CityDig: A 1920s Guide to Getting Out of L.A.

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After World War I, an established and powerful United States turned toward bolstering infrastructure to strengthen transportation across North America. In 1921, the Federal Aid Highway Act (sometimes called the Phipps Act) was passed, and a great road construction project began all across America.

That same year in California, the Department of Public Works was founded, and the California Highway Commission was added in 1923. A two cents-a-gallon tax was levied for road building in the Golden State, raising the price at the pump to around 22-cents per gallon. There were few good roads connecting existing highways, but the enterprising Gillespie mapmakers of Los Angeles saw a future need and thought to include this page in a 1925 guide titled Streets of Los Angeles, How to Reach Them by Automobile or Street Car.

At first their guides had been of greatest use in choosing appropriate street rail transportation that began as far back as 1912, but when automobiles were added to the mix in great numbers, there was a curiosity toward getting out of L.A. and onto the new highways that might be built or just improved. There was the “Old Trails Road” (hwy 60) that would lead to Arizona, the “Atlantic Trail” (hwy 99) to the lovely Salton Sea and on to Bakersfield, the beautiful “Pacific Highway” south to Orange County, San Juan Capistrano and even San Diego (or north to Santa Barbara). There was also the “Old Midland Trail,” an unimproved, bumpy road out to Mojave and—for the brave of heart and stern of spine—to Owens Valley, where Fred Eaton had discovered a sourcewater for L.A. via the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

If you ever wondered how it was that Angelenos and visitors escaped the big city back in the day, here are the routes suggested by the Gillespies “for the tourist…for the resident.” Heading west: Wilshire boulevard would take you to the sweet breezes of Santa Monica or stops in Beverly Hills or Sawtelle, where UCLA had chosen a 387-acre parcel to build their new campus. Pico and Washington would lead you to Venice and Ocean Park, where annexation and blue laws had put a damper on the fun down there. Slauson to Redondo would take you to Long Beach and its pier and Pike for fun, or you could continue down the coast to Seal Beach, Laguna, Balboa and Newport Beach.

The not quite as glamorous Vermont, Main, or Central would be a straight shot to Wilmington or San Pedro, while the more utilitarian Santa Fe would lead to the factories of Vernon or Huntington Park. Heading north on Hollywood or Sunset Boulevards to Cahuenga could lead to the San Fernando Valley, which connected to the northbound highway to Santa Barabara, San Luis Obispo and (if your water held out) to San Francisco, where Alioto’s Restaurant was opening at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Vermont to Los Feliz could lead you to the Northeast and foothill cities: Tropico, Glendale, Eagle Rock, Burbank, San Fernando or La Crescenta, and La Canada. The all-purpose north Broadway to Pasadena Avenue would send drivers to South Pasadena, Pasadena, Altadena or Cawston’s Ostrich Farm, a tourist draw for sure. The old and venerable Mission Road led to the San Gabriel Valley and beyond to Redlands. The lengthy Huntington Drive might take you to Monrovia or El Monte or all the way to Yuma, Arizona, with a highway in between. Brooklyn and Whittier Boulevards would create a path to Orange County and then down the coast to Oceanside, or, hours later, San Diego.

With this little guide in your vest pocket, the world outside of the Los Angeles city limits would’ve been your oyster.

Above: Auto Road Map Showing Best Way to Leave City, Gillespie’s Guide. The Stationers Corporation, Copyright 1918, Published 1925


Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.