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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Looking towards Pershing Square from Sixth and Olive Streets, 1965-2014


During its 1951-1952 overhaul, Pershing Square was rebuilt with a number of major design failures which would plague the park for several decades. Most egregiously, ramps to the park’s underground parking garage were built along each side of the park, leaving no sidewalks along its periphery. Pedestrian circulation was further impeded in the park itself; diagonal paths were eliminated, and its new central lawn was fenced off from the public (the design is well-illustrated in this aerial view).

Perhaps more problematically, the new Pershing Square failed to quell long-standing conflicts among the park’s users, which reached a boiling point in the early 1960s. Although the park had long been a refuge for central Los Angeles’ poor and elderly, their growing numbers were increasingly accompanied by vocal proselytizers and petty criminals. In response to a barrage of complaints to city officials and the press, the Department of Recreation and Parks took dramatic steps to restrict the gathering of Pershing Square’s “familiars.” All benches were removed in 1963, while plans were drawn for another renovation of the troubled park.

The top photograph shows Pershing Square roughly one year after its 1964 facelift, which saw the reintroduction of diagonal walkways, the installation of multi-globed lamps, and the recreation of a central plaza. In a drastic effort to maximize sight lines through the park, most vegetation along the park’s edges was removed, sparing only the trees in its center. Pershing Square was eventually renovated once again in 1984, and substantially rebuilt to its current appearance in the early 1990s.

1. Jardine, J. Earle Jr., Samual J. Sugarman, et al. “New design demanded for Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 4 Jan. 1964. B4.
2. “Model gives preview of ‘new’ Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 22 Jul. 1964. A3.
3. “Part of Pershing Square’s garage will open Thursday.” Los Angeles Times. 25 Apr. 1952. 2.
4. Porter, Frederick. “Pershing Square bench removal called blow at old, unfortunate.” Los Angeles Times. 21 Oct. 1963. A4.
5. Smith, Jack. “Familiars filter back into Pershing Square.” Los Angeles Times. 9 Feb. 1965. A1.
6. West, Richard. “Hecklers fail to mar Pershing Square rites.” Los Angeles Times. 13 Nov. 1964. A2.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “6th Street and Olive Street.” 1965. 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 Wilton Place, 1960-2014


Although the top photograph was primarily taken to document Los Angeles’ experiment in painting cross street names in roadways, it happens to be a nicely framed view of Wilshire Center’s western border in 1960. Since then, a number of office towers and small commercial buildings have been built in the Western Avenue vicinity, complementing the Wilshire Professional Building and Pellissier Building, the tallest structures in the original view. At the sidewalk level, Wilshire Boulevard’s streetscape has been softened by a canopy of street trees, much of which was planted in the mid-1990s by Wilshire Center’s business improvement district.

The bottom photograph was taken during the most recent CicLAvia on Sunday, April 6, during the popular open streets event’s second foray onto Wilshire Boulevard. Spanning six miles from Fairfax Avenue to the Boulevard’s downtown terminus, the route is touted as CicLAvia’s most architecturally significant, and is even accompanied by a well-made guidebook, The Modernist’s Guide to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard.

The Modernist’s Guide to Iconic Wilshire Boulevard [CicLAvia]

Original photo: Snow. “New Los Angeles street signs, 1960 – EXM-N-12865-019~1.” 1960. Los Angeles Examiner Collection. USC Digital Library. USC Libraries Special Collections.

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Southwest corner of First Street and Broadway, 1956-2014


In continuation of the previous post, the top photograph shows the southwest corner of First Street and Broadway in December, 1956. By then, most of the present block at the foot of Bunker Hill had been demolished in preparation for the State Office Building; all that remained were several buildings facing Second Street, including the 11-story Fashion League Building at Second and Hill Streets.

As evident from the present-day view, most of the surrounding area has been completely rebuilt in the past six decades. Bunker Hill was leveled during the 1960s, and the neighborhood has since been rebuilt with many of the skyscrapers that define Los Angeles’ modern skyline. The former site of the State Office Building is again under construction, this time for a federal courthouse designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Set for completion in 2016, the 625,000 square-foot facility will absorb the functions currently housed in the Spring Street Courthouse next to City Hall.

A 1956 view of the Fashion League Building on Second Street [USC Digital Library]
New United States Courthouse project page [SOM]

1. Evans, Donna. “Long-awaited federal courthouse breaks ground.” Los Angeles Downtown News. 8 Aug. 2013. Link.
2. Guzmán, Richard. “Cheers, concern greet new federal building plan.” Los Angeles Downtown News. 3 Jul. 2012. Link.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “1st Street and Broadway.” 1956. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library.

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Looking south on Broadway from First Street, 1956-2014


The top photograph, taken in 1956 by Palmer Conner, shows one of Broadway’s oldest sections in its final days. Save for one surface parking lot, the west side of the block between First and Second Streets then housed eight buildings from the turn of the century, including the culturally significant Mason Opera House (1903), Los Angeles’ preeminent playhouse up through the early 1920s. The Kodachrome slide was taken just as the buildings were to be demolished for the State Office Building, which eventually razed the entire block bounded by Broadway, First, Second, and Hill Streets.

The State Office Building, found seismically unsound in 1994 and vacated in the late 1990s, was itself torn down in 2007 . Since late 2013, the 3.6-acre lot has been under construction for a new federal courthouse. Only two buildings in the original view have survived up through the present: the 13-story Public Service Building (1928) at the photograph’s center and the E-shaped Broadway Investment Building (1911) to its left. Both towers lost their original façades during their conversion to law offices in the late 1960s.

The Mason Theatre [Historic Los Angeles Theatres]
The southwest corner of First and Broadway in better times [Los Angeles Public Library]

1. “Among real estate owners and dealers: Market active with much buying for homes.” Los Angeles Times. 15 Feb. 1903. A1.
2. “Old Mason showhouse being razed: Work will clear ground for new state building.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Jul. 1956. B1.
3. Reich, Kenneth. “State to vacate and demolish quake-threatened office building.” 17 Mar. 1997.
Original photo: Conner, Palmer. “Broadway south of 1st Street.” 1956. Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles. Huntington Digital Library. The Huntington Library.

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