Straight out of the golden age of pictorial maps comes a marvelous example of the genre that blends art and cartography. This 1932 map of the “Wonder City of America” paints a lively picture of our multi-faceted city. At the time this map was made, Los Angeles was mired in the economic quagmire of the Great Depression, and the city was on the stump to lure tourists west and entice them to stay. The metropolis may have only been the nation’s tenth most populous, but it was one of few areas where the number of residents was growing. With an economy based on manufacturing, agriculture, good weather (tourism), and fantasies in film, happy days were sure to come. This map shows a city ready to make the best of the worst of times.
While prints of this wonderful Wonder City map have been proliferated in sad reproductions, the original stands as a timeless and eccentric portrait of a city beginning to show big league promise. Cartographer K.M. Leuschner was a German artist who had come to Los Angeles in 1926, after studying art in his native land and then moving to the East Coast of the United States. During his time in Los Angeles, Herr Leuschner established himself as an expert in color harmony and lithography, and he honed his skills as a graphic artist. He even taught at Otis Art Institute while finishing an advanced degree at USC. Over the years out west, he developed a color chart that is in use to this day, but the Wonder City map might be his greatest legacy.
What makes the Wonder City map unique is the exhaustive assortment of details depicted in the metropolitan area—rubber factories, speedways, oil refineries, movie studios, religious institutions, restaurants, countless golf courses, and more. You can find old favorites like Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, the Brown Derby Café, and the Philharmonic Auditorium. The Olympic Stadium (now the Memorial Coliseum) appears near the center of the map, but though this was the monumental year in which L.A. hosted the Games of the Tenth Olympiad, Leuschner does not dwell on the sporting venues. Aside from the stadium and University Park, the only other Olympics-related location on the map is the Frostonia Apartments, where many of the athletes stayed during their time at the games. Leuschner also takes a free-wheeling approach to tourist attractions, focusing especially amusements that had an animal component: Cawston’s Ostrich Farm, Gay’s Lion Farm, the old L.A. Zoo, and the Wild Animal Farm in Boyle Heights all make appearances.
The most intoxicating appeal of this map, though, is the mystery around places like the exclusive “Deauville Beach Club” and it’s neighbor, the “Crystal Pier Nude Sun Bath.” Some spots just beg for explanation, like the “Electric Fountain” at Santa Monica and Wilshire boulevards in Beverly Hills. “Harry O’Day’s Monte Carlo Café,” the “Rollerdrome” in Culver City, and the “Yogoda-Sat Sanga, Hindu-American Temple” (which was founded by Paramahansa Yogananda) all bring their share of intrigue to the map. Rare listings of a couple Central Avenue hot spots also turn up, like “Topsy’s Night Club” and “Sebastian’s New Cotton Club.” The “Johanna Smith Pleasure Ship”—one of the gambling ships that operated outside the city’s three-mile no-gambling limit—even gets a mention.
Leuschner himself eventually moved away from the excitement of his adopted city’s more colorful haunts and finished his career as an art teacher for the Los Angeles City School District.
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.