50 Historical Images of Los Angeles
Just about 4 million people call the City of Angels home, and this isn't by accident as Los Angeles is one of the best places to live. You get amazing weather year-round, great beaches, exclusive events, celebrity sightings, and much much more. But although so many people live there, little know the true history of how this city came to be. Los Angeles is rich in history and those who know it can truly appreciate how privileged they are to be living there. If you would like to know the history of Los Angeles, scroll through this gallery and check out some of these amazing historical images of Los Angeles.
The Hollywoodland Sign
The Hollywoodland sign is the centerpiece of this photo that shows how the city of Los Angeles has come such a long way over the years. You can see a couple of gentlemen, their hats, and their horses on a hill, something you would never see in today's time.
On another hill not far away from them is the Hollywoodland sign, which was erected only two years before the picture of the gentlemen was taken. According to reports from the time, the picture was taken in order to motivate suburban housing development dwellers.
Aerial Shot of 1929s Hollywood
This picture is an aerial shot of Hollywood in November 1929. In it, hundreds, or perhaps thousands of houses are captured in the city, proving that the city was populated even in the early 20th century.
However, looking closely at the picture and the buildings below reveals that a lot of the houses in the city then were residential buildings, with a couple of larger structures that can only be assumed to be factories in between them. So while the city was populated, there weren’t as many industrial activities going on.
Universal Studios Hollywood
The opening of Universal Studios Hollywood is one of the landmark moments in the history of Hollywood and the development of the State of California at large. Universal Studios Hollywood was launched in March 1915, when its creator, Carl Laemmle had thousands of people come to see the studio’s launch at his sprawling California property.
You can tell from the picture that the launch studio is a shadow of the modern one; the backlot of the production company shows this much. For reference, if you have been to Universal Studios Hollywood, this is the lower lot portion of the theme park.
The Entertainment Workers’ Strike
Talk about organized labor being an ancient phenomenon; if you’ve been thinking things like organized labor and labor strikes weren’t a thing in old Los Angeles, you need to think again. This is a clear indication that the fellas that provided labor services to the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry knew how powerful their collective voice was and knew one or two things about using that power.
Film workers went on a strike against the Warner Bros. Studio, and in the process, the Burbank Police got involved. Warner Bros. was able to become a successful company despite this hiccup, however, when you hear people talk about how bad Warner Bros. is today, they are mostly referring to their DC movies.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum bears some historical significance as the place where a lot of the XXIII Olympiad Games were hosted. The city of Los Angeles itself was the host of the XXIII Olympiad so it was only right for the Memorial Coliseum to host the games therein.
This was in 1984, and you can see the stadium teeming with people that turned up to see the games. There’s a nice view of the city in the background, with skyscrapers and towers that must have been deserted because so many people were at the games.
The Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl Performance
In 1964, the Beatles had a show for the ages at the Hollywood Bowl. The tickets for that show were a hot commodity that year, you can see just how big the show was from this picture of it.
There’s a lady in front, who seems to be an apparent show-goer dressed up to go shake it up; not far from her is a police officer that is apparently pointing her in the right direction or showing her something fun happening in the distance. The recording from this show is available for purchase.
The Hollywood Sign in 1945
We’re back in Hollywoodland again folks! Remember how our second slide discussed the Hollywoodland sign and how it was erected to inspire suburban housing dwellers? Well, it turns out that 1945 was a pivotal year for the Hollywoodland sign; a lot changed with the sign in that year alone.
First, the H in the sign fell and for a long time, it wasn’t replaced so the sign read "Ollywoodland," which doesn't have the same ring to it. However, after some time, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to remove the “Land” and replace the H giving us the famous "Hollywood" sign we know today.
The First Oscars
The 1930s ushered in the era of Old Hollywood with the first stars and first Oscars as well. Old Hollywood is a particularly memorable period in the history of film and California; it also proves how much the city of Los Angeles has changed over the years as a result of Hollywood’s influence.
This picture features one of the first Oscars presented at the first-ever Academy Awards. Few people are familiar with the names of the stars then; that list includes Mary Pickford, Hanns Kraly, and Warner Baxter. I bet they wish they were born in today's times, where when you win an Oscar you get to receive it on a grand stage.
The First L.A. Marathon
History was made in 1986 as the first Los Angeles marathon was held in the city in March. A large crowd of people turned up, not just to watch the marathon, but to also participate in it; literally, thousands of people turned up for the city’s inaugural marathon race.
At the end of the day, nearly 8,000 runners crossed the finish line, so this was the biggest first-time marathon in the country. The image here shows how significant the race was; the runners here showed up in the right gear looking thrilled and taking it very seriously.
How the Griffith Observatory Began
Inventors go to great lengths to see their creations become real; some will go without food, and their interactions with loved ones will worsen while sorting out their inventions. At the end of the day, what matters most is seeing your creation come to life like you dreamt it, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with Griffith Jerkins.
Jerkins’ dream wasn’t realized until 16 years after he passed. He would be one happy man to see that his dream of the Griffith Observatory is one of the most visited sites in the whole of Los Angeles. It has become a place where people can gather to appreciate science and see a great view of the city.
The Rodney King Riots
Back to some dark times in the city of Los Angeles’ history; the 1990s were a particularly gloomy period in the city as there was lots of tension and it was just a difficult time for the city. The Rodney King Riots erupted in the city in 1992, causing havoc and mayhem to be unleashed on the city.
The riot erupted as a result of a video of a black man that was brutally beaten by a bunch of police officers. Thanks to pictures like this, we get a peek into the emotions and destruction in the city during the riots. As you can see from this photo, lots of people were out to witness and protest what was happening.
Los Angeles Welcomes Jimmy Carter
This Jimmy Carter visit to California was a strategic decision for the then Presidential hopeful; after supporting the controversial Proposition 14, Carter saw a unique opportunity to secure some votes so he toured the state a bit, hoping to really cement his campaign.
Thanks to this shot, you can see the energy of the crowd that welcomed him on his visit; placards litter the air, and there’s a sizable crowd on the ground to welcome the Presidential aspirant and show him he had their support. The picture was taken in Downtown Los Angeles as you can see the Broadway Arcade Building that still stands to this day.
A View of L.A. Roads
This one serves as a reminder that it isn’t only the cars that were different on Los Angeles roads, the roads themselves were pretty different back then. You can see from this picture of 1925 Los Angeles that there wasn’t as much traffic back then as there is now as not as many people owned cars as they do today.
The cars people drove, the style of houses and roads, and the way traffic was coordinated are all so different from what we are used to seeing today. Apparently, people could get to wherever they wanted to in town with ease as the city wasn't as big back then, something that isn’t exactly the case now.
Pacific Electric Vehicle
If you think the Teslas of today are pioneers in the world of electric cars, then you probably didn’t know there were electric vehicles in old Los Angeles. You can clearly see one here, a Pacific Electric vehicle with hundreds of passengers on board for a ride down the Hollywood Boulevard.
The major difference is the electric vehicle in the picture used cables, unlike the ones we have today. Just like the previous slide, this shows how easy moving around Los Angeles was back then. You can still see this kind of transportation in other parts of the world, in particular, San Francisco, but no longer in Los Angeles.
Rita Hayworth’s Elegance on Display
This picture is all about a Hollywood icon of old, the amazingly talented Rita Hayworth, who is one of the most well-known stars to this day. The shot of the entertainer was taken while she was cruising down a street not far from the Warner Bros. Studio in L.A.
The street itself is bustling with activity, with lots of people on the sidewalk, an abundance of cars on the road, and what appears to be multiple factories in the background. Hayworth was married to Edward C. Judson at the time, the union that was the first of her many marriages.
The Laurel Canyon
Back in 1913, cars looked quite different from what we have on the road these days; what they had then were the early renditions of automobiles with much weaker engines. But these early cars were more than enough for the early settlers to explore all Los Angeles had to offer at that point.
Judging from this picture taken at the Laurel Canyon in Hollywood, you can tell there wasn’t so much to explore back then as it all looks like empty hills and mountains. It is amazing to see how much Los Angeles has grown since its inception to become one of the busiest cities in the world. Who would have thought back then, that all that land would be gone and replaced with buildings?
The Zoot Suit Riots
This image right here proves that things weren’t always peaceful in old Los Angeles; the city was as prone to violent riots and unrest back then as it is now. In 1943, the entire country was in the throes of the Second World War that was being fought far away from the city of Los Angeles, but L.A. wasn’t free of the ripple effects of the war.
You get a peek into the riots that broke out between young Mexican-Americans and U.S. servicemen courtesy of this picture. The riots took place because U.S. servicemen believed that the zoot suits that the Mexican-Americans wore were unpatriotic because they were made with so much fabric and during the war, fabric was supposed to be rationed. Most of the servicemen captured here are wielding sticks, and some of them have dead-serious looks to boot.
View of 20th Century Hollywood at Night
Modern-day Hollywood is a beautiful city that becomes even more pleasing to digest once the sun goes down. It turns out that Old Hollywood wasn’t much different; this picture proves that the sight of Hollywood at night has always been amazing, with tons of lights to make up for the darkness.
You can see some colorful lights on what appears to be a bustling street, with the building in the distance being lit up as well. Back when this picture was taken, one could see The Broadway Hollywood, The Pantages Theatre, and other attractions. It wasn't as crowded back then so it was much easier for attractions to stand out.
A Couple of Pedestrians in1937
Unlike today where you’ll see everyone cruising by in their automobiles, it wasn’t unusual to find people traveling by foot in the 1930s. It’s not that there wasn’t a train system back then, but apparently, this was just the norm for certain people from that era.
You can clearly see a billboard with the “Next Time, Try the Train” inscription on it, imploring the two men in the picture to relax and try an easier mode of transportation. The picture also indicates that not enough people were getting around in trains.
Beauty has always been a marketable commodity in the United States and beyond; the best actresses in the industry are usually the prettiest so you can see the direct link here. Joan Bradshaw was equally famous and pretty all at once, she had a face and body that most in the industry envied.
She posed in front of the Capitol Records building in order to get this incredible shot that would be admired for years. Apparently, Bradshaw was a huge fan of shorts too, and she knew a thing or two about rocking them. The other subjects in the picture are her dog and some cars in the background.
Beautiful View of Sunset Boulevard
Sunset Boulevard is currently a beautiful sight to be seen, so much so that tourists from all over the world travel to Los Angeles just to get a glimpse of the bright lights and row of palm trees. This picture truly captures just how much Los Angeles has changed over the years.
The serenity of life in the 20th century only accentuated this beauty further, as this image shows. The picture was captured on a peaceful day in 1945, offering a view of life on Sunset Boulevard during that time; it all looks so nostalgic and organized with beautiful palm trees and several iconic buildings.
The Los Angeles Times Building
The Los Angeles Times has been a staple newspaper in Los Angeles since 1881 and now has the 5th largest circulation of all newspapers. Here you can see how the building looked in 1939, it is located on the corner of 1st and spring in Downtown Los Angeles.
The building was designed by Gordon Kaufmann and he wanted it to look like a piece of art in the middle of Downtown. The building was officially called Times Mirror Square and was used by the newspaper until 2018 when it was bought by the Onni Group. It is currently vacant but still stands today.
Aerial View of Cahuenga Parkway
Los Angeles’ grievous smog problem in 1949 is the reason why the skylines and atmosphere were clouded and therefore difficult to see in that year. This picture was taken in 1949 and is basically an aerial view of the Cahuenga Parkway in Hollywood Hills, which looks much different today.
Luckily for the city of Los Angeles, the smog issue has cleared up a bit, and on most days when you are this high up, you can get a clear view of the city. Though one thing you will never see again is a view of the freeway being that empty, as now, you would only see gridlock.
CinemaScope’s The Robe
CinemaScope changed a lot of things when it launched its widescreen films; the technology behind the movies became incredibly popular and by extension, the movies themselves did well because of the new format. However, the widescreen films wouldn’t have done so well if CinemaScope didn’t premiere its The Robe movie.
The movie was premiered at the Chinese Theatre, which was owned by Grauman; the event became the talk of the town because it was a huge event in the entertainment industry. You can see a crowd trying to get in, and a couple more trying to find parking, at least we know parking has always been hard to come by in Los Angeles.
The Bernard Judge Dome House
Advances in architecture were made gradually over the years, with some notable ones coming in the 20th century. In this picture, you can see Architect Bernard Judge working tirelessly on his geodesic dome house, yes you read that correctly, this is a house. The house lies on a hillside, so being on top of it like Judge was here means access to an incredible view of the city below.
The fact that the house is so unique in its construction, and that it lies hillside must have contributed to Judge having to do the work himself; in the end, the dome house’s construction was completed two years after this photo was taken. The unfortunate part is that new builds like this would never be allowed in Los Angeles today.
Banks were still a big part of Life
The skyline of Downtown Los Angeles is one of the most famous skylines in all of the U.S. But it wasn't always that way, as you can see in the picture, building in this area used to be quite small compared to what you see today. The one thing that has stayed the same is the crowds of people.
The Construction of the 101 Freeway
The 101 freeway still remains one of Los Angeles' longest and most important routes, it can take you from Los Angeles all through California and beyond. In this picture, you can see the beginning of the construction of what would soon become this infamous freeway.
The Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier looks almost unrecognizable in this photo if you were to visit it today. Today the pier is filled with restaurants, games, attractions, and roller coasters, but here you can see the beginnings of what would come to be. At this time the pier was still a flat bridge where you could walk out in peace and feel the amazing ocean breeze.
The photo was taken in 1880 and shows how different life was back then with how conservative people are dressed at the beach. You can see everyone in their suits and hats, unlike the bathing suits you would see today. The beach has also expanded since then so you won't see a crowd like this all sitting so close together.
Los Angeles' City Hall
Even if you've lived in Los Angeles your whole life, you probably wouldn't recognize the building in this photo. It is actually Los Angeles' third City Hall, which served as the center of local government.
This picture was taken in 1888 and this building served as the Los Angeles City Hall until 1928 when the new building was completed. It was constructed on purpose around Spring Street, First, Main, and Temple since those streets were considered the heart of the central business district during the 1880s and 1890s.
Los Angeles’ First Hotel
The first hotel in Los Angeles, the Bella Union, was by all accounts, a wild west institution. This hotel’s functions extended beyond simply providing abode for those visiting Los Angeles from other cities; it was also the soul of civic life in the city for many years.
People got married at the hotel, judges pondered over cases there, and even gunslingers and criminals sized each other up menacingly there. According to Harris Newmark’s account, the Bella Union was the only actual hotel in town because of the many city functions that were done there.
The Warner Bros. Theater in L.A.
This picture offers a rare look at the Warner Bros. Theater, Los Angeles while it was still standing. Apparently, the theater was a sprawling building located in the heart of the city; you can see the older cars that people drove back then gliding down the road that lies in front of the theater all those years ago.
The theater was located on Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills until it was demolished in 1988; wonder why a historic building like this had to be torn down. The theatre is currently occupied by the Ecclesia Hollywood Church, but rumor has it, that it may make a return as a film palace.
Filming The Mighty in Downtown Los Angeles
Here’s a rare look into life in downtown Los Angeles in 1929; the crowd in this photo gathered at the corner of the Sixth and Spring Streets in downtown L.A. to watch the Paramount movie, The Mighty, in 1929. The movie was about a gangster who becomes a hero after serving time in the Great War.
There’s a sizable crowd here so the movie must have generated quite some buzz then; the stores in the background also deserve some attention. There’s a typewriter shop that must have been buzzing then but certainly can’t exist now, and there’s United Cigars which isn’t as prominent either.
View of Wilshire Boulevard in 1935
This picture is all about Wilshire Boulevard; it offers a nice view of the boulevard, looking west at Lafayette Park in the direction of the Town House Hotel in 1935. Los Angeles is a dynamic town, with lots of rich history but despite its rich history, coming across pictures like this that give a look into early 20th century living in the city is rare.
However, the truth is the view then isn’t too different from what we have today besides the cars people drive now and the population of the city perhaps. The Town House Hotel is now an apartment block though but it still exists.
The Public Library in L.A.
The Public Library in Downtown Los Angeles started off as a well-stocked reading room on Temple and Main Street. It would have never come to be if it wasn't for our very first librarian John Littlefield. There were two rooms in the building, one was the "Book Room" and the other the "Conversation Room."
Here you can see it in all its glory in 1926 as a full-on library. This is thanks in part to the "The Great Library War" in 1905 that allowed women to not only visit the Library but also make decisions about the library and run the library.
A Magnificent House on Wilshire Boulevard
We’re back on Wilshire Boulevard folks! But this time around, the clock has been turned all the way back to the 1890s. The star of the show here is The Shatto house, a magnificent house located on Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles in the late 1890s.
Judging from the picture alone, it is apparent that this was a gorgeous home whose upkeep was demanding. The house was named after George Shatto, a wealthy fellow who made his wealth in mining before building it in 1890. Unfortunately, Shatto died in 1893, leaving his sprawling house behind.
The Pacific Electric Subway Terminal
As far back as 1926, Los Angeles had a subway system, which is something another big city, like New York, didn’t have at the time. The subway wasn’t the longest subway in the world because it was only a mile long, but it served its purpose well and was a means of transportation.
The Los Angeles subway started at 417 S. Hill St., below the 12-story terminal of the Pacific Electric Railway that was designed by the same architects behind the Biltmore Hotel. The subway ended up not being ideal for Los Angeles and so in 1927, due to a revenue shortfall, Pacific Electric began focusing on buses as a means of transportation.
A View of Vermont Avenue in 1929
A lot of the older buildings that populated Vermont Avenue have disappeared over the years but a couple of well-preserved structures from all those decades ago still stand today; the well-preserved portion lies around 24th Street.
The one-story building that stands on the left side of the road was completed in 1915 and it still exists today; it is essentially a simple structure with decorative bricks, most of which have been lost to renovations since. Comparing this image of the street to how the street is in the present day shows that not an awful lot has changed over the years.
The Figueroa Street Tunnels in 1930
A lot of the city monuments in Los Angeles didn’t yet exist in the 1930s as they were yet to be constructed or were under construction at the time. The Figueroa Street Tunnels are one example; this picture allows us to see how it looked while construction was going on there.
You can see a couple of tunnels that have been built, with the track extending out of them but then the track stops dead in front of the tunnel in front. Today, the tunnels house the lanes of the Arroyo Parkway that extend to the north.
Early view of the City of Los Angeles
The year is 1850 in this picture and the attraction here is a view of the city in the mid-19th century. This is how the city appeared in 1850; the layout of the city can be vividly seen with the Los Angeles Plaza in the left-center if you look northeast.
This is where the city of Los Angeles started from, it all started with a couple of Spanish settlers that founded the Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles in 1781. They were led by Fernando Javier Rivera y Moncada; by 1841, the city’s population census showed it had a population of 141.
L.A. Traffic in the 50s
By the 1950s, the city of Los Angeles was already bustling with activities so there was a significant amount of traffic on the roads and freeways. The city was dotted with good cars and streetcars that people could already afford courtesy of all the economic activity that was happening in the city.
Congested traffic wasn’t an unusual sight while driving through Los Angeles in the early 1950s; seeing wide-open freeways then was a pleasant sight because of all the beautiful classic cars.
The 1932 Olympic Games in LA
The first time the Olympic games were hosted in Los Angeles was in 1932; the city’s two short-lived turns at the Olympics remain a vivid part of Los Angeles' history though. The 1932 games were hosted in Los Angeles during the Great Depression which must have added some gloom to the games.
The resources of the film industry were drawn, so the 1932 Olympics was made a glamorous entertainment affair. This approach was captured in the promotional photo for the games in which a bunch of women holds placards promoting the games.
The Lost Southern Pacific River Station
The Southern Pacific River Station was a significant station for economic activities and transportation while it stood as it was the point where those drawn by the land boom of the mid-1880s were welcomed to Los Angeles. It was ultimately far from the final destinations of many travelers that passed through but it was relevant nonetheless.
It has since been replaced by the Los Angeles State Historic Park. The original River Station building was torn down in 1901, and it was immediately replaced by a second River Station, which was built just across the street from it and was built as a Romanesque Revival style building.
The Edendale neighborhood
If you mentioned the Edendale neighborhood to anyone in Los Angeles they probably wouldn't know which neighborhood you are referring to. This photo was taken in 1910 in the Edendale neighborhood, what would later be known as the incredibly popular neighborhoods of Echo Park, Silver Lake, and Los Feliz.
Edendale in the 20th century was actually home to a lot of movie studios on the west coast. Unfortunately, the name Edendale hasn't been associated with this community anymore, and the only sites left that still use the name are the post office called Edendale Station and a restaurant called Edendale.
Los Angeles’ Forgotten Matriarch
The Hancock Park in Los Angeles is a remarkable place, it is home to the La Brea Tar Pits, the L.A. County Museum of Art, and the Page Museum. The park commemorates George Allan Hancock, who donated the pits but the real hero here is his mother, from whom all his wealth came.
Her name is Ida Hancock Ross, and she was the first to allow researchers to explore the premises; it is for this reason and more that she is known as L.A.’s forgotten matriarch. She earned most of her wealth from her family's oil drilling company.
Los Angeles Chinatown in the 1940s
Los Angeles’ Chinatown is the hub of the Chinese-American culture in Los Angeles and home to lots of people of Chinese origin. Chinatown is a 24-block neighborhood that lies northeast of downtown.
Unfortunately, the town has lost most of its appeal and is now a shadow of its heyday these days. The first thing that catches the eye here is the Dragon’s Den Chinese Food restaurant with some catchy Chinese inscriptions to boot. Beside it is a white building that was probably a motel or hotel.
The Los Angeles River At Griffith Park
Here we can see a man at the Los Angeles River at Griffith Park, which has since been turned into a river bike path. If you visit Griffith Park today these scenes will be almost unrecognizable, as the park has really grown since then.
The park sits in the Los Feliz neighborhood at the end of the Santa Monica mountains. This famous park is one of the largest urban parks in North America. Although this man looks like he got to enjoy the park all to himself, that most likely wouldn't be the case now as this park is usually filled with people looking to get some outdoor fun.
North Hollywood used to be Known as Toluca
Back in the 18th century, Hollywood wasn’t exactly Hollywood yet so the whole of what is now known as North Hollywood used to be a town called Toluca. The truth is a lot of the lost towns in Southern California never really disappeared because they simply became known by other names.
That was the case with Toluca, which used to be a small farming village in the San Fernando Valley, but is now known as North Hollywood. The town’s name has always been contentious because the residents clashed over what to call it.
Life in Los Angeles Slums in the 1930s
The Los Angeles slums have always lurked in the background of the city’s lush neighborhoods and structures, providing abode for the lower-income groups. This picture offers a glance into what life in the slums looked like during the Great Depression; it certainly looks gloomy enough.
These buildings can be found at 477 Temple Street and you can tell security wasn't a big priority back in those days. The buildings we see here are part of downtown Los Angeles where life isn’t characterized by sprawling mansions and sports cars.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1929
The year is 1929 here, and the attraction is Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the Hollywood Boulevard. The theater was a major city attraction then, as the timing of this picture proves. According to reports, MGM’s The Hollywood Revue of 1929 was showing at the theater when this picture of the beautiful exteriors was taken.
You can clearly see the influence of Chinese culture in the building’s architecture and layout. Even the ticket booth has some Chinese inscriptions on it and the entrance looks like something you’d see in Beijing.