Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
They’re hard to find, but incredibly detailed, so the Homestead is fortunate to have a few plates from a couple editions of Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Los Angeles in its collection. Today’s “All Over the Map” entry looks at Plate 21, showing parts of South Los Angeles, from the 1914 edition.
The area covered in the map runs from Vernon Avenue on the north to 61st Street on the south and from Figueroa Street on the west to Central Avenue on the east. South Park is a general name for this area because of the city park that is the large green spot at the left center of one of the two details shown here.
Built during the latter stages of a boom in public park creation and construction in Los Angeles that emerged during the great “Boom of the Eighties”, South Park, situated between 49th and 51st streets north to south and San Pedro and Avalon (then called South Park) west to east, was created in 1900 on twenty acres of the Boettscher estate and had been planted to oranges and walnuts. The turn of the 20th century, in fact, marked a new boom period in greater Los Angeles after a decade largely in doldrums due to an economic depression and several years of drought.
By September 1903, a Los Angeles Times article sang the praises of the new park, noting that “Los Angeles [was] blessed with more park land than any other city in the United States.” True or not, the rapid growth of city parks essentially stopped and despite its huge growth in area and population in subsequent years, Los Angeles did not continue with its impressive early run of public space creation. In fact, 117 years later, South Park is the only recreational facility in the neighborhood, which has some 35,000 persons in just under 1.5 square miles and is one of most densely populated in the city.
It just so happened by a remarkable coincidence (!) that much of the land in the South Park area was owned by the Huntington Land and Improvement Company, owned by transportation magnate Henry E. Huntington. Soon after South Park opened, Huntington’s Los Angeles Railway extended a line south on San Pedro Street along the western edge of the park and continued a couple blocks south to a maintenance yard for the railway, including a car barn and machine shop on either side of 54th Street between San Pedro and South Park (Avalon.)
Today, the portion of the plan north of 54th Street is Dr. Maya Angelou Community High School, which was completed in 2011 after three years of work and some $171 million, and Synergy Quantum Academy. Two other schools shown on the map and still in operation are Main Street Elementary and 49th Street Elementary
The southern section, later used by the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) became South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, a nine-acre facility that is both a public nature park and a storm water treatment wetland for runoff from 525 acres that surround it. With all of the development in the areas south of downtown Los Angeles, it has been forgotten that there were substantial wetlands and sloughs in the vicinity. Here is a KCET online article about the 2012 opening of the facility.
Notably, just last month, it was announced that a vacant building on the park site may be leased to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. If the plan goes through, LACMA would retrofit the building, clean up the site, and offer community-based art programs. This Curbed Los Angeles piece from 8 June discusses the plan.
Across San Pedro and further south were large tracts of nearly 200 acres owned by Huntington Land and Improvement. Obviously, by having a new city park and streetcar line to the area, land values would rise dramatically to the profit of Huntington and other land owners who were subdividing tracts for residential development in the rapidly growing area.
Another new feature in the area was the opening in 1903 of Ascot Park, which began first as a horse racing venue. However, with the rapid evolution of the horseless carriage (i.e., automobile), the facility began hosting auto races within five years of its opening. By the 1920s, Ascot Park closed and a new version opened up on the Los Angeles/Alhambra border. That venue, known later as “American Legion Speedway” and “Ascot Legion Speedway” closed in 1937 during the Great Depression.
The largest industrial tract, developed on Huntington land, was the 23-acre Pacific Sewer Pipe Company on the northeast corner of South Park (Avalon) and Slauson Avenue. Part of the company property and what was still vacant Huntington land is the location of Los Angeles Academy Middle School.
The locations south of Slauson and east of South Park (Avalon) remains devoted to industrial and commercial uses today and is part of a corridor zones for these pursuits that is bounded on the east by Central Avenue and on the south by Florence Avenue.
While not within the scope of the two details provided here, the map also includes, on its western fringe, the area now occupied by Interstate 110, the Harbor Freeway, as it runs from downtown Los Angeles to the harbor at San Pedro.
To get an idea of what the area bounded by the map is like now, a little more than a century later, check out this Google Maps link in the satellite view