Orange groves, cows and strawberry fields

A photo from Compton, California, a now completely urbanized community on the city limits of Los Angeles, back in 1910. Indeed, most of flatland LA and environs was farms, orchards, vineyards and cattle pasture well into the 20th century. As farmers sold out to developers the city would often end on one side of the road and fields begin on the other side. When I was a kid in Orange County in the sixties and seventies, the entire area was a patchwork of intense development and farmland. One year there’d be strawberry fields and orange groves, a year later there’d be a new housing tracts, a shopping center, a freeway, a mini-mall (I don’t think they called them mini-malls yet, though), an amusement park. Disneyland still had strawberry fields across the street. My folks finally bought a place way the hell out in Brea, which was like the edge of the world in 1971, and our tract had been cow pasture—maybe cattle land would be a better description—just a year or two earlier. The cows were gone, but the flies remained. There were still lots of cattle across the road, we’d pass by herds of the beasts on the way to Brea Olinda High School. All the kids had stories about running for their lives chased by an angry snorting bull. A few years later not even the flies remained. It was solid suburban tract homes. In the early seventies, though, Brea Olinda High was still rural enough thst it had a farm right on campus, and the Future Farmers of America kids drove their cows and hogs, goats and sheep across campus, the long haired suburban kids jeering and laughing. They got the last laugh, too, those jeering suburban kids, the farm was closed a few years later as the last pastures and groves in the area were plowed up and houses and a new mall put up in their place. Last time I was in Brea I got lost. I was going to show Fyl where we’d first lived in a rental across from a park, and sometimes we’d walk home from Brea Junior High through downtown Brea, a stretch of Midwest farmtown on the fringes of Orange County suburbia, a world away from Surf City USA. But the two lane road between pastures was now a six lane river of asphalt, and every last thing I remembered was gone. Only the street names remained.

A wagon load of sugar beets in Compton, 1910. Source: California State University, Dominguez Hills, Archives and Special Collections. Thanks to Los Angeles Relics on Facebook for posting this picture and inspiring this essay.

Hollywood in 1903

Hollywood in 1903. The picture is looking from Whitley Heights, which is the hilly section you pass through on the Hollywood Freeway on your way into the Cahuenga Pass, just before you see the Hollywood Bowl. If you’re coming south on the Hollywood Freeway (the 101) this is the view that opens up a moment (or an hour on a bad traffic day) after passing by the Hollywood Bowl. It’s just that almost nothing you see now was there in 1903. The wider road running horizontally across the picture would be Hollywood Blvd (called Prospect Avenue then) which already had street car tracks running down its center. I’m not sure what street it is running diagonally through the picture, the beginnnings of Cahuenga Blvd? And did that road running along the base of the hill become Franklin Ave? Sunset Blvd is just discernible beyond. Even this early you can see that Hollywood Blvd (Prospect Ave doesn’t quite have the same ring) was more crowded with bigger buildings than Sunset Blvd. It’s a discombobulating view here, as so little of pre-studios Hollywood still stands and aside from Hollywood Blvd itself nothing is familiar in this photograph. Within twenty years this would be dramatically transformed, though, and within thirty it would look like a city.

Saw this posted at the wonderful Los Angeles Relics page on Facebook.

Glendale, 1895

Corner of Wilson and Glendale Avenues (or Third St. and Crow Avenue as they were called then) in 1895. A cash grocery then meant you couldn’t swap a couple chickens for some molasses. I assume the Glendale Market next door would take your chickens for some gingham for Mary Lou, to cop a line from the Woody Allen live album I virtually memorized back in high school. The tilty roof thing in the back is a barber shop. There’s an underground Ralphs there now, and they won’t take your chickens either. 1895 was right in the middle of the very harsh 1890’s depression, the Panic of 1893 having fucked everything up. Perhaps that explains the cash groceries of the day—there was one in Hollywood too about the same time—there was little cash going around for a few years. I don’t know about Glendale, but political upheaval resulted nationwide as the Depression wore on. William Jennings Bryan and the Cross of Gold he would not be crucified on. The Midwest was a hotbed of radical politics, populists elected everywhere there to everything. Imagine that. Dig the tracks going down the middle of a dusty Glendale Avenue, he digresses.

Glendale Cash Only Grocery and Glendale Market, 1895