East side of North Main Street south of Arcadia Street, c.1930s-2011

c. 1930s-2011

Well into the 20th century, the old buildings on the 300 block of North Main Street were a vivid testament to Los Angeles’ early history, from its humble beginnings to its astonishing growth during the Reconstruction years. Behind the “Azteca” sign on the right side of the top photograph is the Bella Union Hotel, considered to be the city’s first hotel. Completed sometime during the 1840s, it was one of downtown’s greatest landmarks for several decades, and was later expanded to two, then three stories. The two-story building to its left is the Pico Building, built by Pio Pico in 1868 (two years before the Pico House). In 1871, the building became home to the Farmers & Merchants Bank, the first incorporated bank in the Los Angeles, directed by former California Governor John G. Downey.

The remainder of the block was developed at a significantly larger scale. The three-story Grand Central Hotel at 326 North Main Street was completed around 1876. Major construction came to its climax in the following year with the opening of the Baker Block, whose corner is just visible at the left edge of the top photograph. The slim, three-story building nestled between the two larger structures was developed by the ever active Governor Downey, and finished around 1878.

By the 1890s, as a result of the business center’s continuous southward expansion, North Main Street had fallen into a long, slow decline. On the other hand, its tightly knit blocks were left largely untouched by new development while they continued to support active commercial uses. The original view, likely taken during the Great Depression, shows the historic buildings occupied by various Asian and Latino businesses.

Alas, the above buildings were dismantled one by one in the years that followed, each to make way for additional surface parking. The former Bella Union Hotel was bulldozed in 1940, while the Pico House and Grand Central Hotel were both destroyed in 1957. In the early 1970s, those lots were replaced by the Los Angeles Mall, a largely underground shopping center buffered by rather bleak ground-floor plazas.

1. Brininstood, E. A. “Los Angeles in 1878.” Los Angeles Times. 8 May 1925. A4.
2. “Downtown landmark, Pico Building, razed.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Apr. 1957. 17.
3. Green, Terence M. “‘Yellow Brick Road’ proposed for downtown.” Los Angeles Times. 28 Feb. 1971. K14.
4. “Los Angeles’ first hotel to be razed by wreckers.” Los Angeles Times. 8 Jun. 1940. A3.
5. “The story of a great city.” Los Angeles Times. 24 Jan. 1914. II2.
Original photo: Dick Whittington Studio. “Osaka Company, Grand Central Hotel, Arizona Cafe, Azteca Restaurant, Golden Gate Cafe Chop Suey – whit-m89.” ‘Dick’ Whittington Photography Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections. http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/whit-m89.html.

This entry was posted in Civic Center, Downtown, Los Angeles, Then and now and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to East side of North Main Street south of Arcadia Street, c.1930s-2011

  1. Hi Brian

    I have posted a self-guided walking tour of the downtown Los Angeles locations Harold Lloyd used in his 1923 silent classic Safety Last (where he hangs from the hands of a skyscraper clock), along with locations from Lloyd’s climbing stunts in Never Weaken (1921) and Feet First (1930), and behind the scenes images showing how Lloyd staged his famous skyscraper-climbing sequences.

    The tour is temporarily posted on the Los Angeles Conservancy home page

    and at my blog

    I am the author of a series of books about Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, entitled Silent Traces, Silent Echoes, and Silent Visions, respectively. My books examine the locations and historical settings preserved in the background of their classic films, and the changes wrought by the ensuing decades, featuring dozens of then and now shots.

    Thank you for your consideration

    John Bengtson


  2. Thank you for the photo of this extremely important stretch of old North Main Street; it was totally unknown to me until now. How wonderful it would have been if everything on the east side of Main between the Pico Building and the Pico House could have been preserved and restored in situ for future generations. Now, I am just grateful to have this one photo – and the other you posted earlier of the Baker Block – to remember what has been lost. While it’s right that so many people decry the destruction of Bunker Hill, no one seems to recall or care about what was lost east of the present Civic Center. Yet, in some ways, these losses were just as grievous, and perhaps moreso, due to their greater antiquity. That area seems so empty now, what exists there today is so pointless, soulless. Am I really alone, being able to see the ghosts of times past, and lament their passing?

    • Brian Hsu says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s really horrific to think that so much of Los Angeles’ 19th century downtown was so carelessly destroyed in such a short period of time. I’m also a little mystified as to why very few people seem to remember what the Civic Center replaced (unlike nearby Bunker Hill, as you pointed out). I myself have only been slowly discovering the area’s history in the course of writing this blog.

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