Through the Viewfinder: Spring Street North From Third Street, ca. 1895

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the most important aspects of the Homestead’s historic artifact collection is its documentation of many of the transformative elements in greater Los Angeles during the museum’s interpretive era of 1830 to 1930.  This could be in terms of economics, politics, education, social movements, gender issues and many more and often the most compelling objects are photographs.

The museum’s holdings include quite a number of professional and personal images that show the dramatic changes over time that took place in our area.  Among these are views of the hub of the region, Los Angeles, ranging from the early 1870s with stereoscopic photos to the cabinet card images of the later 19th century and to the varied sizes and formats of the first three decades of the 20th century, whether these are cabinet cards, 8×10 prints, real photo postcards, and a range of snapshots.

Today’s highlighted item from the Homestead’s photo collection is an excellent Garden City Foto Company cabinet card of a bustling Spring Street just south of Third Street taken about the mid-1890s.  The firm opened in 1894 and consisted of James T. Pollock and his wife Anna.  The couple were prolific in taking city views, portraits and many other images for about fifteen years and the museum’s collection has dozens of Garden City views.

0120013 No.266 Spring St Looking North From 3rd St Los Angeles Cal 2010.56.1.1

This one takes in a variety of notable elements of Los Angeles during the so-called Gilded Age.  Spring Street was, along with Main Street, the burgeoning business thoroughfare of the growing city, which experienced the dramatic Boom of the Eighties, peaking in 1886-88, and then the inevitable bust that followed.  The following decade included the crippling Depression of 1893 and, regionally, there were several years of drought that affected the region’s agriculture.  Still, Los Angeles and environs grew.

Commercial buildings shown in the image range from older single-story structures to elegant six-story edifices, including in the Romanesque style, as seen at the northeast corner of Spring and Third.  Signs help with the identification of the occupants of at least a few of these buildings, including one offering telegraphic services in front of the six-story structure at the right; F.L. Parmelee’s crockery and glassware store on the east side of Spring; and, behind this, one for Woodbury Business College, which Walter P. Temple attended around 1890, and which still exists in Burbank as Woodbury University.

Closer to the photographer at the left and on the southwest corner of Spring and Third is the Hotel Ramona, named for the world famous character in Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona, published in 1884 and alluded to in yesterday’s post about Ellis Villa College.  The hostelry existed for just a short period, from about 1895 to 1903 according to the Pacific Coast Architecture Database, where a fine photo of what was known as the Callegan Block shows what is described as a Queen Anne style edifice.

East side buildings Spring St Looking North From 3rd St Los Angeles Cal 2010.56.1.1

A streetside sign identifies “Tally’s Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor” just to the south of the hotel and which was opened by Peter Bacigalupi (Thomas W. Temple II, whose family owned the Homestead from 1917 to 1932 went to Santa Clara University with a member of that family) of San Francisco at the end of 1894 and then quickly sold to Thomas L. Tally.

The parlor was a forerunner of the nickelodeons which soon became dominant in the entertainment landscape of American cities and presaged the development of the motion picture theater.  As explained by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the kinetoscope was invented by William Dickson and the legendary Thomas Edison in 1891.

The device included a peephole with a spinning wheel including a narrow shutter through which a strip of film passed quickly between the lens and an electric bulb.  At 46 frames per second, the projection was a very realistic one and, while Edison thought the invention was a novelty, it created a sensation when first shown in New York earlier in 1894.  From here, the road to motion pictures was mapped out.

Tally Ramona signs Spring St Looking North From 3rd St Los Angeles Cal 2010.56.1.1

On that sign is a portion that reads “See The Corbett Fight.”  This refers to the famed American boxer James J. Corbett (1866-1933), a San Francisco native and heavyweight champion best known for being the only fighter to defeat the legendary John L. Sullivan in 1892 and retaining his title for about five years.

There reference on the sign was to the fact that Corbett’s scheduled bout on 7 September 1894 with Peter Courtney specifically for the process was the second prizefight to be recorded on film, following one by the same producer in June.   The fight was structured for six one-minute rounds and the finished product was titled Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph.  A first-round extract can be found on YouTube and it is very much like later motion picture film–though it is comic to see Courtney’s knee-length tights-like pants and Corbett’s shortest of shorts showing ample posterior portions!

In addition to the aforementioned aspects, the photo is notable for the activity taking place on Spring Street with regard to all the ways Angelenos were transported at the end of the 19th century.  Pedestrians ply the sidewalks, a lone bicyclist heads up Spring (today, efforts continue to make downtown streets more bicycle-friendly), and there are many horse-drawn conveyances, including open carriages and closed vehicles like the laundry truck at the left.  Also of note is Car 168 of the Los Angeles Railway with the sign readable enough on magnification to show the word “Pico” referring to the street.  There appear to be one or two other cars further up Spring.

Vehicles Spring St Looking North From 3rd St Los Angeles Cal 2010.56.1.1

The streetcar ran on electricity and the trolley pole connecting the car to the lines above the street can be discerned.  Lines, as was common for the era, criss-cross the street in quite a pattern while wooden poles line the street on the sidewalks.  None of this would have been seen just two decades prior.

This remarkable image is a great document to show many dramatic changes in a rapidly urbanizing Los Angeles, where technological transformations continued to expand dramatically as was the case in other American cities.  An approximation of the same general scene today can be discerned in this Google Maps view.

As an added bonus, check out the excellent and through history of the Tally enterprise from the Los Angeles Theatres blog.


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