Here is a photo of another overcast, one far more intense, veiling downtown Los Angeles long ago. I probably missed the overcast in this photo, unless it was one which extended all the way to San Francisco, where I was for the last few days of that December. The publication date was December 30 and, The Times being a morning paper, the picture had to have been taken the previous day at the latest. It's impossible to tell the time of day as the shadows are insufficiently distinct. I recall many days that were like that in the waning months of that year. The frequent overcasts were not mere damp, and the thickened air was frequently not even chilly. It was mostly pollution trapped beneath the region's notoriously persistent inversion layers. It was also before the lead was removed from gasoline, and thus the thick smog that year made our eyes sting and water.
After the new year began, the Santa Ana winds arose for a while and scoured the air and made the mountains look as though they were so close you could touch them, but during the failing days of December the city was wreathed in its own smokes, the visibility often reduced to the degree displayed in this photo. The photographer was standing atop Bunker Hill, at Third and Olive Streets, and the camera was aimed roughly NNE. Toward the left it's possible to discern, just barely, a small cupola looming beyond the foreground business buildings. That's one of the cupolas of Saint Vibiana's, the old cathedral near Second Street between Main and Los Angeles Streets. It was a bit more than a quarter of a mile distant from the camera. Beyond it were many large buildings, and on a clear day the bluffs along the river would have been visible, and the ranges of hills beyond those, and then the San Gabriel Mountains stretching away eastward.
In this picture the gray emptiness isolates the decaying north end of downtown and lurks like the doom which was indeed about to overtake so much of what was in this scene, and which had already overtaken the buildings, then little more than a half century old, which had occupied the foreground space adjacent to the funicular. The bare ground exposed by their destruction would itself be largely removed within two years as the top of the hill was lowered by forty feet. I was always distressed by the pollution which then plagued the city far more than it does now in this age of regulations, but in retrospect it seems to me that the foul air was an appropriately hellish atmosphere for the time and place, doomed as that old city was. I miss the place, and miss what it might have become even more, but I don't miss that gray mass which then so frequently blanketed it and, wantonly destructive, acted as harbinger of the wanton destruction the culture which produced it visited on the remains of its earlier self. The culture's wantonness remains, of course, and the destructiveness, but at least the gray pall has been reduced. These days we can await disaster in clearer air.