In the earliest photos of Los Angeles, a cliff that looks like the end of the earth looms forebodingly above the Old Pueblo. As the city grew during the 1860s, this robust hill was a place where people could hike and stand high above L.A. while they enjoyed a rather grand view below. Though the area seemed spectacular, there were two problems with the idea of setting down real estate roots on the incline. First, the grade was too steep for teams of horses (even the favored Shire dray animals who hauled the heavy materials used to build the city). Second, there was nary a drop of water. But that didn’t stop Prudent Beaudry.
Beaudry, a cagey French Canadian developer (and mayor of Los Angeles from 1874-1876), put ace surveyor George Hanson on the case. Beaudry bought up those hillside lots for $517 total and immediately set Hanson to work subdividing them into 80 properties. His meager investment would turn into a massively lucrative reward named Bunker Hill. The 1869 map shown here is a broadside, printed in San Francisco to draw buyers down to L.A.’s unlimited real estate potential.
On this map, one of the first to portray commercial subdivision in L.A., we see the Mott Tract. Aside from being a landmark that appears on many early Los Angeles cartes, it has the unfortunate privilege of being the center of a neighborhood that would boom and bust all in fifty years. There were no buildings, no roads, and no water (yet) on this Mott Tract, but Beaudry was never a man to let moss grow between his toes: Most of the early real estate investors understood that irrigation was key to the growth and vitality of their developments. Monsieur Beaudry managed to wrangle two other L.A. big shots to form the Canal and Reservoir Company, of which Prudent was, prudently, president. Beaudry built his own system on Bunker Hill with two reservoirs, 11 miles of iron pipes, and steam-driven Hooker pumps that drove up to 40,000 gallons of the precious liquid per hour.
Beaudry advertised availability of “the hill lands” for a $15 down payment and $15 a month to pay off short mortgages (ranging from $100 to $525). Mansions and luxury hotels dotted streets that had been empty as late as 1870. Roads were graded at a great cost, and street railways took buyers up t0 their new homes in what quickly became L.A.’s most posh neighborhood.
By 1874 Hill, Olive, Flower and Hope streets were finished, with Pearl (later Broadway) completed the following year. Despite the boom, 1875 ended in a bank failure and the cessation of buildings all over the city. Still, the Southern Pacific Railroads arrival soon after set off a revival that lasted into the 1880s, with a renewed flow of money and wealthy buyers who built Queen Anne and Eastlake-style mansions modeled after the beautiful buildings that had been exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.
By 1890, Bunker Hill and what had been the Mott Tract was home to the social elite of Los Angeles. When the Angels Flight funicular was completed in 1901, it appeared everyone would be headed to happily ever after. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for Bunker Hill. But that is another map—and another story.