Victorian Fair Themes: A Photograph of Temple Street, Los Angeles, early 1880s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Here’s another post as a prelude to next weekend’s Victorian Fair and focusing (!) on a stereoscopic photograph by Payne, Stanton and Company from the early 1880s showing an area of Los Angeles near Temple Street, which was laid out by Jonathan Temple in the 1850s and is now a major thoroughfare in downtown today.

This view, taken not long before the arrival in 1885 of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe transcontinental railroad line which ushered in the Boom of the Eighties that transformed the city and region, shows what was still a residential neighborhood on the slopes of the hills at the west edge of town.

The photographer obviously got to the top of a larger building (perhaps a church?) and it is tough to judge exactly where the vantage point was, though perhaps someone out there knows.  Given the length of the block along Temple from the street at the bottom below the photographer and the top of the hill and judging from the rise in elevation to a crest, it would appear the location was at about Fort Street, soon renamed Broadway, and Grand Avenue, near where the county courthouse was built several years later.  At the right edge, just about the center a street heads off to the right where a home with a picket fence clearly show the intersection.  A dirt path then runs straight from that at the left side, perhaps indicating where Hill Street would later run through the area.

3071 Temple St Los Angeles 2005.531.1.1
This stereographic photograph from the Homestead’s collection was taken about 1884 by the firm of Payne, Stanton and Company (Henry T. and Daniel Payne and Thomas E. Stanton) and shows an area around Temple Street, perhaps between Hill and Grand.

Roughly fifteen houses are in view and they range fairly considerably in size, with most being two story.  Architecturally, a majority of the residences represent the styles that were popular in the preceding decade or so, mainly Italinate and French Second Empire.

Not surprisingly, there is also a variety of landscapes with the homes.  Some are fenced with white pickets and have neatly kept gardens and yards, while others, notably the one at the lower right, are more unkempt.  Some homes look to have a variety of smaller bushes and shrubs, while the homes toward the top of the hill, at the center and top of the photo, have larger trees.

Especially obvious with the structures in the foreground are the easily discernible little white structures in the rear yards, generally near the end of the property line.  With either a two-gabled roof or a sloping single gable, these were the outhouses in common usage before the advent of indoor plumbing which was a few years off yet for most homes.

Another significant element to the photo is the large, dark wood structure at the upper left.  The building looks to be in construction, because the taller towers in the front do not appear finished with their roofs.  Given the fact there are two stories in the long section, perhaps this was a school.  Today, however, that area, if the assumption here is correct, is where the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral stands now.

As for dating the photograph, it is known that Payne, Stanton and Company ceased operations about the middle of the 1880s.  Henry T. Payne was an early photographer in Los Angeles, taking over the studio of William M. Godfrey about 1872 and then working extensively in the areas as greater Los Angeles was in the peak of its first significant growth period.

Payne Stanton Co ad LA_Herald_May_7__1884_
Herald, 7 May 1884.

By the end of the 1870s, Payne was working with his brother Daniel and with Thomas E. Stanton, who came to Los Angeles at that time, and the firm, also known as the Elite Gallery, took many fine images of the city and region for several years.  After the partnership dissolved, the Paynes left Los Angeles (though Henry later returned and died in Glendale in the early 1930s), while Stanton continued to work in the business, with partners and alone, into the 1920s.

This remarkable photograph documents an area of Los Angeles that was soon to be completely remade by the great Boom of the Eighties that followed shortly after the image was snapped.  The residential character gradually gave way to government and commercial uses and the elementary school property moved from one public purpose to another, when the county courthouse was completed there a few years later.  Of course, to anyone going to the area today the contrast between the view in the photo and what is there now (the civic center remaking of the 1920s rerouted the streets, so the perspective is quite a bit different) is pretty amazing.

2 thoughts

  1. Thanks for these great blog posts! I’d guess that this photo was taken from atop the old Los Angeles High School building on Poundcake Hill. The large, dark building with the two unfinished towers at upper right is the Horticultural Pavilion, built by the Southern California Horticultural Society and opened in October 1878. The Pavilion was torn down in March 1882 because a mortgage on the property was not paid. Material from the Pavilion was used to build residences on the site.

  2. Hi Mike, appreciate the comment and the info, especially about the Horticultural Pavilion. It seems obvious now that the building was being torn down, not built! We’ll write a post just on this, thanks to your help, so look for that on Wednesday.

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