The Los Angeles Plaza Area a Century Ago

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Being down at the Los Angeles Plaza last night for the opening reception of the “History Keepers” exhibit, showing until 1 October at El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street, reminded me of a pair of interesting views of the Plaza area that we have at the Homestead going back about a century.

The first is a page from Baist’s real estate atlas of Los Angeles, dating to about 1918.  This version of the atlas was loaned to me by a La Puente business owner who has since passed away and I don’t know the whereabouts of this very informative and interesting source.


The page in question shows a wide area, but the image above is cropped down to the immediate vicinity of the Plaza.  One of the major elements is how much the streets have changed.

Note that the north side of the Plaza was called Marchessault Street, after Damien Marchessault, a French-born two-time mayor of the city who committed suicide in 1868 in the chambers of the Common (City) Council because of debts and other personal issues.  The south end was simply called Plaza Street and the northern elevation of the Pico House hotel, the building of which still stands, is along that thoroughfare.  What is now an alley behind the Pico House was Sanchez Street.

Map LA Plaza area

Main Street at the time split immediately above the Plaza with San Fernando Road heading to the left and Main to the right.  Today the San Fernando Road path is North Spring, while San Fernando, the principal road out of town to the north, now begins in Lincoln Heights.  Note, too, how Sunset Boulevard then terminated directly at the Plaza and did so where the main Plaza parking lot is north of the historic Plaza Church (lot 153 on the map.)  Today Sunset ends at Figueroa and becomes César Chávez Avenue.

Los Angeles Street coming up on the east side of the Plaza had a small side route marked as San Pedro Street, which then recommenced below Aliso Street at the lower right of the map about where the Internal Revenue Service building is today.  San Pedro is known as Judge John Aiso Street from Temple to First Street on the western edge of Little Tokyo and then becomes San Pedro south of that.  Los Angeles Street used to go further along the east edge of the Plaza before it ended at Alameda, but now it follows the Marchessault Street path to terminate.  Meanwhile, the onramp to westbound U.S. 101 is right about where Ferguson Alley is on the map.

Arcadia Street was only a little more than a block long a hundred years ago, but today extends from Alameda to Broadway carrying drivers along the north side of the 101.  Just south of Arcadia is the lot marked “Property of Mrs. Arcadia B. de Baker,” which was first El Palacio, the large adobe home of early merchant Abel Stearns, the husband of Arcadia Bandini.  After his death, she took possession and then married Robert M. Baker, who built the Baker Block on the land.  The 101 runs square through the middle of the lot now.

There are two streets on the map that have vanished, at least in the vicinity covered in the document.  One, at the top left, is Bellevue Avenue, which disappeared with the rerouting of streets, but there is a section of that road to the west and does some interesting twists, stops, and starts from Sunset to Hoover Street.  Then, there is little Republic Street which ran west from Main, just below the Plaza Church to New High Street, now North Spring–although New High now begins at César Chávez and goes north for a few blocks.  Spring Street, a century ago, ended at a triple intersection at Main and Temple where City Hall was built in the late 1920s.

Finally, there is Olvera Street, once known as Vine (Wine, to some people), which was a dirt alley and not, a hundred years ago, yet conceived as a future tourist attraction.  Lot 42, between Olvera, Main and Marchessault was deeded to F.P.F. Temple in 1847, just after the American seizure of Alta California, though it is uncertain how long he held onto the property, which had an adobe building on it.  Today, there is a restaurant at the site.

A nice complement to the map is an aerial photograph from a negative in the Homestead’s collection showing the Plaza area and dating from about the same time, sometime in the 1910s.

Plaza aerial 1910 2

The image shows little Republic Street at the lower right across from the sliver of the Pico House across Main, while New High (North Spring) is from the lower center to the left.  The Plaza Church is lower left of center and you can see where Sunset and Main meets with just a hint of San Fernando Road meeting Sunset.

Olvera Street is clearly a dirt path, given its light color compared to the paved roads elsewhere.  The Avila Adobe, the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles, is just above the three-story building just left of the top center.  Los Angeles Street diagonally runs across the top right with the short extension of Marchessault Street going into that corner.

Plaza aerial 1910

A different cropping of that photo moves to the west and south towards Fort Moore Hill or Fort Hill, some of which is visible at the lower left where the dark green trees are.  These areas include sections labeled on the map as the “Arcadia Tract” and the “Braun Tract,” representing Arcadia Bandini Stearns Baker and the land of wholesale merchant F.W. Braun.

Braun’s building is the large five-story structure with an annex behind it at about dead center in the photograph. The bottom of the photo, where the two streets (one appearing to be Broadway and the other Fort Moore Place) meet in an “L” intersection is about where the 101 Freeway goes through today.

It’s always fun, interesting and informative to look at older photos and maps and then compare the views to what is there today.  Thanks to Google Maps and its satellite view, that is more easily comparable, so check out this link to the Google Maps satellite view of the general area in the map and photos.

2 thoughts

  1. I became interested in the history of this neighborhood at some point around 1980. It’s strange now to recall that at that time, New High Street still continued down from Chinatown, behind the Plaza Church and across Repubic Street which T-boned into it. The Brunswig plant still stood in its entirety, filling most of the space bounded by the church, New High, Main, and Republic. Additionally, there were one or two additional buildings on the far side of New High, one of which I remember being strangely tall given its narrow footprint. The informational pamphlets handed out by El Pueblo Park actually listed thiese building which were from the early 1900s. The strange tall building was in use by the juvenile court division, attested by old fashioned gold stenciled lettering on the door.

    Since then, nothing is left except the original Brunswig building and the annex next to it on Main. What they used to celebrate as “progress” has cleared away all the, rest of it, which is mostly parking lots

  2. Hi TWS, thanks for the comment, with additional info, and, yes, it is very interesting how the streets in the Plaza and nearby areas have changed so much. We appreciate your interest in the blog!

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