rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,


I'm downloading pictures from The Library of Congress digital image collection. They have a bunch of panoramic photos of various places, from the early 20th century. I'm fetching some taken of downtown Los Angeles. Some of them have specific dates. Somehow, knowing the date on which a picture was taken always makes seeing it a slightly more intense experience for me. Usually, I can tell the approximate time of day by the direction of the shadows. From the look of the sky and the air, with the date, I can sometimes surmise the weather. One picture from the 3rd of December, 1909, a view east from Bunker Hill, shows smoke rising from distant factories, and from the power plants of office buildings nearby. The smoke forms mostly horizontal drifts and concentrates within a few hundred feet of the ground. There was an inversion layer that day, of the sort that, forty years later, would facilitate the accumulation of the city's famous smog.

Inversion layers rarely form on the coldest days of December, but they are often cool days. This late afternoon has a chilly look. The panorama extends from the unobscured San Gabriel Mountains at the left, rising several miles beyond the shadowed stretch of Olive Street in the foreground, to a view along Olive Street to the southwest, the distance lost in haze that glows with sunlight. There are landmarks I recognize only from photographs; Atop Fort Hill at the left, the tower of the first Los Angeles High School: Farther along, the Romanesque Revival bulk of the County Courthouse; And then the pointed tower of the old City Hall on Broadway, just right of center left.

There are also several landmarks that still exist today; The dark building in the middle distance just left of center, with the hip-roofed skylight, is the Bradbury Building; The tall building just right of center is the Braley Block, at 4th and Spring, the city's first skyscraper; The bright white structure with the seven bays of double windows a bit farther right is the Pacific Electric Depot, at 6th and Main Streets, then four years old, now recently converted to loft apartments; The largest distant building to the right was then Hamburger's's Department Store, later The May Company.

Then there are the landmarks which still exist, but had not yet been built when this picture was made; The Million Dollar Theatre would, within ten years, block this vantage point's view of the Bradbury Building; A decade after that, the Biltmore Hotel would appear on the right side of Olive Street a few blocks south, concealing that hazy distance; And, back toward the north end of the picture, the new City Hall would be visible at center left.

There are also landmarks which lasted long enough for me to see them, but which have since vanished; Almost all of the buildings in the foreground across the entire panorama have been demolished within the last few decades, from the Hotel Cumberland on the left, to the Temple Auditorium, later the Philharmonic Auditorium, at the bottom of the hill on the far right, as well as the apartment building with the corner towers at 4th and Olive. The building from the roof of which this picture was taken is gone, as well.

Looking closely, I see a few pedestrians walking along Olive Street, at the left foreground. They might have been winter visitors, as Bunker Hill was then full of what were called residence hotels, which catered to moderately well-to-do easterners who would escape the cold by spending part of the winter in Southern California. Or, they might have been permanent local residents. Some of them might have remained to see many of the changes I have described. Some might have gone away and never returned. They are undoubtedly all dead now. The very ground on which they walked is now gone, the top 40 feet of the hill having been lopped off in the 1970's for urban renewal project which destroyed this neighborhood. Oddly, the city they inhabited looks real to me, even though much of it is gone. The people, though, seem like ghosts in their own time. Looking at their tiny, dark images on that now vanished street, which I remember as it was in later years, I feel a bit like a ghost myself, as though I were walking with them. Maybe I am.

Downtown Los Angeles, December 3rd, 1909
Downtown Los Angeles, December 3rd, 1909

A panoramic photograph taken by Chaz. Z. Bailey, from a rooftop on Olive Street just south of 3rd Street on Bunker Hill, overlooking downtown Los Angeles, showing the view from the San Gabriel Mountains on the far left to the southern edge of downtown along south Olive Street on the far right.

(It's LJ Scrapbook: click on the image for larger files.)

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