Yesterday’s Photos Of The Los Angeles You Know Today

Long before the rail, Los Angeles was a one-horse town. In fact, if you reach back far enough, it’s wasn’t even that. Then all the foreigners started moving in, white folks from the east.

Today’s Los Angeles enjoys a diversity of cultures. Few people know that it’s home to the largest population of Koreans outside of Korea. That’s just for starters.

For many transplants to Los Angeles, the town serves as an introduction to the cultures of the world without requiring a passport. This writer is admittedly a fan.

The story of Los Angeles is as fascinating as the people who make up the profile of its residents. That history reaches back further than these pictures, of course. What they capture are a few of the Los Angeles’s most iconic features, from a time before they were icons.

Los Angeles River – 1885


Angelinos know their river as that concrete channel that cuts the city in half, from the Valley to Long Beach. Before the Army Corps of Engineers cemented the whole thing, it was unwieldy, destructive even.

Flooding was common, especially in the 1930s. In this photo from 1885, you can see the tracks disappearing into the basin, a bridge out in the background.

Today’s city planners have designs on a restoration of the river some of its former glory but without all the devastation.

The Colorado Street Bridge to Pasadena – 1913


Commuters in Los Angeles are no strangers to this bridge. It stands next to the 134 Freeway. Locals still use it every day.

The venerable bridge makes a sneaky way to circumvent gridlocks if you know what you’re doing. Hard to believe it’s been commuting Pasadena folks for over a hundred years.

That’s not impressive by Roman standards, but to Californians, 100 years is ancient.

Hollywoodland – 1930s


Thanks to the 2006 movie by the same name, many people know that Hollywood used to have a longer name. They put up the sign in 1923, with an 18-month lease. Back then, the sign lit up at night so you could see it from across the valley.

The goal for the sign was land development. They wanted to draw investors. There were many similar signs around the area erected for the same reason, but this one was special.

The rise of  Hollywood cinema culture turned the sign into an icon. Since nobody called Hollywoodland anyway, when it came time to replace the sign, they dropped the land.

Venice Beach – the 1930s


Holiday weekends, especially July 4th, Angelinos pack the beaches in Los Angeles. Even on that day, the scene is nothing like this ’30s shot of Venice beach.

Forget the umbrellas. What’s going on with some of the outfits? One guy is wearing a suit–not a bathing suit–a suit and tie.

Griffith Observatory – 1933


In 2002, this famous hilltop observatory not far from the Hollywood sign closed. After decades of use, they needed to restore the dome.

That 2002 renovation included designs to excavate the ground on the opposite side of this image. It was there they dropped an underground theater and exhibit space.

Long before that, someone snapped this pic of the time when that dome went up.

The Old Trolleys – 1960


This past election cycle, Los Angeles decided to fund further expansion of the Metro rail system they started in the early 1990s. Aging Angelinos remember the remnants of the old trolleys.

Launched in 1901, at one time the trolleys covered Los Angeles with 20 lines and over 1200 trolleys.

In this picture, a Yellow Car crosses the First Street bridge. Today’s Metro Gold line borrows the same route.

The Capitol Records Building – 1970s


Since this picture, investors have attempted to re-gentrify the corner of Sunset and Vine too many times to count.

The American Airlines building still stands, as does the Capitol Records tower. That building on the left burned down a few years ago when it was a nightclub.

The corner you can’t see, to the right, is now the W Hotel and the Red Line station.

The Whiskey A GoGo – 1982


Folks who visit Hollywood today don’t know that they once shuttered this famous location. In the ’60s, it was host to one of Rock n’ Roll’s most influential bands, The Doors.

As you can see from this leftover sign, they weren’t the only big name to grace the stage at The Whisky.

In 1985, investors re-opened the icon. It may not be the scene it once was, but playing there is still a sign that you’ve made it in some way.

If you want to read a good book that digs into the history of Los Angeles, check out Chronicles of Old Los Angeles. At most you’ll lose a Saturday, but if you love Los Angeles history, you’ll be happy to do it again the following weekend.