CC Photography: Losing Victorian Los Angeles–In Kodachrome (Part 1)

Tearing down the Grand Central Hotel, 320 North Main St.


San Francisco, California is famous for its ornate Victorian houses, but not many people know that Los Angeles was once a very Victorian city too.  To describe it generally, I would say that it was a cross between New York City and Havana.  Recently I discovered these amazing slides from the Palmer Conner collection of the Huntington (CA) Library.  So we’ve got fascinating lost architecture and scenery, some old cars mixed in, and Kodachrome’s vivid range of color that’s so satisfying to look at.  I think I’ve struck gold in California!

Kodachrome slides are a thing, by the way.  The now-extinct format provides a color richness and depth that everybody loves–and is instantly recognizable as “Kodachrome”.  Curbside Classic has run many posts featuring these unique images.  Enter “Kodachrome” in the SEARCH bar to see them all!

Conner photo of the northeast corner of Main and Market Streets, 202 North Main Street. Building, circa 1887, was demolished in 1958. Noted San Francisco architect A. C. Lutgens was its designer.


Same view, taken about 20 years before.


The Online Archive of California provides a rather dryly-written biography of Edmund Palmer Conner (1900-1975) who took these pictures between 1954 and 1972.  Little information is given as to who Palmer Conner was as a person–why he did what he did.  Why he cared so deeply.  He did what none of his fellow Angelinos had neither the time nor the inclination to do–capturing urban scenes of haunting beauty;  preserving for all time buildings of notable distinction that would otherwise be totally forgotten.

So here’s my pick of the collection.  I have provided addresses, if known.  Many photo captions are copied directly from the Huntington Library website.

Hotel Westminster, Main & 4th Streets, by Palmer Conner.


Same view today. If there’s an address, you can look it up on Google street views, if you’re so inclined.  I decided to do the first one for you.


Hotel Westminster, in earlier times.


Not Vienna, but California. Hotel Westminster on left.  The Phillips Block is visible in the distant right.


The Phillips Block, erected in 1887 was one of the most exuberant commercial buildings of all time. It was demolished in the mid 1920s before Conner was able to photograph it.


Here’s another shot of the neighborhood, Spring Street from 1st Street, in 1885.


Same view today, taken from Google street views. The contrast is so great it reminds me of . . .


. . . the opening and closing street scenes in the famous Warner Bros. cartoon “One Froggy Evening”.  A construction worker finds a singing frog in the cornerstone of an 1892 building that was being demolished.   Above: 1955.  Below: same street, 2056.



Back to the Conner photos . . .

North Spring Street


Same building; another view.  The Nayarit Restaurant was at 615 North Spring Street at Bellevue Avenue. Across the street was the Sentous Block.


Sentous Block in 1920 (North Main Street side)


East side of 600 block North Main Street.


617 North Main Street, view toward downtown.  Sentous Block being demolished.


Scene on Bunker Hill Avenue


“The Castle”, 325 Bunker Hill Avenue, prior to being moved.


Stepping back . . .


Side view.


Another house on Bunker Hill being destroyed.



Finest house on Bunker Hill, the Bradbury Mansion, demolished 1929.


Looking south at the 400 block of North Main Street. Left to right: Pico House, Merced Theater, Masonic Hall. In the distance, the gas tanks at Commercial & Vignes Streets


330 North Main Street. The 300 block (even numbers, included the famed Baker Block) of North Main Street, is now the site of the Bowron Mall and Triforium.


Baker Block in its full glory.


The 1887 Hale House at 4425 Pasadena Avenue, now Figueroa Street. This house was donated to the Cultural Heritage Foundation of Southern California in 1970 and moved to Heritage Square.


Walter S. Newhall built 21 Chester Place between St. James Park and Judge Charles Silent’s land to the east, soon to become Chester Place. This was the house that was used as the Addams Family house in the TV series in the opening credits; a third floor was added by matte painters. It was bought by the Los Angeles Unified School District and demolished for Lanterman High School.


On the north side of Sunset Boulevard between Figueroa Street and Bunker Hill Avenue. 841 Sunset Boulevard on the left and 835 Sunset Boulevard on the right.


Farther down . . .


Stimson Building, 3rd & Spring Streets.


The Lankershim Building was at the southeast corner of 3rd and Spring Streets. The Stimson Block, demolished in 1963, is seen to the left.


These were wholesale houses, 219-227 North Los Angeles Street. Currently the location of the Fletcher Bowron Square and Los Angeles Mall (1973-74 Stanton and Stockwell).


1st & Los Angeles Streets.


Butchery in progress–old building being cut down to one story at 3rd & Main.


Left to right: new Hall of Administration, new Hall of Records, old Hall of Records. Parking lot space between the two Paul Williams buildings, Courthouse and Hall of Administration, has yet to become the Esplanade Mall.


Oriental Hotel, 518 North Alameda Street, being demolished.


St. Joseph’s Church at 12th & Los Angeles Streets has vanished.  (Not part of the collection)


Three of the four buildings that comprise the Rosslyn Hotels. The first Hotel Rosslyn at right, six-story former Hotel Lexington in the middle, and the 12-story New Hotel Rosslyn with roof top sign at left. The 1914 New Hotel Rosslyn is at the northwest corner of Main and 5th Streets. Businesses occupy the ground level spaces.


Close-up of the B. F. Coulter Building, 213-223 South Broadway.


Looking north on Grand Avenue toward Temple Street. Located at 237 North Grand Avenue and built in 1887.


I’m halfway through the collection, so we’ll stop here.  You get the feeling that the city, the commercial interests, the federal government, and the general population decided that anything old, ornate, and Victorian had to go.  The city may now be “shiny and newer”, but I think it has a lot less charm, and a lot of beauty was sacrificed to make that happen.

This is the former Los Angeles County Courthouse. It was demolished in the 1930s.


And this is the old Hall of Records, seen in a previous photograph, also gone.


This was the Post Office . . .


. . . and this was City Hall. Unbelievable!