Through the Viewfinder: A Panorama of Downtown Los Angeles, ca. 1910s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Panoramic, sweeping views of any town or city compared over time are testaments to the transitions and changes that encompass these places. Those of downtown Los Angeles can be dramatic pieces of documentation as the City of Angels grew from a frontier town to a bustling metropolis and hub of the American Southwest.

The photo highlighted here dates from sometime in the 1910s and looks to be from about the southeast corner of Los Angeles and 2nd streets looking towards the northwest.  There are some well-known city landmarks in view, especially three in a row at the center and slightly to the left.

The first large structure to the left is one recently discussed in the post about the “quinfecta” of transportation from a 1920s-era photo on Broadway.  That building is the Hall of Records, who stood from 1911 to 1973, and which was recently completed when this photo was taken.

Immediately to the right of that is the tall tower of the county courthouse, which was built in 1889 during the famed boom of the preceding couple of years.  This Romanesque landmark stood until the mid-1930s.

A smaller tower to the right of the courthouse and above the very white building about dead center is the second Los Angeles High School, atop Fort Moore Hill.  Its predecessor was constructed in 1872 and this version opened about two decades later and was used for about a quarter century until 1917.

A number of painted billboards on the sides and rear of buildings hearken back to a common form of advertisement not done much anymore, though faded examples can still be found throughout downtown.

Los Angeles Business District 2005.460.1.1
This panoramic photograph from the Homestead’s collection dates to the 1910s and shows a portion of downtown Los Angeles from about the intersection of Los Angeles and 2nd streets looking northwest.

In the foreground are a couple of examples of the William H. Hoegee Company, best known for sporting goods, and located on Main Street between 1st and 2nd, though the three-story brick building went through the Los Angeles Street.

Towards the center is the opera house on Main Street at 1st designed by Ezra F. Kysor (architect of the Pico House, Merced Theater, and, it has been said, the remodeled Workman House here at the Homestead) and his partner Octavius Morgan.  It was built by orchardist Ozro W. Childs in 1884.

Known for a time as the Orpheum and part of the famed vaudeville circuit of theaters by that name, it was also the location of the first showing of movies in 1896.  By 1903, it was the Grand and that name was modified to Clune’s Grand in 1912.  The 1,500-seat theater closed in 1936 and became a parking lot.

Further to the right are a trio of advertisements, including Kingsbaker and Klingenstein’s cigar store, the Zellerbach Paper Company, and the Harper and Reynolds company, which had its origins several decades prior in Los Angeles manufacturing and selling stoves, tin ware and other like products.

It’s a little hard to see, but, just to the left of the cigar company and to the right of the opera house is a small sign for Volunteers of America, which formed in 1896 in New York and opened its Los Angeles Street branch the same year as a mission for the homeless and a residence for orphaned children.  Later, the group opened a facility in Boyle Heights where William Workman’s son Joseph once lived on Boyle Avenue.

Booms in Los Angeles came and went several times between 1870 and 1930, the end of the Homestead’s interpretive period.  After the national depression of 1907, the first part of the following decade, which is when it appears this photo was taken, brought another period of sustained growth in the city and region.  Images like this help to show the transformations at work during that period.

Leave a Reply