Smog, Baseball, And Lana Turner: 1950s Downtown L.A. In Photos
Downtown Los Angeles teetered on the cusp during the 1950s. Most notably, plans were underway to raze Bunker Hill and its array of ornate, Victorian homes. Once among L.A.'s most exclusive neighborhoods during the late 1800s, the area had succumbed to decay as the construction of freeways led to a new westward migration. For much of the first half of the 20th century, city planners had mulled the idea of erasing Bunker Hill and starting anew. By 1959, these plans took shape as The Bunker Hill Renewal Project was adopted by the city. Within a decade almost all traces of the neighborhood would be wiped clean.
As the 1950s marked the beginning of the end for Bunker Hill, it also saw the unveiling of a slew of development projects. The results were mixed, unfortunately. The Los Angeles Superior Court Stanley Mosk Courthouse, built and dedicated in 1958, was derided as being “fifties Modern attempting to be classical and public” by one noted architectural historian. And Pershing Square, once a verdant tangle of greenery, was uprooted to make way for an underground parking garage during the early 1950s. A new Pershing Square was built on top of the garage, but this one came off as sterile when compared to the former iteration. Furthermore, new entry and exit ramps "cut the square off from the sidewalks around it," adding "a sense of disconnection," said Christopher Hawthorne, the L.A. Times' architecture critic (Pershing Square would be redesigned again in 1994).
On top of everything, downtown was part of the broader sense of sea change. Racial tensions would soon boil over in the early 1960s, crescendoing with the 1965 Watts Riots. Out in Nevada, the United States would detonate another atom bomb in 1955 as the Cold War intensified (residents in downtown L.A. got on rooftops to see if they could view the blast from their homes).
Above is a collection of images of downtown Los Angeles during the 1950s, provided by the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive. They run the gamut, featuring everything from gas masks, to the Dodgers (who'd just arrived from Brooklyn), and Lana Turner. The portrait is of a city that's in the awkward stages of its growing pains. Though, has L.A. ever grown out of that phase?