Southwest corner of Sixth Street and Normandie Avenue, 2011-2015


Aside from the reopening of its guest rooms, one of the most anticipated elements of the Hotel Normandie’s recent renovation has been the rehabilitation of its ground-floor storefronts along Sixth Street and Normandie Avenue. The top photograph, taken in 2011, shows workers in the early stages of removing the plaster and stone applied to the building’s base during the 1960s. Since then, new display windows, transoms, and stone sills have been built in each of the hotel’s storefront bays, dramatically restoring the ground floor’s original transparency.

After three years of construction, and a full year after the opening of its rooms, businesses have filled most of the building’s restored retail spaces. As of December, the spacious corner unit houses Cassell’s Hamburgers, the reincarnation of another longtime Koreatown establishment. Located for many decades near Sixth and Berendo Streets, the original Cassell’s achieved lasting acclaim for the quality of its burgers, and a substantial popularity that lasted throughout much of the late 20th century.

A previous post on the Hotel Normandie’s renovation [Urban Diachrony]
Something new, something old, at Cassell’s Hamburgers [LA Magazine]

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Excelsior Laundry Building, northeast corner of Los Angeles and Winston Streets, 1933-2014


Now one of the city’s oldest remaining industrial structures on Los Angeles Street, the former Excelsior Laundry is also a rare local exemplar of popular Romanesque Revival commercial architecture. The significant yet often-overlooked building was also the key site of an important episode in the city’s turbulent labor history.

The three-story corner building was completed for the Excelsior steam laundry company in 1893, as the city’s industrial district began to push south of First Street. As typical of 19th-century Romanesque Revival commercial buildings, its well-balanced design is defined by tall arched windows grouped in bays of two and three. The varied brickwork on its façade is punctuated by smoother stone elements with horizontal emphasis, as in its prominent sills and belt courses. In addition to the laundry’s offices, washing, drying, and sorting facilities, the building initially housed a small women’s hat factory at the rear of its third floor. An adjacent building (far left, unpainted in top picture), designed in a similar style with a matching roofline, was completed in 1895 as a boarding house.

As one of Los Angeles’ largest laundries at the turn of the century, Excelsior played a pivotal role in the precipitation of a laundry workers’ strike in 1901. In the spring of that year, several hundred workers among the city’s seven major laundry companies organized to form Local 52 of the Shirt Waist and Laundry Workers’ International Union, spurred by overlong hours and poor working conditions. In May, they submitted a schedule of demands to the city’s Steam Laundry Proprietors’ Association, including calls for a closed shop agreement, enforcement of a ten-hour work week with paid overtime, and equal wages for men and women workers. The Proprietors’ Association, headed by Excelsior owner J. Bonfilio, resolutely refused any recognition of the union, balking in particular at the closed shop provision. On June 29, Bonfilio ordered his workers to either renounce their union membership or not return to work, prompting the union to call an immediate strike.

On July 1, 335 of the city’s roughly 500 steam laundry workers walked out of their jobs, including 75 of the 90 workers employed by Excelsior. Led by the fiercely anti-union Bonfilio, the affected laundries offered no concessions to the union. In the weeks that followed, it quickly became clear that the laundry union had underestimated the laundries’ ability to replace their striking workers with non-union labor; By early August, each of the affected laundries had successfully restaffed their facilities. No settlement was ever reached, and the strike fizzled out in the following months. Despite the laundry union’s defeat, the strike set several precedents for the general labor unrest that would last through the decade, and solidified anti-union cooperation within the city’s business class.

Excelsior eventually succumbed to the precipitous decline of steam laundries that followed the popularization of smaller washing machines, closing its doors around 1946. Some years later, the building’s ground floor was divided into a number of small storefronts, with its upper floors kept for storage use. Like most of its neighbors in what is now known as the Toy District, for the past half-century it has primarily housed retailers of inexpensive toys, novelties, and apparel. Despite several alterations and decades of visible wear, the building and its attached neighbor have miraculously kept most of their original façades.

1.”Before and after laundry strike.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Aug. 1901. 5.
2. “Fire well fought.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Nov. 1896. 10.
3. “Girls shed tears as they quit work.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Jul. 1901. 12.
4. “Happy were Troy people.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Jul. 1901. 10.
5. “He defies the union.” Los Angles Times. 1 Jul. 1901. I2.
6. “Public auction sale: entire plant of the former Excelsior Laundry.” Classified ad. Los Angeles Times. 4. Aug. 1946. 10.
7. Stimson, Grace Heilman. Rise of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1955.
8. Wallis, Eileen. Earning Power: Women and Work in Los Angeles, 1880-1930. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2010.
Original Photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “Exterior, Excelsior Laundry, 422 South Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, California, 1933.” “Dick” Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.

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The Regent Theater, 448 South Main Street, c.2005-2014

RegentTheaterc. 2005-2014

In a dramatic reversal of fortune, Main Street’s long-beleaguered Regent Theater has begun its new life as a permanent concert venue. Completed near the end of the building’s centennial year, the much-anticipated mid-November reopening marks the most recent milestone in the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles’ Historic Core.

The Regent opened in 1914 as a first-run film theater during Main Street’s heyday as the heart of the city’s entertainment district. Originally built in a Classical Revival style (reminiscent of the nearby Cameo), its façade was replaced in the early 1940s by its current minimalist Moderne exterior. Like many of the central city’s forgotten movie houses, the Regent operated as a pornographic theater for several decades during its neighborhood’s late-century nadir, before closing its doors in 2000.

The building first showed signs of rebirth in 2006, when its lease was acquired by downtown developer Tom Gilmore. Although it received several facelifts and temporary uses as an event space and pop-up record store, the structure remained largely vacant. Following its long-term lease in 2012 to developer and concert promoter Mitchell Frank, the Regent has undergone an extensive rehabilitation, including a seismic retrofit and the reconstruction of its two Main Street storefronts. Now carrying a darker color scheme, the repainted façade is livened up by a playful Modernist tile pattern applied to its second-floor stucco panels.

A more detailed history and photo collection of the Regent [Historic L.A. Theatres]
A glimpse of the Regent’s original façade in an overhead view [LAPL Images]

1. Richardson, Eric. “Regent Theater hosting pop-up record store by White Stripes’ Jack White.” Blogdowntown. 24 Aug. 2009.
2. Fuentes, Ed. “A new mural for Main Street.” Blogdowntown. 1 Feb. 2008.
3. Gross, Linda. “Avant-Garde Film in an X neighborhood.” Los Angeles Times. 20 Sep. 1980. B6.
4. Kim, Eddie. “The Regent’s rocking return.” Los Angeles Downtown News. 10 Nov. 2014.
Original photo: Schall, Martin. “Regent Theatre.”

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North side of Wilshire Boulevard at Westmoreland Avenue, 1928-2014


As in many recent posts on Wilshire Boulevard, the top photograph shows a few of the Wilshire District’s early houses on the eve of the thoroughfare’s swift transition to a major commercial corridor. Today, the corner sits near the eastern end of the Wilshire Center office district, and is home to two little-known towers built by two of 20th century Los Angeles’ most prolific firms, both of whom were highly influential in the creation of modern Wilshire Boulevard.

The building on the left is the U.S. Borax Building, completed in 1963 as the national headquarters of its namesake chemicals corporation. Designed by Welton Becket & Associates, the nine-story structure’s design was notable for its use of load-bearing exterior walls, which by then had fallen out of favor in commercial construction. Made of sculptured concrete, its façades are punctuated by deeply recessed windows in rounded openings, reminiscent of a grille when viewed at a distance. After languishing in recent years as a half-vacant, mid-tier office tower, it was converted during 2013 to a 123-unit apartment building.

The right side of today’s view shows the base of the unremarkably named Wilshire Centre Building, completed in 1974 by Langdon & Wilson Architects. Somewhat less stocky in appearance than its neighbor, the 12-story building’s main volume sits several feet behind the smooth concrete columns along its sides. At the time of its opening, the tower boasted the only heliport in the city’s greater Mid-Wilshire area.

The story of the Fisher house, whose lawn is at the right of the top view [The Historic Los Angeles Blogs]

1. Brandt, Nadja. “King of down-market offices bets on rentals: Real estate.” Bloomberg. 17 Jun. 2013.
2. “Structure uses sculpted walls.” Los Angeles Times. 7 Oct. 1962. M1.
3. “U.S. Borax leases Wilshire Building.” Los Angeles Times. 30 Jun. 1963. N29.
4. “Wilshire Building is project of union fund.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Apr. 1972. I19.
5. “Wilshire Centre has new safety devices.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Mar. 1974. G22.
Original photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “Street intersections and views around 6th Street and Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 1928 – DW-1928-08-20-75~03.” “Dick” Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.

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Looking west on Fourth Street from Spring Street, 1958-2014


Few sections of Downtown Los Angeles’ Historic Core have been as cruelly ravaged by urban decay as the blocks of Fourth Street in this view. Save for the former Broadway department store, whose corner peeks out at the left edge, all of the buildings in the original photograph have been either razed or partially demolished.

The center-left of the top image shows two of Broadway’s oldest towers at the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway. The building with the rounded corner is the Grant Building, completed in 1898. At the time of its construction, its corner windows boasted some of the largest plates of curved glass yet manufactured in the United States. Originally built to three stories, the Grant Building was enlarged by four floors in 1902, to plans prepared by John Parkinson. Coincidentally, Parkinson also designed the 7-story tower at the intersection’s northeast corner, the O.T. Johnson Building (c. 1903).

The histories of the two low-rise buildings in the top view seem to be largely unknown;  however, it appears that they were replaced by a parking lot sometime before 1985. Sadly, the Grant Building and O.T. Johnson Building have both been demolished above their second floors, presumably due to earthquake damage or in response to the city’s 1981 earthquake safety ordinance. In 2007, what remained of the O.T. Johnson Building was ravaged by a large fire of unknown origin. Despite apparent plans to demolish and redevelop the property, the structure currently remains in its ruined, abandoned state.

1. “A big thing in glass.” Los Angeles Times. 16 Feb. 1898. 12.
2. “Business blocks.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Jan. 1898. 69.
3. “Doings of builders and architects.” Los Angeles Times. 4 May 1902. A1.
4. “Johnson’s skyscraper menaced by strikers.” Los Angeles Times. 26 Feb. 1903. A1.
5. Reitman, Valerie. “Fire reveals a last look at historic L.A.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Feb. 2007.
6. “Two new blocks by O.T. Johnson.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Dec. 1901. 11.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “4th Street west of Spring Street – photCL 486 (437)” Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library.

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Looking east on Sixth Street from Figueroa Street, 1968-2014


Up through the 1960s, the southern end of Downtown Los Angeles’ modern Financial District maintained a diverse building stock whose functions and styles reflected several periods of the city’s growth. Although the Sixth Street vicinity had seen the construction of some Modernist office towers, a variety of commercial structures remained from the earlier part of the century. This included a cluster of older hotels along Sixth Street, three of which are pictured on the right of the top photograph.

The hotel buildings were each completed around the time that Los Angeles’ business district began to expand west of Pershing Square. The oldest of the three is the five-story Hotel Lee (1910) at the center of the view. Just behind it is the Southland Hotel (1910), a Renaissance Revival building easily recognized by its tiled-roof corner turret. The largest of the three structures is the nine-story Gates Hotel, completed in 1912. The 300-room building was notably designed by the San Francisco firm of William C. Curlett & Son, whose titular son, Alexander Curlett, later founded the influential firm of Curlett & Beelman. The three establishments were followed by several others in the rest of the decade, creating a hotel district along Sixth Street that stretched from Grand Avenue to Figueroa Street.

The Gates, Lee, and Southland hotels were also the final holdouts of their cohort before they ultimately made way for the Financial District’s growing footprint. The Southland Hotel met its end in 1971 and was replaced by the William L. Pereira-designed Pacific Financial Center. Despite its relatively short 18-story height, the Late Modernist office tower maintains an impressive vertical presence due to its slim alternating columns of pale granite and dark-tinted glass. The Gates Hotel and Hotel Lee made way for Linder Plaza (1974), a more modest building designed by Honnold, Reibsamen & Rex. The backside of its 14-story tower is notably hugged along its base by a two-story wing with a rooftop garden, partially visible from its Sixth Street side.

A 1912 view of the Southland Hotel (aka Hotel Snow) [Huntington Digital Library]
A brief history of the Southland Hotel in pictures [Skyscraperpage Forum]
An elevated view of the Gates Hotel and its neighbors [USC Digital Library]
Linder Plaza [Los Angeles Conservancy]

1. Hebert, Ray. “$12 million building to replace dowdy hotel on 6th Street.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Mar. 1971. A1.
2. Hebert, Ray. “New building will replace landmark.” Los Angeles Times. 12 Apr. 1972. E2.
3. “High rentals paid.” Los Angeles Times. 7 May 1910. II2.
4. “Huge sum from east to build big hotel here.” Los Angeles Times. 14 Jul. 1916. II1.
5. “Linder Plaza rises on Gates Hotel site.” Los Angeles Times. 13 Aug. 1972. O26.
6. “New fireproof hotel leased.” Los Angeles Times. 25 Dec. 1910. V14.
7. “Plans big ‘L’ shaped hotel.” Los Angeles Times. 29 Jun. 1913. VI1.
8. “Ten-year hotel lease brings half million.” Los Angeles Times. 22 Nov. 1912. II1.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “6th and Figueroa Streets looking east – 410999.” Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library.

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Aerial views of Bunker Hill and the Civic Center, 1955-c.2013

BHAerial1955-c. 2013

Oblique aerial photographs provide an incredible wealth of information about urban landscapes. In addition to effectively illustrating the relative scale of buildings and neighborhoods, they offer hundreds of subtler details in higher resolution images. Nonetheless, due to some obvious limitations, then and now comparisons composed of aerial views have not been featured on this blog up until now.

However, short of access to a blimp or helicopter, a solid substitute can be simulated using the 3D viewer in Google Earth. The bottom pictures in this post’s comparisons were created by HossC at SkyscraperPage, and were recently posted in its forum’s long-running Noirish Los Angeles thread. The simulated images, based on views from around 2013, were meticulously aligned with two photographs taken in 1955 from a Goodyear blimp. The top view looks west from a point above Bunker Hill, showing a large swath of Westlake in the distance. The bottom view, with City Hall at its center, looks north from a point just south of the Civic Center.

CCAerial1955-c. 2013

Both of the original aerial shots show several neighborhoods in a raw state of transition. By 1955, demolition and excavation crews had carved away at the edges of Bunker Hill, leaving large expanses of parking lots in their wake. However, the central city’s urban renewal projects had yet to reach the full extent of their destruction. In the half-century that followed, the Civic Center gradually spread in all directions from City Hall, and has since expanded to fit most of the present-day view. Meanwhile, the southern end of Bunker Hill has been rebuilt as part of Downtown Los Angeles’ modern business district. The area is now home to many of the city’s tallest skyscrapers, several of which dominate the contemporary view of the top comparison.

The full 22-image collection of aerial views from the Goodyear blimp [USC Digital Library]

Original photographs:
1. Paegel. “Aerial views from Goodyear blimp (Paegel), 1955 – EXM-N-11429-001~3.” Los Angeles Examiner Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.
2. Paegel. “Aerial views from Goodyear blimp (Paegel), 1955 – EXM-N-11429-001~18.” Los Angeles Examiner Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.

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Northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Shatto Place, 1928-2014


During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Vermont Avenue vicinity of Wilshire Boulevard saw the construction of some of the Wilshire District’s most elaborate homes. The top photograph is centered on 3143 Wilshire Boulevard, a Tudor Revival house built around 1908 and greatly expanded several years later. Further in the left background is the more extravagant Hancock House (1913), which shares a rather similar history.

Like many of its neighbors, the corner property was vacated by its owners around 1931 and soon replaced by a two-story commercial structure. A minor work by Walker & Eisen, the building included a large corner volume built for a Seaboard National Bank branch, with a row of smaller retail spaces facing Wilshire Boulevard. Handsomely clad in white stone, its Art Deco design gave a complementary nod to the nearby Bullock’s Wilshire. The relatively intact building is shown in the following photograph, taken in 1978 by Anne Laskey.

BrentwoodSavings North side of Wilshire Boulevard at Shatto Place, 1978. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

The building seems to have stayed in use until the early 1990s, when it was demolished during the construction of the Metro subway’s Wilshire/Vermont Station. In 2007, much of the station’s original plaza was replaced by the seven-story apartment and retail building shown in the present view. The complex currently anchors one of the liveliest blocks of Wilshire Center, and remains one of Metro’s most significant transit oriented development projects to date.

The more detailed story of 3143 Wilshire Boulevard [The Historic Los Angeles Blogs]
The Hancock House, Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue [Urban Diachrony]

1.”At Shatto and Wilshire.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Nov. 1908. V24.
2. “Bank building to be erected at once.” Los Angeles Times. 22 Feb. 1931. D3.
3. “Buys quickly and moves in.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Mar. 1911. II7.
Photo credits:
1. Dick Whittington Studio. “Street intersections and views around 6th Street and Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 1928 – DW-1928-08-20-75~05.” “Dick” Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.
2. Laskey, Anne. “Brentwood Savings and other businesses – 00090122.” 1978. Marlene Laskey Collection. Los Angeles Public Library.

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The Hill Street Tunnels, looking north on Hill Street from First Street, 1954-2014


Like many of the city’s early public works projects, the Hill Street Tunnels provided a solution to one of Los Angeles’ greatest topographic obstacles to regional mobility, the hills at Downtown’s northwestern edge. While of most of them had been covered by the street grid by the turn of the 20th century, their steep grades kept them inaccessible to streetcars and many automobiles. Their impassability only became increasingly problematic as the city grew; in order to bypass Bunker Hill and Fort Moore Hill, most traffic between Downtown and its northwestern suburbs followed a roundabout path through Main Street, leading to major bottlenecks between First Street and Sunset Boulevard.

In 1903, an association of businesses along Hill Street floated a proposal to build a tunnel between First and Temple Streets, allowing passenger rail cars and automobiles direct access to Sunset Boulevard from Downtown’s western sections. Although supported by the city’s Board of Public Works, the project was quickly beset by cost overruns and opposition from property owners, leading to its seemingly indefinite delay.

In 1907, the Los Angeles-Pacific Railway took matters into its own hands by successfully petitioning the city for rights to build a tunnel for the exclusive use of interurban rail cars. After nearly two years of boring and construction, rail service through the first Hill Street Tunnel (left of top photograph) began in September, 1909, resulting in a 15-minute reduction in travel times between Los Angeles and points northwest. The Los Angeles-Pacific merged with the Pacific Electric Railway in 1911.

It was not until 1912, following the creation of a tax assessment district, that the city of Los Angeles began construction on its own tunnel parallel to the Pacific Electric’s. The municipal Hill Street Tunnel opened in September, 1913, granting access to pedestrians and private vehicle traffic. In addition to its utility, the tunnel was praised for the quality of its construction; its roadway was paved with creosoted wood block, and the entirety of its interior was lined with white enamel tiles. The use of white tiling proved particularly successful in illuminating the roadway, and the design was subsequently applied to the Second Street Tunnel.

The Hill Street Tunnels were ultimately made obsolete after four decades of service, as the neighborhood’s hills were flattened to create the Civic Center’s main axis. Excavation crews began clearing the land above Hill Street in 1954, a massive undertaking that eventually removed around 700,000 tons of dirt. The tunnels were demolished in 1955, and Hill Street was reopened in its flatter and wider present form. Today, the former footprint of Bunker Hill’s eastern tip is occupied by the Los Angeles County Courthouse (1959) and Hall of Administration (1960).

Lost Hills of Downtown Los Angeles [KCET]
Lost Tunnels of Downtown Los Angeles [KCET]

1. “Bright, white way of light thro’ heart of Bunker Hill.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Sep. 1913. II1.
2. “Early start on Hill hole.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Oct. 1907. II1.
3. “Hill Street tunnel goes out of existence.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Jun. 1955. 4.
4. “Hill-Street tunnel will be expensive.” Los Angeles Times. 31 Oct. 1903. A2.
5. “Huge site being dug for courthouse.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Aug. 1954. 1A.
6. “Points of the news: in this issue.” Los Angeles Times. 3 Dec. 1910. I1.
7. “Quick start on new bore.” Los Angeles Times. 10 Dec. 1908. II1.
8. “Railway gets tunnel permit.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Jun. 1907. II2.
9. “To favor bore for Hill Street.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Oct. 1911. II2.
10. “Tunnel in use.” Los Angeles Times. 16 Sep. 1909. II1.
11. “Tunnel may be paralleled.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Nov. 1910. II2.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “Hill Street Tunnels north of 1st Street – 408162.” 1954. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library.

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Looking east on Wilshire Boulevard from Westmoreland Avenue, 1928-2014


By the early 1910s, near the end of the Wilshire District’s initial phase of development, Wilshire Boulevard was flanked by a number of large residences built for Los Angeles’ upper class. Due to the frenetic pace of the city’s westward growth, nearly all of these houses were ultimately short-lived. Following the boulevard’s 1927 road widening, its early estates were swiftly removed by a wave of commercial redevelopment. Despite the apparent tranquility of the original view, most of its visible buildings were replaced within a few years.

The property on the right side of the photograph, 655 Wilshire Place, was almost immediately demolished to make way for the landmark Bullock’s Wilshire, completed the following year. The more distant homes at the left edge were torn down shortly afterwards for a series of two-story commercial buildings (better visible here). The building near the photograph’s center at 3020 Wilshire Boulevard proved to be more resilient, holding on until 1958. The house and its inhabitants are well-documented in this feature by Wilshire Boulevard Houses.

Wilshire Boulevard – when it was residential [The Historic Los Angeles Blogs]

1. “Wilshire’s new pavement done.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Jul. 1927. G5.
2. Zone Information and Map Access System (ZIMAS). City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning.
Original photo: “Dick” Whittington Studio. “Street intersections and views around 6th Street and Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 1928 –  DW-1928-08-20-75.” “Dick” Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.

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