CityDig: This Map Made L.A. Look Dreamy During the Depression


Only the great cartographer Charles H. Owens could create a landscape map of L.A. in the height of the depression that made Southern California look like an Eden with palm trees. Even though this is the B-side of a bank giveaway street map, it jives with the spirit of Los Angeles’s unlimited potential (despite existing in an America with 13 million unemployed).

This map beckons Angelenos to take to the open road and explore the mountains and valleys of L.A. Gas was 10 cents a gallon (with the new, horrendous penny-per-gallon tax!), and if you were very lucky you could buy a new car for around $600 bucks. However, public transportation was also excellent and offered carefree travel all around the basin. Waiting for visitors was the romantic Alpine Tavern at the top of the Mt. Lowe incline railway, a mile above the city and worlds away when it came to charm. In winter, guests could sit before the huge fireplace and enjoy potent potables as the Philco played 78’s; In summer, full orchestras would entertain, and there was all manner of dancing in the mountain wonderland.

At the other end of the map there is the old lighthouse at Point Fermin, which illuminated San Pedro bay from 1874 to 1941 (when the threat of Japanese bombing snuffed the light for good). Adventurous and prosperous souls might even have grabbed an ocean liner at those San Pedro docks or taken a passenger ship to San Diego or Frisco or the very popular Catalina Island. The major highways and byways are seen including the “State Highway,” which took travelers north to bucolic Ventura County. Then again, they could have ridden the Pacific Electric streetcars down the coast highway to the piers of Venice and Santa Monica or jumped on the Southern Pacific passenger trains heading up to San Francisco. The wide-open San Fernando Valley awaited, including the mysteriously identified No. Los Angeles (just below Chatsworth).


Owens drew the major arteries used to escape the city prominently: San Fernando Rd., Whittier Blvd., Telegraph Rd., Valley Blvd., Western, Slauson, Manchester, Vermont, Figueroa and “Harbor Truck Blvd.,” which is known now as Atlantic. Much of the drama here is drawn from the striking mountains, including the San Bernardino range (with its “Rim of the World” 101-mile drive), Lake Arrowhead, and the Squirrel Inn, where well-to-do Angelenos rubbed shoulders while sipping Sidecars and such.

Charles Hamilton Owens, one of the true unsung heroes of local mapping, worked for decades drawing superb maps for the Los Angeles Times but reached the pinnacle of his career during World War II, when his pen-and-ink drawings of the battlefronts of that terrible time gave Americans an understanding of what and where their loved ones were fighting.

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