Through the Viewfinder: Spring Street South of Fourth Street Looking North, Los Angeles, ca. 1905

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the best ways to see many of the aspects of how greater Los Angeles was transformed during our interpretive era of 1830 to 1930 is through photographs and the Homestead’s collection has a good representative sample of images of the city and region.

Tonight’s featured artifact is one of these, showing a busy Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, looking to the north from a vantage point a bit south of the intersection from Fourth Street.  It can be compared with another entry from fall 2017 in the “Through the Viewfinder” series with a snapshot of Spring at Fourth in 1902.

Los Angeles Express, 24 May 1901.

Spring Street was long the financial center of the burgeoning metropolis with most of the banks, brokers and others based on the thoroughfare.  Back in the 1870s, the Temple and Workman bank opened in the furthest north of the several structures of the Temple Block where Spring, Main and Temple streets then intersected.

In the 1920s, when Walter P. Temple invested in some commercial building construction projects at the other end of Spring, just before it merged with Main past Ninth, one of those buildings was the National City Bank Building.  Spring Street continued to be the hub of the city’s finance district for some time afterwards.

Express, 4 April 1905.

As for this great photo, it takes in a lot of interesting features.  Some of the elements were discussed in the 1902 photo post, including the five-story building on the left, or west, side of Spring, about halfway between Fourth and Third, and which has an advertisement on the south elevation for the George J. Birkel Company, dealers in musical instruments.

On the east side of Spring, at the northeast corner of Fourth and the sixth building on the right in the photo featured here, is a new structure with an American flag flying from the corner of the roof.  This is the Herman W. Hellman Building, finished in 1903, and of which the Homestead has a pamphlet commemorating its completion and opening.

Los Angeles Times, 10 January 1905.

The fifth building on the right, being at the southeast corner of Spring and Fourth and which was not visible, although a bit of construction material was, became the Braly Building when it was completed in 1904 and which was, at twelve stories, the tallest building in the city for many decades because of a height limit ordinance enacted later that limited structures to eleven floors, with the notable exception of the city hall finished in 1928.  As noted in the 1902 photo post, the height limit was not out of concern for earthquakes, but, rather, aesthetics, as city leaders did not want the darkened streets of eastern metropolises dominated by much taller skyscrapers.

As for this circa 1905 image, the third building on the right housed the well-known furniture store of Barker Brothers, which opened for business in Los Angeles in 1880 before the boom later that decade that radically remade the city and region.  The store operated in this Spring Street location until 1926, when a new building rose at the corner of Figueroa and Seventh and which was the subject of a post here not quite two years ago.  The Temple family bought furniture from Barker Brothers after it came into oil money during World War I and some of this is displayed at La Casa Nueva today.

Times, 22 January 1905.

Prominent on the left side of this photo is the Hotel Angelus, which opened its doors at the very end of 1901 at the southwest corner of Spring and Fourth directly opposite the Braly Building.  It was the tallest structure in the city at the time of completion and sported a billiard room, a bowling alley, a large banquet hall which hosted art sales and rug auctions and the like, and a hair salon.

The three-story building at the left housed the Scott Brothers clothiers and the Commercial National Bank on the ground floor and the Grand Pacific Hotel above.  Scott Brothers opened its doors in the first years of the new century, while the bank was one of a dozen listed in a “Clearing House Banks” directory in local newspapers during the period the photo was taken.

Los Angeles Herald, 16 March 1905.

Commercial National was one of the smaller of those institutions, the largest of which was Farmers and Merchants Bank, established in 1871 after its founder Isaias W. Hellman ended his partnership with William Workman and F.P.F. Temple.  Whereas Farmers and Merchants had $1.5 million in capital and $1.15 million in surplus and profits, little Commercial National only had $200,000 of the former and a paltry $7,000 of the latter in spring 1905.

As for the hotel, it was one of those that frequently rented out rooms to entrepreneurs of esoteric enterprises.  A couple of examples here, from January 1905, included Dr. Bixby, who offered a “free lecture and demonstrations in psychometric readings and healing” at 10:30 and 12:30 that day.  His ad was sandwiched in between the “New Thought League” which offered to cure addictions to cigarettes, morphine and cocaine, and the “Society of Spiritual Progression,” whose pastor was Mary Vlasek.

There was also Dr. Melvin Sykes, who kept a room at the hotel in early 1905 and who promised to cure blood and skin diseases in as little as four and as many as forty days, claiming he’d “secured the services and treatment of an old specialist of 50 years’ experience” and yet had new medicines without mercury and other questionable ingredients.  Among the problems eliminated by Dr. Sykes and his unnamed co-conspirator were cancer, ulcers, pimples, eczema, hernias, and, strangely, the “opium habit” and “all Private Diseases,” presumably sexually transmitted ones.  It was certainly an era of all manner of alternative thinkers and practitioners and the Grand Pacific hosted its share of these.

2983 Spring Street Los Angeles California 2012.6.1.1
This circa 1905 view of Spring Street looking north from just south of Fourth Street is from the Homestead’s collection.

Other occupants of businesses in the foreground buildings included a bakery, saloon, restaurant, the Big 4 Pants Company, and a grocers.  With all of the commercial activity brewing on Spring Street, it’s no wonder there were a fair number of pedestrians on the sidewalk (including a couple of ladies on the left resplendent in white dresses and a number of gents sporting the de rigeur straw hat with black band), a couple of me on bicycles, quite a few horse-drawn vehicles (note the horse at the right digging deeply into his feed bag), and a pair of electric streetcars from the Los Angeles Railway in the middle of the street.  It is also interesting to note the beautiful electric street lights with a main center globe surrounded by a quartet of smaller ones.

All in all, this photo is another fascinating documentary image of a Los Angeles in the midst of another major growth period, the largest since the famed Boom of the 1880s, and which followed a decade of depression and drought.  It is also a nice companion piece to the 1902 image in showing how Spring Street was a particularly important thoroughfare in the business world of the bustling metropolis.

To read more about this section of town and to see a published color postcard derived from this photograph, check out this page of Brent Dickerson’s “A Visit to Old Los Angeles” site.


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