We periodically highlight “Resources To Know” which lead you to important information sources for research, as well as the core collection of classic titles in the study of Los Angeles transit and transportation history.
One indisputable work is Kevin Roderick’s Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse Of Los Angeles.
His fascinating story of what many people regard as Los Angeles’ premiere street was originally published in 2005.
It had gone out of print but Angel City Press just released the paperback edition in April.
With so much press being given to the “Subway To The Sea” and Bus Rapid Transit for Wilshire, we thought it might be a good time to look more closely at Wilshire Boulevard and its role in the shaping of Los Angeles.
The dustjacket for Roderick’s book maintains that “like Los Angeles itself, Wilshire is an accidental phenomenon created out of civic pride and yearning of the masses to drive.”
Inside this wonderful book lie the tales of a great street, its peculiar history, fascinating buildings, and its transition from upscale residential neighborhood to financial and business center.
The history is accompanied by a number of wonderful photographs, including Westlake (now MacArthur) Park in 1885 with its long-gone sailboats and faux-bois bridge, oil fields in the Fairfax District and historical images of La Brea Tar Pits and the Miracle Mile.
One small sentence in Roderick’s book led us to investigate further last year into why streetcars were never built on Wilshire Boulevard — and why it is still illegal to this day to do so.
The Boulevard passes through so many neighborhoods on its way from downtown to the ocean (or vice-versa, depending on your perspective), it should remain of interest to a wide audience as we move forward with subway plans below it.
While you’re waiting to get your hands on a copy of this must-read title, you should check out these other resources for Wilshire Boulevard history.
Did you know that double-decker buses once graced the streets of Los Angeles?
While we see an increasing number of two-story tourist vans and coaches these days, it has been quite some time since commuters and shoppers climbed up to the roofless top of the bus for a scenic cruise down Wilshire Boulevard.
The University of Southern California hosts numerous digital images from their collections (as well as from others) where you can also find fascinating images from Wilshire Boulevard’s past.
They have used several of these in their new Tumblr page, but a search for “Wilshire” in their online digital library yields several pages of noteworthy images.
The pastoral scene in this photograph is, believe it or not, the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in 1920.
The aerial photo looks north on Fairfax Avenue past Wilshire toward the Hollywood Hills.
The oil wells in the northeast quadrant make sense: The La Brea Tar Pits are nearby (as is the current home of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art).
A much more urban scene is depicted in this opening day shot of the Wilshire Boulevard causeway through Westlake Park in 1934.
The park was renamed “MacArthur Park” in 1942 and the northern section of the lake was subsequently drained.
Check out USC’s online digital library — 1,039 images are in the search results for “Wilshire.”
UCLA Library’s digital collections also hold a number of interesting photographs from Wilshire Boulevard’s past.
They include images from the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive and many other sources.
When Wilshire Boulevard got a new lighting system in 1928, Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer was on hand to flip the switch.
In 1940, street engineers suggested that Wilshire Boulevard be the test case for a new “streamlined” traffic plan.
Note yet another double-decker bus in the photograph.
After much debate, the plan was shelved by the Los Angeles City Council.
Over the years and through its the sprawling neighborhoods, Wilshire Boulevard has taken on a variety of roles in the lives of those who lived, worked and sought entertainment along its route.
Roderick writes that “The Miracle Mile had live Santas and reindeer at Christmas, Easter parades and, in the fall, the University of Southern California homecoming procession. Everyone knew where along Wilshire the Miracle Mile began and ended, at La Brea Boulevard on the east and Fairfax Avenue on the west.”
Metropolitan Coach Lines employed Santas to entice passengers to use transit while holiday shopping, as these photos demonstrate.
While numerous streets played a crucial role in Los Angeles history, Wilshire Boulevard is particularly suited to be the city’s most famous street.
Roderick explains that “it was assembled piecemeal while Los Angeles grew up from a dusty Mexican pueblo into the first metropolis to commit its future to the seductions and tempestuous double-crosses of the automobile.”
At 15.8 miles in length, it is much shorter than Sepulveda Boulevard or Western Avenue or Figueroa Street.
In fact, it is also shorter than Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard and Vermont Avenue as well as Victory Boulevard, Vanowen Street, Roscoe Boulevard, Ventura Boulevard and Sherman Way in the San Fernando Valley.
But its origins downtown, terminus at the ocean, embrace of foreign consulates and passage through every imaginable type of neighborhood in Westlake, Koreatown, Park Mile, Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Westwood, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica epitomize the eclectic and international nature of Greater Los Angeles today.
Henry Gaylord Wilshire, one of the founders of the California Club, couldn’t possibly imagine what his Boulevard has become today!
And finally, you should check out the Los Angeles Conservancy’s utterly fabulous “Curating The City: Wilshire Blvd.” interactive journey.
It allows you to create your own customized tour of this great Boulevard’s past and present.
The online exhibit features resources for children, teachers, a memory book to share personal stories of life along the Boulevard and submit your own, and more.
If you can’t walk the entire length of Wilshire Boulevard, Curating The City is the next best thing — with the added benefit of time travel as well!