A Visit to Old Los Angeles

13. Grand Avenue, the State Normal School, and Bunker Hill Avenue.


Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © Brent C. Dickerson

Index to Episodes (click here)

• We delve further into the residential area, which stretches out on either side of us as we ascend Bunker Hill, going west on First Street. Broadway was down on the flats; Hill and Olive successively higher; now at Grand Avenue we are just about at the crest of Bunker Hill, where the social leaders and successful entrepreneurs built their homes in the latter quarter of the 1800s, to look down across the city they called their own. By the time of our visit in the first decade of the 1900s, the area was beginning to be less elite, the captains of industry and politics leaving behind their old Victorian homes to build bigger, grander mansions in newer sections. Their old homes on Bunker Hill began to languish in their fading glory, often well-hidden behind maturing landscaping now left to grow without being clipped. Young Frederick Johan hurriedly shot this photo—"a near-silhouette!", as I pointed out to him later—and moved on "before anyone catches us." ("What do you mean 'us'?", asked I as we ducked around the corner.)

• Fine hotels were now to be found among the private homes as the genteel atmosphere democratized. Here in the middle of the east side of Grand Avenue's 100s block, we find the Melrose Hotel and its annex.

• We walked a few yards south on Grand, and took in the Melrose from another angle.

• I—of course, dear—could not resist taking a quick look inside. Here are pictures of a bit of the lobby of the Melrose, and of its dining room.

• And what view of the city did these elite have from their porches and backyards? We look east over the city, the court house tower dominating to the left. The bright white building at center (the location of "Hamburger's Great White Department Store") is at the northwest corner of Spring and Franklin; on the right half of the view, we look up First Street, seeing the infrequently-pictured north face of it. The blot on the horizon at the right edge of the card is the Orphan's Asylum in Boyle Heights, which we will glance at when we go farther afield in the environs of Los Angeles.

• The area of the intersection of Grand Avenue and Second Street. The building with the onion-shaped dome—just right of center—is at the southwest corner of the two streets. Second Street enters the picture near the middle at the bottom edge, going west as it cuts towards the upper right, having, beyond Grand Avenue, successive (unseen) intersections with Bunker Hill Avenue, Hope Street, Flower Street, and Figueroa Street. Though the buildings at lower right appear to face onto a street, in actuality we are looking at the rear of buildings which face onto the 100s block of S. Grand Avenue.

• Papa looked at this house for a moment, address 245 S. Grand Avenue, then declared "It must be a fine thing to be a turner!" I had a notion to say that one shouldn't get into a lather about it; but then I had a notion not to. "Good thing, too!", said Minnie, as she peeked over my shoulder as I write this.

• The Biltmore Apartments were in existence at 330 S. Grand Avenue by 1919.

• The town residence of Leonard John Rose was long a landmark at the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Fourth Street. Rose was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1827, and came to the U.S. in 1835. He finally arrived in L.A. in 1860, and in 1861 purchased the western 2,000 acres of Rancho Santa Anita, creating Sunny Slope Farm, where he maintained a vineyard and bred trotting horses. The "Rose" in the city of Rosemead is this Rose; "Rosemead" was the name of his horse farm. In L.A. proper, he co-owned a livery stable on N. Main Street near the Plaza with William Ferguson (the future City Councilman) from 1869-1879, was a founder of the Commercial Bank, was a State Senator, and owned the northwest corner of Spring and Second Sts. for a short time (he sold this lot to John Bryson, who then built the Bryson Block there, a building we saw on our visit to Spring Street). May 17, 1899, he committed suicide, using morphine, here in the backyard of his home on Grand Avenue, due to failed mining speculations. As the Los Angeles Times of May 18, 1899, has it: "Mr. Montgomery found his father-in-law lying face downward in a little hollow at the rear of the lot. His head reclined on his hat, and in one hand was clasped a bunch of carnations." Young Frederick Johan ventured, "Probably Forget-Me-Nots would have been better." "Lilies," declared Minnie, with a timeless theatrical gesture; "Lilies!" Papa pondered the case for a moment, and then said that a nice bowl of clean fresh fruit would have been thoughtful for him to have been holding; "Ja, carnations are pretty; but just think of all the finders would be having to do for the next few hours. My experience is that mortuaries generally don't have a good stock of food. A crispy apple or two to snack on would be just the thing!" "And perhaps a beer—a chilled beer," I added, Charley nodding his approval. Anna, however, had an objection. "You are forgetting the most important thing," she said with a frown. "Yes, it's scandalous—Anna is perfectly right," said Charley; "Think of going home after the mortuary or sheriff or whatever. He should have been holding a good supply of pocket change for the taxi. I don't know of any cabbie who will take payment in carnations!" Mother contented herself with sighing, shaking her head, and taking the baby out of earshot.

• A block further south, we see that both the altitude and the grandeur are abating, though not the charm. Here is The Granada, a hotel at 419 S. Grand Avenue. It appears small and cozy from this angle; but in reality the building is quite large and stretches back quite a distance, as we will see in shots taken from other vantage points.

• From a distance, we look north towards the sections of Grand which we have just passed, seeing the backs of the buildings on the east side of Grand, and some of the fronts of those on the west side. One place has its washing strung out for all to see at the back over the alley between Olive and Grand! That's the Granada at the far left; and the building dimly seen at the lower far right is the Olive Street School. The cone reaching into the sky a little right of center is the cupola of the L.J. Rose residence which we saw from another angle a moment ago.

• For comparison, another view of the same area, with some details, such as the Rose house cupola, not in silhouette. But the washing was still strung out! Likely it was the regular daily laundering at a hotel or boarding house. From the comparative growth seen in the trees, this picture seems to be no more than about a year later than the image above.

• A near-neighbor of The Granada, the Sherwood Hotel and Apartments, at 431 S. Grand Avenue, is described by the proprietors as "One hundred sixty outside rooms [i.e., rooms having at least one window looking outdoors], seventy-two apartments recently completed and handsomely furnished. Large Porch, Sun Parlor, Beautiful Lobby, Electric Elevator, Vacuum Cleaner, Private Halls, Dressing and Bath Rooms, Disappearing Beds on doors, with large mirrors in panel, Kitchens, Steam Heat and Cross Ventilation in every Apartment. Good service and reasonable prices." Papa said, "I suppose there isn't much call for 'bad service and unreasonable prices'." "Supply of those particular articles would seem to exceed demand—at least, as the market is presently constituted," observed Charley.

• I suppose you could say that the lobby was "beautiful"; but what is this mania for rocking chairs?

• Again from a distance away, we look north, back at the 400 block of S. Grand. The long white building extending right and left is The Granada once again—one begins to have a notion of how large it is.

• From the east—from the heart of downtown—Grand Avenue's 400 block—what could be seen of it through Olive Street's 400 block—appeared like this. The State Normal School, which we will get to know better in a moment, dominates at left; the Granada can be seen at center about three-quarters of the way to the right. At center near the left edge, note the truncated pyramid, which is the roof to a portion of a building at the northeast corner of Grand Avenue and Fifth Street. In the foreground at right, on Olive Street, are the Trenton and the Olive Street School.

• From an aerial viewpoint, we look at the 400s block of Grand Avenue, which runs from near the upper right-hand corner of this image towards the lower left. Our familiar marker, the Granada, is the white building to the left, just this side of the brick building at upper center. The cream-colored building near the middle left edge of this view is the Sherwood. On this side of the Sherwood, we again note that truncated pyramid on the building at the northeast corner of Fifth Street and Grand Avenue, a building known as the Grand Haven. It shares that stretch of Fifth with the Auditorium Hotel, at the northwest corner of Fifth and Olive.

• The area looked rather different about 1885! Here's Grand Avenue as it approaches Fifth Street.

• The east face of Grand Avenue at about the area of addresses 460 to 470.

• On West Fifth Street, address 516, between Olive and Grand, and nearly across from the westernmost wing of the Auditorium Hotel we visited back on our stroll down Olive, will be found this leafy and inviting entrance to the Hampden Arms Hotel, the proprietor himself, Oliver Johnson, waiting at the door to greet us! Should you require a room with a private bath, it will cost you $1.50 to $2.00 a day. At no added cost, however—except perhaps to tip the elevator attendant—would be the electric elevator, and, in each room, the hot and cold running water, steam heat, and—good heavens!—a telephone in each room!

• Of course, I looked inside, dear. This is a very manly hotel, what with animal skins and what-not. Just peeking around, I could feel my whiskers growing at an enormously accelerated rate; and an urge to purchase boxing gloves began to come over me. I'm sure that if young FJ had gone in with me, his voice would have changed on the spot.

•The reason we were taking such pains to note that truncated pyramid in earlier views now comes clear: It was so that you could orient yourself, dear, in this view of the east face of the 500s block of S. Grand Avenue, from the north—a view which gives no other familiar landmark. Grand goes into the picture, southwards, along the right edge; the Hampden Arms Hotel would be just to the left of the tree which is at the left edge of this view; in the left foreground, our truncated pyramid looms over the unseen northeast corner of Fifth and Grand; by dint of much searching in other views, the little rooftop structure just below center, above the word CONWAY, can sometimes be dimly seen if one knows what to look for. But it is not to be found in our next view, below; its building had been demolished to make way for the Salvation Army's building we see in that picture.

• From further south on Grand, we look eastwards, at the low 500s of Grand Avenue just below us; our truncated pyramid building would be just out of view at center left; and we look over "a downtown we have covered pretty thoroughly," Papa said, stretching out the words. "Exceedingly thoroughly," responded Mother, with a bit of a frown, as the baby slept on her shoulder. We see Central Park, and, along its northern edge, the Auditorium and the California Club. To the left of the Auditorium, we see the Auditorium Hotel; and the brick building on this side of the Auditorium Hotel is the Hampden Arms Hotel. At center foreground is the Salvation Army mentioned a moment ago.

• A closer look at the building in the front
foreground of the preceding view, the Salvation
Army's Young Women's Boarding Home, at 514 S. Grand.
"No, Charley," said Mother, "you may not pay
a courtesy call here, either."

• Reaching the corner of Sixth Street, we look east, and see the Pacific Life Building (alias the Mutual Life Insurance Bldg., alias the Pacific Mutual Bldg.) this side of southern edge of Central Park, and the non-vertiginous church just beyond.

• The Hotel Savoy rises above us at the corner of Sixth Street and Grand Avenue.

• Another block south brings us to the corner of Grand and Seventh Sts., where the J.W. Robinson Company's building dominates the southwest corner. "My word," said Anna, "how blue the sky has become!" A businessman walking out of the store looked up, nodded his head approvingly, and remarked "Better for business, miss," as he continued walking towards the corner; "The Chamber of Commerce arranges it."

• Halfway down the 800s block of South Grand, on the west side of the street, is The Pickwick, an apartment house. Minnie looked it over once or twice and said, "I must admit that it does look rather Dickensian."

• Just across the street, at 838 South Grand Avenue, is the Stillwell Hotel, constructed in 1912.

• Just a few steps down, at the corner of Grand and Ninth Streets, we find this modest structure—Trinity Auditorium—which opened as a Methodists' church complex with theater, hotel, and restaurant in September of 1914. This area casually combined ecclesiastical uses with those of entertainment; this building did the area one better and combined them in the same structure.

• We were so busy looking ahead on Grand on the 500s block, we didn't look west to see a building looming over us on a rise in ground! Returning to the 500s block of Grand, and looking west, here, on the last knoll of Bunker Hill as it flattens out to ground level, is the State Normal School, its knoll being dubbed Normal Hill. Our vantage-point here is from the south-east of the school, near Sixth and Grand.

• Let's walk back north up Grand to the school's driveway at Fifth and Grand...

• We walk up the driveway to get closer and look up at the eastern face of the Normal School. The next north-south artery, Hope Street—like its neighboring streets, largely residential in the lower hundreds—would remain interrupted by this parcel of land, subsequently used for the central library.

• To see the Normal School in the context of its wider surroundings, let's go back to the corner of Hill and Fifth Streets for a moment. We look west, and can see how the Normal School is directly in the path of Fifth Street.

• Now we go back to Olive and Sixth for a moment, climb to the roof of a building, and look northwest over the Pacific Mutual Building at the panorama surrounding the Normal School.

• Alas! Bunker Hill Avenue, bearing the name of the whole area, and yet so little to remember it by! Running parallel to, and between, Grand Avenue and Hope Street, it ends at Fourth Street, just like that other little forgotten lane under Angels Flight, Clay Street. Here is a cozy residence at address 251 S. Bunker Hill Avenue.

Return to Olive Street; or on to Hope and Flower Streets . . .

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