Through the Viewfinder: Highland Park, Los Angeles, 1908

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The last entry in the “Through the Viewfinder” series of posts looked at bucolic, rural Hollywood (or, Colegrove) in the twilight years of the 19th century.  Jumping forward a decade or so and heading off to a different compass point, to the northeast, we highlight a great photograph from the “oughts” (why didn’t we call the 2000s, the “oughts” as we ought to have done?) of Highland Park.

While it wasn’t as undeveloped and open as good old Colegrove, Highland Park and its surrounding areas still was, in that first decade of the 20th century, full of open spaces in the “valley floor” along the Arroyo Seco and environs, as well as the nearby hills.  There had been, just as the century turned (was that, technically, in 1900 or 1901?) a major boom in the region after a long decade in the 1890s of relative stagnation.

In 1908, when this photo was snapped from the hills along the eastern fringes of the community that separated Highland Park from South Pasadena, there was an economic depression that broke out the previous year.  Still, much had changed in preceding years and the photo shows a growing area of residences, churches, and an interesting neoclassical building towards the left.

The sender wrote to the recipients that the aunt of both lived near the Methodist Episcopal Church which is just above the center in front of a dark area of trees and that she lived three blocks from the line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line that is now the Gold Line route through the area.

RPPC Of Birds Eye View Highland Park Los Angeles 2011.460.1.1
This great panoramic real photo postcard from the Homestead’s collection shows portions of the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1908.

The houses look to be a typically broad range of structures found in newly developed residential communities, from large two-story homes to smaller single story dwellings.  It’s a bit hard to tell from the panoramic scope of the photo, but the decade was a one of architectural transition from the exuberant Victorian-era styles, like Queen Anne, to the Craftsman style that became dominant.

Still, look at all of the undeveloped space and open areas, especially in the foreground and in the low hills towards Eagle Rock, then the Verdugo Mountains and other areas in the distance (while the San Gabriel Mountains loom further out).

That would change, of course, with more economic booms coming in the early 1910s, and the late part of that decade and well into the 1920s.  A major defining period for the Highland Park area and what has been called the “Arroyo Seco communities” was the 1940 completion of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the precursor to our freeway system.

In more recent decades, the phenomenon of “white flight” from older areas like Highland Park took place as people headed to newer suburbs in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys or left the area.  Ethnic minorities, especially Latinos, looking for affordable places close to job centers near downtown Los Angeles, found Highland Park and surrounding enclaves to be very desirable.

Then, there is the phenomenon of gentrification, which has been a point of controversy for many neighborhoods close to downtown, including Silver Lake, Boyle Heights and Highland Park.  Just in the last few years, record housing prices and rents have made the issue of gentrification, much less general affordability of housing, a major issue.

What the future holds for places like Highland Park will certainly be interesting to see!

Leave a Reply