What do you think of when you hear the word Los Angeles? Sprawling urban development, gridlocked traffic and jams, entertainment, music, theater, show business, and celebrity status. A high cost of living, perhaps? Or maybe beautiful beach bodies and perfect people? Well, Los Angeles has become a playground for all of these things and more, but it did not start out that way. In fact, this California city had incredibly humble beginnings, and it wasn’t without its hiccups along the way. From environmental and social factors to economics and politics, Los Angeles is an American city like none other, although there are similar traits running through every town. You can check out some hardly-seen images and facts with our list of 15 Rare and Historical Photos Los Angeles Doesn’t Want You to See.
These images show the city back in its modest beginning stages, with ugly housing and interiors, and a severe lack of design. These pictures also show a Los Angeles that might be less green and lush than what you see now. Sunset Blvd. was not always the sprawling roadway that it is known as now! Moreover, the businesses and storefronts that you would find in the old-school Los Angeles sometimes differ a lot from what you see these days.
We think that these pictures will give you a nice history lesson and let you dip your feet in some often overlooked and unknown tidbits about one of the most popular cities in the United States. Enjoy!
15. Before Photo of Sunset Blvd.
When people think of Los Angeles, they usually imagine Sunset Blvd. This is a wide and glorious strip of road that encompasses most of what Los Angeles has to offer. These days it is always hopping, and the best place to be if you want the fully entertaining experience of the city. Yet way back, Sunset Blvd. was just a humble dirt road that didn’t lead to anything really exciting. In fact, until the 1700s, the road was used mainly or transporting herds of cattle. Sunset Blvd is not the only nugget of history swirling around Los Angeles. The city is now known as a metropolis centered on entertainment and show business (and beautiful people,) but it was once an area of development and agriculture. Hard to believe now! Horse-drawn carriages, cattle herders, farmers, and simple, boring cottages and cabins were once the norm. Good luck finding a studio apartment for less than $1,000 now!
14. A Barber Shop for Apes
Yes, Los Angeles was so weird back in the day that there was a barbershop dedicated to helping to cut and shave people’s pet monkeys and gorillas. The image here dates back to 1900, and it was a barber shop run by Mexican immigrants. You know, it was not that unusual to have a monkey for a pet. Those in royal families have been taking care of monkeys for ages, and Charles I’s wife actually kept a monkey as a pet. Around the turn of the century, we also saw pet monkeys being used for entertainment and sideshow gigs in the United States. You know those old-time movies that show monkeys dancing to the clanging symbols or riding on a unicycle? As the years went on, owning a pet monkey became something reserved for those who were a bit more eccentric.
13. Another Sunset Blvd. Image
Running through Western and Central Los Angeles, Sunset Blvd has become synonymous with the California city. It leads to the Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean and runs on for 22 miles. It is easy to see how it has become such an icon in Los Angeles and California as a whole. Sunset Blvd was not always so grand and majestic, though. In fact, it was built upon from a dirt road cattle trail that was already there in the 1780s. Today, Sunset Blvd travels through a wide range of neighborhoods and towns and eventually leads to Hollywood. Of course, this strip isn’t as glorious as it first seems. In fact, Sunset Blvd is usually a nightmare for the residents of Los Angeles and a necessary evil. People need to commute to work or travel into or out of the city, and Sunset Blvd is often a primary means to do so. That means that it is always in gridlock and a motorist’s worst case scenario.
12. Los Angeles Water Wheel
Yes, Los Angeles used to have its namesake river, and this image is an embarrassing reminder that humankind has ruined it. Way back when the Los Angeles River was indeed a river. These days you will only find a few small waterways that were dug up by the Army Corps of Engineers. Yet if we look at this image, which harkens back to 1863, we see the Los Angeles River in all of its glory, and there is even a water wheel added to the mix! The Los Angeles River begins in the Hills of Simi and the Santa Susana Mountains before running down into Canoga Park and the San Francisco Valley. The tributaries end up forming floodplains, and a Los Angeles River Revitalization Project was put into place in 2013, with the goal of adding bike paths and a greenway by 2020. Let’s see how close they get to their goal! After all, the river/tributaries run along and through several neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including Chinatown, Glendale, Encino, and Burbank.
11. Los Angeles’ Swimming Problem
Yes, the beach is right there for you if you want to hit the sand and the ocean waves. Yet this 1900 photo shows that back then most people did not know how to swim, so they actually held onto a rope that was connected to a solid and stable structure. You would think that Californians would love swimming and hitting the water, but this photo from over one-hundred years ago is quite embarrassing. Los Angeles residents were not as amazing as they seemed! Still, the beach has stood the test of time, and is still a beloved destination these days. The Santa Monica Pier is where you can peruse the stores, the aquarium, or the thrill rides. This is probably one of the most popular recreation and vacation spots in Los Angeles, making it filled with history and nostalgia. It is quite an icon, and from the piers you can see the skyscrapers and rolling hills of the city.
10. Arcadia Street
It is no secret that Los Angeles is one diverse city. One of the ethnic groups that made its way to Los Angeles is Chinese immigrants. They made their home along Arcadia Street (which is now called Aliso Street,) and this was where Chinese immigrants engaged in their businesses – some of them illegal. This included selling and distributing drugs, running gambling houses and games, as well as brothels and prostitution. These days, Aliso Street finds itself in the Los Angeles municipality of Arcadia, where nearly 60% of the population is Asian. The economy is mostly dependent on retail and wholesale trade, but there are also the industries of healthcare, social programs, and of course, the arts (it’s Los Angeles!) In fact, entertainment does not stray away from Arcadia, Los Angeles. One of the Tarzan movies, as well as Fantasy Island, were filmed there. And most activities are legal now, so that’s good!
9. Broadway/Fort Street
This 1870s photo of Broadway is nothing like what we know now. These days, Broadway is popping with storefronts, businesses, celebrities, and stage productions. Plays and musicals make their way to the city to be performed before wide audiences of wannabe thespians. Businesses aim to capitalize on the Broadway atmosphere by selling their wares and merchandise. And there is the air of royalty and celebrity status in the air! Yet Broadway used to be known as Fort Street, a modest stretch of road that was frequented mostly by horse-drawn carriages. Today, Los Angeles’ Broadway has been undergoing a sort of revival, with new eateries, stores, and some construction projects to reinvigorate the area. Los Angeles’ Broadway will never be anything compared to that of New York City but they can try. In fact, the project managers in Los Angeles are looking to New York City and London for inspiration. Smart move!
8. Transportation was Better Back Then
This image shows the Cahuenga Valley Railroad, dating back to the 1880s. The first train to provide service on this railroad was in operation from 1888, and it was a small one-passenger car steam engine. The little locomotive could only hold a handful of people, but it was extremely exciting for the 1880s. The railroad train could carry passengers from Santa Monica up through Beverly Hills. In 1895 the railway turned over management to Sherman & Clark, who dismantled the railroad and used some of the bits and pieces in the reconstruction of their own line system. After that, the railway was used mostly by the oil industry, transporting product to and from Los Angeles. This continued until 1915. These days, there is the Expo light rail line, which carries people in Los Angeles to their jobs, homes, and points of interest in between. That being said, the public transit system still sucks…
7. A Work in Progress
These days, Los Angeles is known for its lush interiors and gorgeous design aesthetics. Yeah…well not so much in the 1940s. This image shows a restaurant that was quite typical for most eateries in Los Angeles. The wood paneling and checkered floor are not very impressive, are they? These days, some of the most popular restaurants in Los Angeles include Bestia Italian, Petit Trois, and Republique. Even the names sound like a far cry from the basic and simple interiors from this throwback photo. These days, you will spend upwards of ten dollars just for a hamburger in Los Angeles. A pack of cigarettes will cost you over six dollars (but you should probably quit that habit anyway.) The good thing is that there are over 8,500 restaurants in Los Angeles, offering up everything from Ethiopian to Italian to Vietnamese and everything in between. As long as you have the money, you won’t run out of options!
6. What the…Ostrich?
Los Angeles can thank Edwin Cawston for adding an element of weirdness to the city. Back in the day, Cawston had a flock of ostriches (up to 100 of them!) and he invited the public to come and visit them. People could pet the ostriches, take photos of them, and of course buy lots of ostrich-related merch. In fact, Cawston became a bit of a celebrity (before actual celebrities existed,) and he was in charge of the Cawston Ostrich Farm. Sometimes people would hitch the large birds up to carts and take a ride around the city! This image in particular, is pretty funny because it shows a guy riding a cart pulled by an ostrich and being pulled over by a police officer. Can you imagine? What kind of fine or ticket does a person receive for that kind of traffic violation? Despite the tickets received, the Cawston Ostrich Farm was in full operation from 1886 to 1935.
5. See? They Really Did Have Good Public Transportation!
More proof that the public transportation in Los Angeles now is an absolute disgrace to days gone by. This image shows a railway that was used to transport people to and from and around Los Angeles. Unfortunately, today Los Angeles is known for its crappy public transport, which is managed by a company called Metro. But don’t let the name fool you! Getting around in this city is a total nightmare. There are 200 bus lines, six light-rail lines, and two subway lines. You would think that this would be sufficient, but considering that the traffic in Los Angeles is always in gridlock….well, it isn’t a pretty situation. Nearly 4 million people are living in Los Angeles right now, and that isn’t even to mention the tourists and visitors who trickle in on a daily basis. It is becoming easier to see how traffic can be totally horrific, right?
4. A Real Throwback Photo
This 1886 photo is a real throwback! Let’s go back 130 years or so to the Los Angeles that once was. This dumpy-looking wooden cabin is actually a beach house along the sand it was is now one of the most happening beaches in California. The beachfront cottage housed families who wanted to appreciate the salt air and sea breezes of Los Angeles’ beaches. This photo is a tad embarrassing when you consider that today’s Los Angeles is full of beautiful people with perfect bodies and far less clothing. The people in this 1886 photo are looking forward with stoic faces, heavy clothing, and very little skin showing. It’s a far departure from the Los Angeles that we know now. The beach is only 3 miles long, but it offers space for walking, running, biking, sunbathing, and of course, swimming (even if people sucked at it at the time.) Today it’s a hotspot for locals and tourists alike!
3. Stoic Reminder of Diversity
Los Angeles was a place where some Tonga people came to live in the United States. This image shows Narcisa Higuera (known later as Mrs. James Rosemeyer) photographed some 100 years ago. The Tonga people actually hail from the Kingdom of Tonga, found in Oceania. These days, over 57,000 Tonga people live in the United States alone and are usually considered “Pacific Islanders,” according to the United States Census. California was one state that saw a large concentration of Tonga people. They settled most abundantly in San Francisco, but Los Angeles also received a high concentration of this demographic. While Los Angeles may be known as a place of diversity, that is a title that it had to work for. This portrait is just an example of one Tonga woman; many others made their homes in and around Los Angeles. Today, other Western cities, such as Portland and San Mateo house Tonga populations.
2. The Downey Block
This 1875 photo shows Los Angeles back in the day. The city prides itself on being founded on entertainment and similar industries, but that is just not true. As this photo shows, Los Angeles was founded on the oil industry, and the Downey Block was the hub for such activities. Thanks to the oil business out West, Los Angeles was booming! Downey Block, located at the corners of Main and Temple Streets, was a prime place for business-minded folks. Stores there included drug stores, dry goods markets, a bank, a wine a spirits store, and even a recreation center. Another thing worth noting (sadly) is that every week, local administrators would oversee the buying and selling of Indians. They were apparently destined for “one week of servitude” and the California Act for the Government and Protection of Indians in 1850 allowed for whites to bail out any Indian person from bondage…although this only enslaved the Indian to the white person.
1. Castle Sans Souci
This 1913 photo shows Castle San Souci, a residence in Los Angeles run by Dr. Alfred Guido Randolph Castles. He was a man who was known for his atypical and eccentric lifestyle and beliefs. What he lacked in stature he made up for with his incredible persona, behavior, and attitude. Dr. Castle aimed to help people, mostly those who were reeling from the war effort or other disasters. In fact, he even graduated from Rush Medical College and later offered up his home (the Castle Sans Souci) to the Red Cross relief efforts. The Castle also offered social activities to help people have some normalcy in their lives in spite of World War I. The Castle saw clients such as Pope Leo XIII, and later, Ronald Reagan and Cecil B. DeMille. Even so, Castle’s methods were sometimes questionable. He would literally have clients consume sheep and goat pellets in an effort to remedy their woes.