The Los Angeles Central Library's History Department began collecting photographs sometime before World War II and amassed 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 historical photographs to the people of Los Angeles to be archived at the Central Library. Since then, LAPL has been fortunate to receive other major collections and special archives, making the Library a resource worldwide for visual images.
In 1991, the non-profit Photo Friends was established to assist the library in encouraging residents to donate copies of their family photos as part of the Shades of L.A. project. Later, Photo Friends secured grant funding to commission contemporary photos by local photographers. Photo Friends is still active, sponsoring programs, publishing books, and most recently helped raise close to $250,000 for the digitization of the Valley Times Collection. Additional information about Photo Friends is available at http://photofriends.org.
LAPL has been digitizing photos since 1998 and was one of the first public libraries to do so. As of December 2016, over 116,000 images have been digitized and are accessible through http://photos.lapl.org/, with hundreds more added each month. Our collection is also discoverable on the Digital Public Library of America site, dp.la.
Highlights of the Photo Collection include:
The 1981 Security Pacific National Bank, who had collected images for over six decades, donated their collection of historical photographs consisting of three main sub-collections:
- Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Collection
Images of business, industry, sports and agriculture in Los Angeles during its greatest growth spurt, 1920-1939. Also included are 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."
- Twentieth Century Los Angeles
Over 150,000 photographs documenting the growth of Los Angeles and its many neighborhoods from the turn of the century through the 1970s.
- Valley Times Newspaper Collection
A collection of 52,000 photographs from 1946 to 1965, which includes San Fernando Valley local news, suburban life, sports, radio and TV personalities.
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.
Central Library's Historical California Photographs
The library’s “original collection” consisting of 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.
Luther Ingersoll Portrait Collection
Portraits of outstanding early Californians collected by Luther Ingersoll, who compiled histories of Santa Monica, San Bernardino and other area communities.
Federal Writers Project/Works Progress Administration Collection
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.
Shades of L.A.
An archive of over 7,000 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.
Ansel Adams Collection
Images of Los Angeles, Burbank, and Santa Monica, taken on assignment for the March 1941 issue of Fortune Magazine. There are 217 images in total which were personally donated by Adams in the 1962.
Kelly-Holiday Mid-Century Aerial
Approximately 3,800 images Aerial images of Southern California, detailing post-War growth.
Los Angeles Neighborhoods Collection
Contemporary images of L.A. neighborhoods including; Echo Park and Encino/Tarzana/Woodland Hills, Boyle Heights, San Pedro, North Hollywood, Downtown, Wilshire/Miracle Mile, Watts, Venice, Beverly Hills/Bel Air, and Hollywood. Commissioned by Photo Friends and taken from 2000-2008.
Contemporary images of industry in Los Angeles. Commissioned by Photo Friends and taken in 2009.
Historic American Building Survey (HABS)
Images of Los Angeles buildings taken as part of the Federal Historic American Buildings Survey.
Los Angeles Photographers
The collection also consists of many smaller collections of local photographers which includes, but is not limited to:
Jeff Allen: (1995, 2004-2010) Focusing on houses of worship around Los Angeles
Blackstock Negative Collection: (1930-1969) Focusing on billboards along major streets in Los Angeles.
Rolland Curtis: (1960s-1970s) Focusing on African American communities with an emphasis on local politics.
Roy Hankey: (1960s-1980s) Views and events around Los Angeles with a concentration on Downtown and Hollywood.
Mildred Harris: (1940s-1970s) Focusing on Downtown redevelopment.
Stone Ishimaru: (2000s) General views and events around Los Angeles.
Marlene & Anne Laskey/Wilshire Boulevard: (1978-1979) Comprehensive record of Wilshire Boulevard from Downtown to Santa Monica.
Gary Leonard: (1970s-present) People, places, and events throughout Los Angeles.
George Mann: (1962) Color images of the Bunker Hill neighborhood.
Ralph Morris: (1940s-1970s) Images by the commercial photographer whose 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.
Leopoldo Peña: (2008-2013) Series of images entitled “Interlude on Broadway.”
William Reagh: (1930s-1990s) People, places, and events throughout Los Angeles.
Harry Quillen: (1920s-1950s) Focusing on Chinatown and China City.
Lucille Stewart: (1940s, 1966) Focusing on local political officials, along with a series of Currie’s Ice Cream Parlors.
Sue Terry: (1970-1971) Series of images depicting followers of Charles Manson holding vigil outside the courthouse during the Mason Family murder trials.
- Carol Westwood: (1970s-1990s) People, places, and events throughout Los Angeles.