Downtown Los Angeles: A Brief History
Downtown’s official birthdate is September 4, 1781, when the city of LA was founded by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve (at La Placita Olvera). It was christened El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la reina de Los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula.
Flavors of old Mexico resounded and continue to resound throughout Downtown. It is home to Olvera Street which began as a small lane called Wine Street. In the late 1870s it was extended in honor of the first county judge of Los Angeles. Old buildings constructed throughout the 1800s line the street. Since the '30s it has been a vibrant Mexican marketplace for garments, gifts, textile products and food.
The population of Downtown LA grew in the late 1800s due to speculators. In fact, Little Tokyo was more or less established at this time when a former sea man from Japan opened his Japanese restaurant in the area. An immigrant community began forming around the vicinity. Not far from there, Chinatown was also founded in the late 1800s. The original Chinatown was located around Union Station.
In the '20s Downtown sparkled as the jewel of Los Angeles. It boasted extensive and comprehensive railways and was fast growing into a major metropolitan area. The Spring Street Financial District became home to Bank of America, the Crocker National Bank, the International Savings and Exchange Bank and the LA Stock Exchange. The famous Biltmore Hotel (now the Millennium Biltmore) was built there during this golden age in the early ‘20s. Also erected at that time were the Ritz Hotel, the Astor Hotel, the Hall of Justice, the Japanese Union Church (now the Union Center for the Arts), the Great Western Savings Sun Drug building, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing building and the Roosevelt Office Building.
The Broadway area became a central hub for entertainment and shopping. Department stores like Bullock’s and the May Company opened servicing the then-affluent residents of the nearby Bunker Hill Area (which became increasingly dilapidated in the post-war years).
Union Station opened about a decade later in 1939. This was about the same time that Raymond Chandler published The Big Sleep, the first in his famous detective novel series taking place there. At that time LA was on the fast track to becoming the driving city it is today. Downtown became a meeting point for a cluster of freeways. But the post-war years saw a decline in the neighborhood as many businesses left. In the early '40s the LA River overflowed several times causing major floods.
Some facts pulled from Wikipedia
The picture below is a genuine Robert Spence Aerial Photograph of the Wilshire LaBrea area in 1929, from the LA Library collection. 82 years ago, so the city was 149 then. The caption reads:
Aerial view of the Wilshire, La Brea district, looking north. Undeveloped land, middle right side of photo is the Arroyo del Jardin de los Flores, The Stream of the Garden of Flowers. The stream flowed from the location of today's Wilshire Country Club through Hancock Park, joining another creek that eventually drained to Ballona Creek near La Brea and St. Elmo Drive. The majority of this creek was piped and filled; a portion of it remains above ground at the Wilshire County Club, and a creek running through Brookside Estates also shares this name. Third square on right bottom (dark looking ravine), possibly the continuation of Arroyo del Jardin de los Flores. Photo dated: June 21, 1929.