Downtown retailers couldn’t make it snow, but each December from 1928 through 1941 they did just about everything else to evoke the Yuletide spirit in their shopping district. They strung freshly cut fir trees with twinkling lights. They festooned garland from one side of the street to the other. They hoisted 600-pound twinkling stars over trolley tracks and hung wreaths from light standards.
These festive decorations might have delighted shoppers, but for the merchants who paid for them—more than $100,000 in 1929—they were an almost desperate attempt to attract Southern Californians away from the region’s upstart retail districts. Downtown’s two primary retail corridors, Broadway and Seventh Street, had long been the city’s shopping mecca, but by the late 1920s the area was quickly losing ground to Hollywood and the auto-centric Miracle Mile.
Competition with Hollywood Boulevard, which became Santa Claus Lane each winter, inspired downtown’s business community. Beginning in 1928 downtown and Hollywood retailers engaged in a sort of holiday decorations arms race, with each community trying to outdo the other with pageants that became progressively more elaborate as the years went on. In 1929, a parade of fairy tale characters joined St. Nicholas in a march through downtown’s streets. Two years later, Hollywood answered with its first full-fledged Santa Claus Lane Parade (since renamed the Hollywood Christmas Parade).
By 1939, eleven blocks along Broadway and Seventh Street glowed with 42,000 twinkling colored lights (total power: 2.1 megawatts) and glistened with 15 tons of metallic ornaments. But after the United States entered World War II in 1941, Los Angeles turned its attention to the wartime effort, bringing downtown’s festive holiday tradition to an unceremonious end.
Above: Circa 1930s view of Broadway decorated for the holidays, looking north from Seventh St. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Dick Whittington Photography Collection.
Nathan Masters of the USC Libraries blogs here on behalf of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, cultural institutions, official archives, and private collectors hosted by the USC Libraries and dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden histories of Los Angeles.</p