Downtown Los Angeles Historic Underground:
Speakeasy, Subway, Streetcar and Buildings
In the year 1841, Los Angeles population was only 141. In 1842, the gold rush began, and many miners, then ranchers and others moved to California. Los Angeles was incorporated in 1850. Today Downtown still retains some of its original cultural roots. Restaurants, speakeasies and repurposed historic buildings still evoke the rich historic culture of commerce and the humanities.
As the birthplace of Los Angeles, Downtown has a long and fascinating history. The following account of some interesting moments in Downtown L.A. history have been graciously provided by the Los Angeles Downtown Center Business Improvement District and the Los Angeles Conservancy.
On September 4, 1781, a group of 44 settlers founded El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (“The Town of the Queen of Angels”). The pueblo flourished and, by the late 1840s, Los Angeles was the largest town in California. The center of the city lay a little to the north of the present Downtown, in the area we now call El Pueblo.
In the 1880s, Los Angeles experienced a land boom fed by huge tracts of available land, cheap transportation by newly arrived railroads, outrageous promotion, and hordes of Midwesterners eager to retire from snowy winters. Between 1880 and 1896, Los Angeles went from a population of 11,000 to 97,000. By 1889, the boom subsided, but Los Angeles had established itself.
As the nineteenth century drew to a close, businesses began migrating south from El Pueblo toward the area that we now refer to as the historic core. Although a few buildings from this era still stand (notably the Bradbury Building, 1893), the true explosion of commercial growth in the area came during the 1910s, ’20s, and early ’30s. Many of the buildings near Pershing Square are from this period, including the Biltmore Hotel (1923).
Los Angeles’ strict height limit on buildings was lifted in 1957, triggering another building boom. But even as huge skyscrapers dramatically redefined the city’s skyline, regional shopping malls, entertainment complexes, and business parks were luring consumers out of the city center – and sending Downtown into a decline.
Downtown began a renaissance in the mid-1990s that continues to this day, as revitalized residential, business, and arts communities are once again redefining the way we view the city. The reuse of historic buildings in the area, coupled with new construction, once again poise Downtown as the heart of the City of Angels.
- Pan American
- Higgins Building
- Douglas Building
- El Dorado Lofts
- Rowan Lofts
- Bartlett Building
- Cornell Building
- Eckardt Building
- Textile Building
L.A. Loft Blog, 200 N. San Fernando Rd., #119, Los Angeles, CA 90031
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