Through the Viewfinder: A Photo of Western Avenue at Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, 20 October 1924

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the many areas of greater Los Angeles that was burgeoning during another in the successive series of economic booms in the region in the early 1920s was the area near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in what is now the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. As development moved increasingly west of downtown and past Westlake Park, which was created during the 1880s, and followed Wilshire, formerly Orange Street, out to areas like that off Western Avenue.

As Nathan Masters showed in his “History & Society” article on the thoroughfare for KCET, it has often been stated that Western demarcated the western boundary of the original pueblo limits of Los Angeles, but this is not the case. Instead, that honor went to Hoover Street, which, prior to the early Nineties, was known, of course, as West Boundary Avenue and which was over a mile east of Western.

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Los Angeles Express, 2 April 1913.

In 1896, however, as annexation of outlying territory began to be more common, the City of Los Angeles expanded through the “Western Addition” comprising over 6.500 acres west of Hoover to Arlington and, largely, from Wilshire to 35th Place (next to the University Addition where the University of Southern California is situated). The word “largely” is used because there is a northeastern part of the addition that extends north to Temple Street between Hoover and Vermont. In fact, Western Avenue wasn’t even the west end of the addition!

At the end of the 19th century, though, the Western/Wilshire area was still decidedly rural and one of those still engaged in ranching in this section was Germain Pellissier (1849-1908), who migrated from the Haute Alps region of southeastern France in his late teens and wound up in Los Angeles. There were many immigrants from the area of France who settled in this region and took up the ancient occupation of sheep herding, including a number who went to the Puente area, such as the Didier and Amar families. Pellissier’s nephew Frank, who came to the area during the Boom of the Eighties about twenty years after his uncle, wound up buying from “Lucky” Baldwin significant portions of the Workman Mill tract where the San Gabriel River meets San Jose Creek and established a prominent dairy.

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Los Angles Times, 13 April 1913.

Pellissier acquired up to 400 acres in the early 1880s and grazed his herds there through the end of the century and into the next and there was a ranch house that was torn down after his death and an impressive new home built five years later as his widow and family took advantage of approaching suburbia to subdivide much of their holdings into the Pellissier Square neighborhood.

The tract was announced at the beginning of April 1913 with the Los Angeles Express reporting, “the near future will witness the opening of a new addition in the Wilshire district to be known as Pellissier Square.” Among the aspects of the project were “paved streets of ample width to correspond to the 12-foot parkways set to shrubbery, and six-foot walks.” There were 218 lots ranging from 75×150 to 150×150 foot sizes. Gas, sewer and water service “will be brought inside the curb” to prevent future cutting of the paving, while phone and electric lines were to be laid underground—all of this is standard now, but certainly wasn’t then.

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Expres, 22 September 1922.

Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s holdings is a great phot, taken on 20 October 1924 and showing the bustling intersection of Western and Wilshire. Though there is notable damage to the lower left corner and a section left of center, it has great detail worthy of a bit of explication. First, at the lower right and partially hidden behind a row of palm trees in the median on the southeast corner of Western and Wilshire is the tract office for Pellissier Square. In the late Twenties, Pellisier’s grandson built the phenomenal Art Deco Pellissier Building that has, for years, housed the Wiltern Theatre.

On the opposing northeast corner of the two streets is the Standard Public Market, with its angled corner entrance and awning-shaded sides extending along both thoroughfares. Public markets, like the still-extant Grand Central in downtown and the Farmer’s Market to the northwest, were far more common a century or so ago. The first such public market in Los Angeles was built in 1859 by Jonathan Temple and the Market House, as it was known and which also contained the city’s first true theater, was modeled after Boston’s landmark Faneuil Hall, with a center corridor and stalls on each end. A worsening economy, however, doomed the project and the building was leased to the county and was long the County Courthouse.

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Times, 23 September 1922.

The Standard opened on 23 September 1922 and a grand opening advertisement invited “Come One, Come All to the Most Attractive, the Most Inviting, Spacious Market in the Wilshire District.” It added that the complex was “a fine new house of foods, conveniently located, occupying the entire northeastern corner” and that it was “commodious, well-lighted, [and has] perfect sanitation.” Moreover, there was plenty of parking, a distinct suburban advantage over downtown, and there were “quick service” departments at the various vendors for a convenient way to shop.

Among the tenants listed for the new market were two bakeries (part of the Chatterton and Federal systems), Paulais’ confectionery (the sign for it is visible on the Wilshire side of the building in the photo), the grocery of E.A. Morrison, Inc., florists, and “art goods” shop, a chop suey restaurant, fruit stands, vegetable shops, and a fish market, and a branch of Young’s Market Company, one of the largest grocers in the region. Readers were encouraged to “patronize the new neighborhood market, where there are fresh foods daily at prices to suit your purse” and where “everything [is] bountifully and attractively displayed.”

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Times, 10 November 1922.

The ad shows a rendering of the structure, though awnings are only shown for the Wilshire Boulevard side. and, in the middle of the intersection is a contraption entirely unfamiliar to modern eyes. A look at the photograph, however, reveals, at the center left, that the device is a traffic signal box with cars heading northbound on Western electrically directed to stop.

In its coverage of the opening, the Los Angeles Times observed “today marks the formal throwing open of one of the finest markets Los Angeles has ever had.” It went on to note that it was “light, airy, commodious—you are certain to find it a delightfully comfortable spot in which to do your marketing” thanks to the car-friendly amenity mentioned above. The paper implored readers “let’s all be present to extend out good wishes and wish this market success.” Another ad in the paper included the Japanese-owned Sun Produce Company, highlighted in this blog before, and the “Oriental Sundries” store as tenants along with Young’s, Morrison’s, Paulais and the “Rose Florist.”

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Pasadena Post, 15 March 1921.

Note, as well, the four massive billboards owned by Foster and Kleiser atop the Standard Public Market structure, including for the Holmes Disappearing Bed Company and its products that allow owners to “Keep an Extra Bedroom in Your Closet,” the Los Angeles Pressed Brick Company and its Granada Tile for Spanish Colonial Revival structures (perhaps like La Casa Nueva at the Homestead?), and the Biflex automobile bumper. Up Western and to the right, or east, is part of another rooftop bilboad promoting Camel cigarettes.

Prior to that billboard is a two-story structure with small towers at the roofline and Greek columns along the front. On the south side are painted signs giving the address of 636 S. Western Avenue and for the William Wilson Company, which dealt with insurance, real estate sales, and rentals. This firm began in Pasadena in 1915 as the Staats-Macy Company, a subsidiary of the prominent bonds dealer, William R. Staats Company.

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Express, 11 November 1922.

In March 1921, it was decided to change the name of the Staats-Macy Company “on account of the similarity of names and the fact that both companies occupy the same offices” in downtown Pasadena. The name became the William Wilson Company, which rode the wave of real estate development in the early Twenties boom and, for example, developed the Oak Knoll subdivision in southeast Pasadena bordering San Marino; Flintridge, the former estate of Senator Frank P. Flint; and Corona del Mar in Orange County.

Later that year, the firm opened its Los Angeles office in the still-standing Pacific Mutual Building at Grand Avenue and Sixth Street, where, for instance, the Flintridge project was headquartered and quickly established other branches, all offering insurance, property sales, and building rentals. In November 1922, the Express, in covering the opening of a branch at Normandie Avenue and Santa Barbara Avenue, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, reported that “it is an open secret in realty circles that the Wilson Company were behind the large negotiations recently conducted involving a great tract of close-in property in the Wilshire district.”

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Times, 8 May 1923.

By spring 1923, the firm opened its seventh branch at 636 S. Western. Among its early advertisements was one for “Saleswomen and Solicitors” illustrating that it was becoming more common, if still somewhat unusual, for women to work in the real estate industry (a recent post here covered the story of one independent female realtor. In this case, “there is a splendid opportunity in our Rental Dept. for an experienced and wide-awake young woman” with a “good personality and enthusiasm,” as well as an automobile, an obvious necessity in the sprawling suburbs where Wilson was booming.

The William Wilson Company continued on for decades and was acquired in the late 1960s by R.A. Rowan and Company, a prominent Los Angeles realty firm. In the Nineties, the Rowan Group, as it became known, dissolved and William Wilson carried on for a few more years before it was sold in the latter part of the decade.

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The photo shows a great many “flivvers” plying their way north along Western Avenue as made its way north towards the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park. It is a remarkable illustration of a particularly fast-growing area of Los Angeles during the boom period of the first half of the Roaring Twenties. The area has changed dramatically, though the Pellissier Building/Wiltern Theatre remains as a prominent and dramatic vestige of the 1920s roots of the locale.

2 thoughts

  1. This corner and these billboards were the site of one of the early Los Angeles neon signs. It was here just a few years after this photo was taken. I believe the four billboards were reduced to three but the largest was reserved for Earle C. Anthony, Inc. and advertised both Packard motorcars and KFI radio station. Mr. Anthony’s company was West Coast Packard distributor and owned KFI Radio as well.

    Some photo archives have mistakenly identified images of this site and the Standard Public Market building as “a Packard car dealership”… which, of course it never was.

    The neon I mention was an overlay on one of the billboards and was on a timer system. I am trying to find other photos showing the Earle C. Anthony neon signs, especially the first one from 1923 at 7th and Flower downtown. I welcome even newspaper accounts. There is much bickering about the location of Mr. Anthony’s first neon and how it looked, but with over 50 years of studying this subject, I assure you, I know a few facts and have a few very good examples.

  2. Thanks, Leon, for the comment and information about one of the first neon signs in the city at that location. The error about the Packard dealership was recalled from an earlier exchange with you.

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