars had been part of the transit landscape in the city for about a half-century by the time this photo was taken, they were becoming less and less utilized because of the fifth form of transportation observed in the photo.

Automobiles were first introduced to the area in the very late 1890s and their popularity grew rapidly.  By the mid-1920s, they were so common downtown that there were problems accommodating them and streetcars.  Street parking was banned, leading to the demolition of older buildings for either parking lots or garages.  Another major problem had to do with safe driving and it appears that a traffic police officer is standing in the middle of the intersection of First and Broadway just behind the large sedan.

Though the massive growth of the car severely impacted ridership on streetcars, the Great Depression and World War II prolonged the life of the mode of rapid transit until the postwar period.  The huge economic and population boom after 1945 assured the superiority of the automobile, but suburban growth also meant the decline of downtown for decades.

Now, people have flocked back to live and work there and downtown’s streets are back to utilizing multiple forms of transportation from walking to bicycling to rapid transit to cars.  It’ll be interesting, for sure, to see what the future holds when it comes to navigating downtown!

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