An over one-hundred-year-old, beautifully detailed map of downtown Los Angeles has been received by the History and Genealogy department from the Historical Society of Southern California. The gift was brokered by historian Betty Uyeda of the Seaver Center for Western History who recognized the value of this map and directed the society to our library. “The Business Property Map of Los Angeles” by Robert Marsh & Co. dates back to 1913 and represents the center of the city in an era of extremely important economic growth in Southern California.
1913 was a watershed year for the city as the monumental task of digging the Los Angeles Aqueduct had been completed and the opening in November of that year expanded the land use of Southern California dramatically and opened doors for other cities to join Los Angeles by annexation. A local scribe referred to it as “a glorious mountain river that flows to Los Angeles’ gates.” The draw of possible irrigation was a strong one for an area that had pretty much run out of Los Angeles River water at the turn of the century. The thirsty San Fernando joined just two years later added a whopping 170 square miles to the city and created an agricultural community close by to the wannabee big city seen on this map. The Los Angeles Harbor was being improved in preparation for the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 that will provide a tremendous surge of commercial activity in the area. Water meant money, jobs, and expansion with banks and businesses getting ready in downtown. Robert Marsh, one of the top commercial real estate men in the city looked to these opportunities and began focusing on the fairly new commercial area in downtown creating this amazing axonometric map that creates a dramatic picture of a city ready to bloom.
The Marsh map extends from the impressive Hall of Records around 1st and Temple south through the downtown we know today past department stores, hotels, government buildings, and even two newspapers: the brand new Times building at one end and the Julia Morgan designed Examiner at the other. Some L.A. landmarks still stand; the Alexandria Hotel, Title Insurance building, Central Park (Pershing Square), the Orpheum Theater, and the California Club. Way down at the southern end is Marsh’s mahogany and marble headquarters, St. Vincent’s College which later became Loyola University and the Prager Tract where Angelenos watched baseball played by a team once called the Looloos.
The one time pueblo was coming up in the world and 1913 marked the first time a major opera company came to town as the Chicago Grand Opera toured the City of the Angels all year performing Rigoletto, Tristan and Isolde, Tales of Hoffman, Natoma, and Hansel & Gretel. In popular entertainment, Barney Oldfield set a new world record at the Motordrome near Playa Del Rey traveling one mile in 26 seconds! To give an idea as to how far a buck stretched Henry Huntington sold a block in Marsh’s downtown from Main to Hill, between 11th and 12th for 3 million after he had purchased it a few years earlier for 250 K.
1913 may look rosy through a realtors lens but the city was in turmoil as usual. Still in shock from the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in the fall of 1910, newspapers railed against “socialists and dynamiters” who sought to destroy the city. The movement of “good government,” a progressive idea to combat the corruption, excesses, and inequality of the gilded age was being criticized as the “goo goo crowd” that hampered business and squelched capitalism (see political machines). While there were radicals and anarchists in the mix the progressive movement was more about union organization and women’s suffrage. The only thing the L.A. Times hated more than the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World…aka Wobblies) was rival publisher William Randolph Hearst and his paper The Los Angeles Examiner. Mayor Augustus Harper was recalled, then Mayor George Alexander resigned in a graft scandal leaving the way for Henry H. Rose to take over but faith in government was not terribly high. The war in Europe loomed but America would at least delay their entry until 1917 while Ford built a new auto plant out here and movies began to be produced over in Hollywood. The Squaw Man was released in 1914 and Cecil B. DeMille started the tradition of the movie mogul. Movie Stars were another phenomenon and beauties like Mabel Normand would appear at the Photoplayer's Ball at the Shrine auditorium while the rubes gawked at these celebrities. It’s all there on Marsh’s map if you just look close enough.