CityDig: Downtown’s Business District Gets Down to Business

This 1924 map shows off L.A.’s new shops, theaters, and landmarks at a time when spirits were soaring
A Map of the Business Section of Los Angeles
A Map of the Business Section of Los Angeles

Clason Maps for Mullen and Bluett Clothiers, 1924

View a larger map

In the early 1920s, Los Angeles was a city on the up. Cash was flowing fast, and rapid changes were rushing the city into the big time. Downtown had shifted from the old pueblo to its current location, and this map depicts it as a vibrant metropolitan center with business opportunity and entertainment on every street. The map was produced as marketing for a new men’s store called Mullen and Bluett (“a friendly store for men who appreciate quality”); it reveals more about L.A. history, though, than it does about cravats, fedoras, and golf attire. At the time, soon-to-be landmarks were going up all around. Among them were the magnificent new Central Library at 5th and Hope, the gleaming white City Hall between Main and Spring (just off the map), and the Chamber of Commerce building next door to the Los Angeles Examiner at 11th and Broadway. This street guide shows five (five!) newspapers, three railroad depots, three telegraph offices, and three steamship offices where vacationers could book passage on an ocean liner headed for exotic lands.

View north on Broadway at 7th, 1929. A sign for Mullen & Blett Clothing Co. can be seen just above the center of the image (click to view larger)

Security Pacific National Bank Collection

“From Main we Spring to Broadway, then over the Hill to Olive. Oh! Wouldn’t it be Grand if we could Hope to pick a Flower at Figueroa.”

All the familiar downtown streets can be seen here packed with hotels, theaters, and the banks that would be shaken by the great crash in less than a decade. Department Stores at the time were destinations for Angelenos with dough, and they included familiar names like Robinson’s, Bullock’s, the Broadway (with its new escalators!), and Hamburgers. Fashionable dresses ran about $25, inflatable bladder footballs could be had for 99 cents, and a grand piano would demand around $700 with delivery. A new Ford, fresh from Detroit, cost around $300. All this was before the terrors of one-way streets, but even then, gridlock gripped downtown at rush hour with cars, motor stages, streetcars, and even a few horses stacking up in the business district. Public transportation, though, was extensive; yellow and red streetcars crisscrossed downtown and spread into the hinterlands of other counties.

Photos circa 1924 show a street level vitality that would be the envy of today’s merchants. Visitors to downtown came not just for business and shopping, but to enjoy new films in downtown’s movie palaces. Moviegoers could see Flaming Youth at Loew’s State Theatre, Rosita with Mary Pickford at one of Grauman’s three locations, or the blockbuster The Ten Commandments in one of the theaters on Broadway. Movies weren’t the only entertainment—the Philharmonic Auditorium hosted the Sistine Chapel Choir, and Mason Opera House offered Blossom Time, a dramatization of the life of Franz Schubert. The vestiges of vaudeville even persisted in places like the Hippodrome and the Morosco. Downtown was also dotted with churches of every denomination, like the Temple B’nai Brith at 9th and Hope, the very old and venerable St. Vibiana’s Cathedral at 2nd and Main, the Scottish Rite Cathedral at 929 Hope street, and Immanuel Presbyterian at 10th and Figueroa.

One feature noticeably absent from the map is saloons. That’s because the ill-fated experiment that was Prohibition had a hold on the city. There was plenty of gin still being sipped on the sly downtown, but mostly out of teacups instead of martini glasses. With the Great War and the flu pandemic already fading into the past, Angelenos were optimistic, and they looked ahead in anticipation to decades of prosperity and peace.

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