Through the Viewfinder: A Photo of Downtown Los Angeles North from Broadway and 6th, 3 October 1910

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Tonight’s highlighted object from the Homestead’s collection is a stereoscopic photograph providing an excellent panoramic view of part of downtown Los Angeles from a newly created vantage point at Broadway and 6th Street. It is amateur photo and has a pencil inscription on the back of the matte reading “No. 19 / October 3, 1910 / looking North over / Broadway, L.A. Cal. / from top of Story Bldg. / 6th & Broadway, 10 stories / high.”

It seems probable that the unknown shutterbug was acquainted with the owner of the Walter P. Story Building, a Beaux Arts structure designed by the well-known architectural firm of Morgan, Walls and Clements, and which was completed six months prior to the photo being taken. Because Story and his wife lived in the penthouse, it stands to reason that the photographer was able to get permission to get to the roof to snap this great view.

Across the street, on the northeast corner of Broadway and 6th is the original Pantages Theatre, operated by Alexander Pantages, who owned a chain of theatrical venues on the West Coast and elsewhere in the country and who has been the subject of a few posts in this blog previously. The advertising signage on the south side of the structure trumpeted the “unrivalled vaudeville” put on by “American & European Artists of Repute” at “Popular Prices.”

Story conflict The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__May_17__1906_
Los Angeles Times, 17 May 1906.

Across from the theater is advertising on a five-story brick structure for the photography studio of Albert Witzel, who had a long and successful career after his arrival in Los Angeles in 1909, including taking photos of film actors and celebrities until his death two decades later. Two structures north is that James P. Burns Building with a painted sign on the side of the building for a shoe store and a ladies’ tailor. For buildings north from there is the structure housing the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper, established in 1903 by media titan William Randolph Hearst to compete with the powerful Los Angeles Times. Later, the iconic headquarters, designed by Julia Morgan who worked on Hearst Castle, opened at Broadway and 11th.

A few buildings north of Broadway and Fifth is a painted sign advertising the store of Beeman and Hendee, a pair of women who sold a variety of soft goods items including Asian embroidered pieces and Native American blankets, clothing for women and children and others. Across Broadway on the east is advertising for the Parmelee-Dohrmann Building, which its namesake company completed in 1906 and occupied five of the eight floors. The store, dating back to an establishment in an adobe structure near the Plaza in the late 1870s and then on Spring near 2nd streets, sold tableware, including china, silver, and crystal. In the late 1920s, the company moved to Flower near 7th street, where the city’s major shopping area coalesced. In the distance is the very top of the City Hall’s tower and the hill where the 1891 Los Angeles High School and, to the left, some larger homes among some groves of trees can be discerned.

Story entries Who's Who Pac Coast 1913
Who’s Who on the Pacific Coast, 1913.

As for activity on Broadway, we’re limited mainly to the sidewalk on the west side of the thoroughfare and there are plenty of pedestrians plying their way along, while the street is not particularly busy, with a few streetcars, a horse-drawn vehicle here and there, a lone bicyclist and the rare automobile or two. Other commercial buildings west of Broadway, including along Hill Street and a bit of Bunker Hill are to the left and top left, respectively. Off in the distance are some portion of the Elysian Hills, as well.

Concerning the location from which the photo was taken, Walter Perry Story (1883-1957) is a notable character, the youngest of four children born to Ellen Trent and Nelson Story, the latter an Ohio native who, in his twenties, led the first cattle drive from Texas to Montana and was purportedly the rancher with the largest number of stock in that territory in the years following the Civil War. Nelson also enhanced his fortune in milling, mining and banking in Bozeman, and, in the mid-1890s, came to Los Angeles to invest in real estate, including the acquisition of that choice corner of Broadway and 6th.

He then deeded the parcel to his son, though the two had a falling out that involved some litigation in 1906, with Walter claiming he was duped into signing over his ownership of the property, granted to him when he was just fourteen, though that seems to have been quickly resolved. Those he was only in his mid-twenties when the structure was built, Walter was accounted the owner and developer of his building, which was both tall and up-to-date when it was completed in April 1910, though his father fronted half the million dollars spent, the other half coming from bank loans.

Walter P. Story obit The_Los_Angeles_Times_Thu__Jun_20__1957_
Times, 20 June 1957.

Just prior to coming to Los Angeles, Walter attended a Minnesota military school and a business college in Poughkeepsie, New York. He married, returned to Bozeman to work in his father’s bank and then migrated west to the City of Angels, where he began a motor transit line as autos and trucks were still quite new and formed a real estate partnership. As noted before, Story and his wife lived part-time in the penthouse, though they had a home west of Westlake Park and he later resided in North Hollywood. In 1921, Story completed the Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building on Spring Street, just south of 6th.

Story was best known in his time for his military service, which included his enlistment in the Army during the First World War, serving as a private in the infantry. He went, upon the war’s end, to join the California National Guard and was commissioned a captain. He worked on reorganizing the guard in the region and, after a promotion to major, formed his own infantry company, the 160th. Rising soon to colonel, Story then transferred to the 40th Division, took examinations at the Presidio in San Francisco before the regular Army board and, in 1926, was promoted to Brigadier General. He commanded the 80th brigade for eleven years and moved up the ranks to Major General after completing studies at the Army War College.

SV Broadway Los Angeles 2016.232.1.1

Meanwhile, in 1928, he formed Camp Merriam, later Camp San Luis Obispo, in San Luis Obispo County and, after the devastating Long Beach earthquake of 1933, he was tasked with leading the National Guard response. Just prior to the World War II years, he commanded the 9th Army Corps and the 40th Infantry Division and illness led to his being relieved of command in September 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he retired the following July. Story, who was married three times, died in 1957 at age 73 having also been involved on state and city commissions for agriculture and the fire and police pension board, respectively, and a director and officer of a number of companies, as well as an American Legion commander. In the California State Military Museum, where much of the information on Story’s service derives, there is a library and research center named for him.

This photo is an excellent view of a major part of downtown during the first years of the 20th century as Los Angeles continued its relentless expansion. In succeeding years, as the film industry took root locally, this section of Broadway became the theater district, with many movie palaces built to serve the growing population and some of which still survive. It is great to have this image in the collection to document some of the dramatic changes that took place in the Angel City during that period.

One thought

  1. Great stuff.

    I am looking for any photos of neon signage in downtown Los Angeles, especially in the early 1920s, especially photos of the intersection of 7th and Flower in 1923.

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