The L.A. that Used to Be

Old Aerial view of Los Angeles

The year was 1862. A photographer – no one knows his name – stood atop Fort Moore Hill and took the first picture of our Los Angeles. The population was about 4,400. It was practically empty. Vineyards. Some orchards. A house here and there. In the distance, just outside the city, sprawling cattle and sheep ranches gave testament to the city’s Spanish and Mexican heritage. Yet, although its environs were sparse, Los Angeles was one of the few urbanized areas in the entire region.

Tough times were ahead, with a devastating drought that lasted from 1862 to 1864. But by 1920, Los Angeles County was ranked first in the nation in the value of its agricultural output.

L.A. kept growing, and its expansion reached a fevered pitch in the years immediately following Word War II. From 1945 to 1957, sub-dividers carved 462,593 separate lots out of agricultural land in Los Angeles. By the end of this thirteen years, almost the entire San Fernando Valley had been urbanized.

Today, Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and these historic photographs show just how far we’ve come. It was a beautiful place. Still is, in our opinion … just in a different way.

1. Hollywood

Highland and Franklin, 1903 (courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)
Highland and Franklin, 1903 (courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)
Highland Avenue north of Hollywood Boulevard, 1906 (courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)
Highland Avenue north of Hollywood Boulevard, 1906 (courtesy of the Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)
East Hollywood, circa 1905 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
East Hollywood, circa 1905 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)

2. Beverly Hills

Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Drive, 1911 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)
Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Drive, 1911 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)
Coldwater Cañon (yep, that’s what it used to be called) in 1910 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)
Coldwater Cañon (yep, that’s what it used to be called) in 1910 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)
Benedict Canyon in 1890 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)
Benedict Canyon in 1890 (courtesy of the Beverly Hills Public Library Historical Collection)

3. Western Avenue

Western Avenue south of Sunset, circa 1906 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
Western Avenue south of Sunset, circa 1906 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
Bicycle race on Western just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, 1896 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
Bicycle race on Western just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, 1896 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
The Los Angeles Times Bicycle Club on Western north of Pico, 1895 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
The Los Angeles Times Bicycle Club on Western north of Pico, 1895 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
Orchard at Western and Washington, circa 1899 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
Orchard at Western and Washington, circa 1899 (courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust, and C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries)
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