Grand Central Market In 1963, As Shot By An Oscar-Winning Cinematographer
In 1963, Haskell Wexler was just getting to work as a cinematographer on his first Hollywood film—Elia Kazan's America, America—and was still a few years away from winning his first Oscar for Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. But that same year, Wexler teamed up with director William Hale (Red Alert,The Streets of San Francisco) to film a day-in-the-life clip (above) of downtown L.A.'s Grand Central Market for the United States Information Agency.
The clip, now held by the National Archives, describes the 10-minute piece as portraying "activity in Los Angeles" and "shows vendors, representing the melting pot that is America, selling their wares to people of all ages and all walks of life."
Against the playful, jazzy score of Richard Markowitz (Murder, She Wrote, The Wild Wild West) we see vendors setting up their stalls for the day, women with up-dos, and men in collared shirts and hats. Some other things that are indicative of that specific time period: you rarely see any plastic in the clip (most bags are paper), and there are a lot of people smoking cigarettes.
By 1963, Grand Central Market had been serving downtown as a public, open arcade market where shoppers could grab everything from meat and eggs, to vegetables and fresh-cut flowers, and a cheap meal as well. At 100 years old, the Grand Central Market has definitely changed since the 1960s. The market is less of a "market" as it quickly becomes a high-end food hall (the politics of this we'll leave for another time), and stalls like Economy Meats (seen in the clip) have been replaced by decidedly un-economy options (Belcampo took over Economy's stall a few years ago) and patrons of the market have shifted from neighborhood locals to Angelenos writ large, and even tourists.
But as Grand Central Market continues to evolve (for better or worse), Wexler's and Hale's snapshot serves as a charming reminder of a moment in the market's life.
Also of note: Grand Central Market wasn't the only spot in downtown L.A. to see change since 1963. Bunker Hill, the once-tony-then-derelict neighborhood a block away, was undergoing a change of its own at the time. Huge swaths of the hill were razed to make way for a new vision of downtown—one that included high-rises and monorails.