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Photo Collection Overview


The Los Angeles Central Library's History Department began collecting photographs sometime before World War II and had a collection of about 13,000 images by the late 1950s. In 1981, when Los Angeles celebrated its 200th birthday, Security Pacific National Bank gave its noted collection of 250,000 historical photographs to the people of Los Angeles to be archived at the Central Library. Since then, the Central Library has been fortunate to receive other major collections and special archives, making the Library a resource worldwide for visual images.

The Photo Collection includes these main groupings: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, the Shades of LA Compilations, and the Herald Examiner newspaper morgue.

Security Pacific National Bank (SPNB)

The 1981 Security Pacific National Bank donation of 250,000 historical photographs consisted of three main sub-collections:

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Collection
60,000 images of business, industry, sports and agriculture in Los Angeles during its greatest growth spurt, 1920-1939. There are also thousands of publicity images which depict a light hearted view of Southern California and were intended to entice east coast businesses and midwestern farmers to relocate in the "City With Promise."

Turn of the century Los Angeles
Over 150,000 photographs documenting the growth of Los Angeles and its many neighborhoods.

Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times Newspaper Collection
A collection of 30,000 photographs from 1946 to 1968, which includes San Fernando Valley local news, suburban life, sports, radio and TV personalities.

Other collections in the SPNB archive include:

Central Library's Historical California Photographs
Pictures of general historic interest on California, the Missions and Los Angeles. Approximately 3,000 of these photos are by C.C. Pierce, a noted photographer who worked from the turn of the century through the 1920s.

Portrait Collection
Portraits of outstanding early Californians collected by Luther Ingersoll, who compiled histories of Santa Monica, San Bernardino and other area communites.

Federal Writers Project
Several thousand photographs taken in the late 1930s documenting Los Angeles for the federally funded Guide Book series. These images include street scenes, agricultural views, the motion picture industry and architecture.

Ralph Morris Archives
Approximately 40,000 photographs by commercial photographer Ralph Morris, who worked in the Los Angeles area from 1939-1981. His advertising and industrial clients included department stores, restaurants, the automobile and petroleum industries as well as business executives. Also included are is the Luckhaus Studio collection of architecture, fashion, the movie industry, sports and street scenes images which Morris obtained in 1939. 

William Reagh Collection
800 images of Los Angeles by photographer William Reagh. Chosen from an archive of 40,000, these photographs represent the growth and diversity of post-war Los Angeles to 1991; the buildings, streets, neighborhoods and people.

Shades of L.A.

An archive of 10,000 photographs representing the contemporary and historic diversity of families in Los Angeles. Images were chosen from family albums and copied in a project sponsored by Photo Friends, a library support group. They include daily life, social organizations, work, personal and holiday celebrations, and migration and immigration activities.

The contents of this collection are restricted to personal, research, and non-commercial use.  The Library cannot share the personal and/or contact information of the donors, their descendants, or associates who contributed photographs and oral histories to the collection.

Shades of L.A. also has an oral history collection available online.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photograph Collection

Newspaper morgue of 2.2 million photographs that document Southern California, the nation and the world from the 1920s to 1989. As one of the major newspapers on the west coast, it was highly regarded for its coverage of the entertainment industry, politics, sports and public issues.