Through the Viewfinder: A Panoramic View of Los Angeles from the State Normal School, ca. 1895

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After reveling in the 1920s for the previous week, it’s high time (literally) to highlight an artifact from the Homestead’s collection from another portion of the museum’s interpretive period of 1830-1930.  Specifically, we feature a stereoscopic photograph of  a  panoramic view of Los Angeles from the State Normal School.

The image was published by Benjamin W. Kilburn (1827-1909), a prolific producer of stereoscopic views from the end of the Civil War period through the first decade of the 20th century.  A lifelong resident of Littleton, New Hampshire, Kilburn was apprenticed at an iron foundry in Fall River, Massachusetts and then worked at his father’s business in the same field.

After serving in a New Hampshire regiment during the Civil War, he and his brother Edward launched Kilburn Brothers for their new career field of stereoscopic photography.  While Edward took most of the images originally, Benjamin became the major photographer and the focus of their work were landscapes in the majestic White and Franconia mountain chains in their home state.

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Boston Globe, 16 January 1909.

The business did so well that a large facility was built in Littleton with the most up-to-date equipment for stereograph production.  Notably, women did most of the work in cutting prints, pasting them onto the paper mattes and other work, while men supervised and worked as photographers and printers.  At the peak, some 1,800 images were printed every day and the cost was $2 for a dozen.

Once Edward retired, the firm became B.W. Kilburn Company and Benjamin continued actively taking photos and managing the plant.  He and his company traveled through the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe taking and publishing popular views.  Moreover, Kilburn documented major events, including the inauguration of President Grover Cleveland, the horrific effects of the Johnstown Flood of 1889, the Boer War in South Africa, the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion in China, among others.

Kilburn supplemented his work with the acquisition of the negatives of other photographers, a common practice and also a source of confusion when the same image might appear from different publishers (this does not include pirated versions)  By the early 1900s, the Kilburn enterprise generate 600,000 stereoviews every year and had over 100 employees.  He even invested a camera mounted on a gun so that a tripod wasn’t needed for difficult shots in the field.

Disabled by a stroke, Kilburn died in early 1909 and the company was soon shuttered and the massive inventory of images sold to his main competition, the Keystone View Company.

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This Kilburn issued stereoscopic photograph from the museum’s holdings shows a panoramic view of downtown Los Angeles looking east from the State Normal School, a teachers’ college where the Central Public Library is.  The intersection of Grand Avenue and 5th Street (this latter extending up the photo) is in the foreground.  At center right is a portion of today’s Pershing Square with Hazard’s Pavilion across Fifth from the park.

This view is one of a series taken from commanding positions in the hills that surround Los Angeles and was labeled “Los Angeles from the University, California.”  This could easily cause confusion as to location because the word “university” would seem to imply the only such institution in the city at the time: the University of Southern California.

That school, however, was and is today across from Exposition Park southwest of downtown and there are no elevated spots like this one.  What Kilburn actually meant was the State Normal School, a teachers’ college opened in the 1880s on a hill at Grand Avenue and Fifth Street and now the location of the Central Public Library.

The lower part of the image features a bit of the heavily landscaped hillside below the institution with the intersection of Grand and Fifth (which then stopped at that location and was only later pushed further up the hill towards Figueroa Street) and the latter thoroughfare extending eastward.

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Los Angeles Herald, 22 October 1873.

The area around the Normal School was still significantly residential, including a large house at the lower right, which is about where the Biltmore Hotel and Bilmore Theatre were built less than thirty years later.  The mass of dark green behind that was Central Park, also known for years as Sixth Street Park and better known to us today as Pershing Square.

Opposite the park is a three-story building with a front elevation featuring two towers and the body of the structure extending north with triptych windows below the two-gabled roof.  This was Hazard’s Pavilion, completed in 1887 during the peak of the famed Boom of the Eighties by Henry T. Hazard (1844-1921).

Hazard was born in Evanston, Illinois, but his Mormon family traveled in wagons across the plains and through Salt Lake City to settle in the Mormon town of San Bernardino.  Though church President Brigham Young recalled the Mormons back to Utah, the Hazards remained in California, living in Tulare County for some years.

Hazard attended what became San Jose State University and then got a law degree from the University of Michigan.  Hazard then settled in Los Angeles and hung his shingle as an attorney.  In October 1871 during the horrific massacre of 19 Chinese males, Hazard tried to dissuade those conducting the lynching to stop, though his efforts were largely unheeded and he faced threats of violence for his attempts to mitigate the destruction.

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Los Angeles Times, 21 February 1889.

As a lawyer, he worked in criminal defense, real estate and with patents and made a small fortune through this work.  He was also one of the organizers of the first volunteer fire company, the 38s, which included Elijah H. Workman, nephew of Homestead owners William and Nicolasa Workman.  When a subsidy was proposed to bring the Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles in the early 1870s, Hazard was a major supporter and committee member along with F.P.F. Temple, the Workmans’ son-in-law.

Active in politics, Hazard was city attorney from 1880-1882, served in the state assembly from 1882-1888 and then was Los Angeles’ mayor from 1889-1892, as the great boom went bust.  He was instrumental in the creation and development of East Lake (now Lincoln) and Elysian parks and Hazard Park in Boyle Heights was named for him.  He was vocal in his support of the harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington during the Free Harbor Fight between that port and one the Southern Pacific promoted at Santa Monica.

In the early years of the 20th century, photographs of the Homestead, including the Workman House, Water Tower, winery buildings and other elements, were taken and were in a collection of Hazard’s that wound up at the Huntington Library.

As for the pavilion, it was Los Angeles’ largest auditorium and theater when constructed, spanning 120′ x 156′ and featured a stage but no permanent seats.  A restaurant and an art gallery were also included in the massive structure that was 50′ high at its interior peak.  It was said that the auditorium could hold 4,000 persons.

Pavilion for flower festival The_San_Francisco_Examiner_Sun__Apr_17__1887_
The incomplete Pavilion was used for a flower festival at Los Angeles, San Francisco Examiner, 17 April 1887.

The facility, however, did not even last twenty years.  The Temple Baptist Church leased the structure for services on Sundays and then bought the property in 1905.  The Pavilion was promptly pulled down and the Temple Auditorium, later known as Philharmonic Auditorium, was built there.  There is great information on the Pavilion at this Los Angeles Theatres web page.

Churches, more residences and smaller commercial buildings are scattered throughout the broad range of the image and, of course, the area would change mightily in coming decades with the homes mostly being razed for taller business buildings, while the park remained, but was also transformed over subsequent years.  As mentioned above, the Normal School gave way and eventually morphed into the University of California, Los Angeles, with the Central Public Library being completed on the site in 1926.

Los Angeles Herald, 11 June 1905.

Look for another “Through the Viewfinder” entry next month with a regional photo from the first decade of the 20th century!

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