Through the Viewfinder: Fort Street (Broadway) from Fort Moore Hill, ca. 1875

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A three-part lecture series at the Homestead, titled “Through the Viewfinder,” presents perspectives on how photography has documented the history of greater Los Angeles during the museum’s interpretive period through 1930.

Through the Viewfinder card

The series begins a month from now, on 8 April, when photo collector and historian Phil Nathanson talks about the area’s earliest photographers.  Basing his presentation on his excellent collection and detailed knowledge of pioneers like William M. Godfrey, Henry T. Payne and others, Phil will have an amazing array of visual images of our area as it was a small city on the verge of becoming a metropolis during the last portion of the 19th century.

As a prelude to Phil’s presentation, this entry in the “Through the Viewfinder” series of posts, highlights a very interesting stereoscopic photograph by Payne and published about 1875 of Fort Street from Fort Moore Hill.

Payne stood very near the location of the hill’s namesake, the fort established by American forces which invaded and seized Los Angeles in 1846-47 during the Mexican-American War.  Because of its elevated position, the fort, named for Benjamin D. Moore, one of twenty-one soldiers who died when Stephen W. Kearny’s dragoons were decisively routed by Andrés Pico and Californio lancers defending their home land at the Battle of San Pasqual in early December 1846.

SV Fort Street From Fort Moore Hill 2014.1052.1.4
This Henry T. Payne stereographic photograph, from about 1875 and in the Homestead’s collection, was taken from Fort Moore Hill and looks down Fort Street, now Broadway, to the south.  At the left is the first Los Angeles High School, opened a couple of years before.

Just a couple of days after the final battle near Los Angeles that ended the war in California (William Workman helped bring out the flag of truce on 10 January 1847, the day after the battle), troops began building a post on the hill.  A larger structure was started by military personnel by late April and a dedication held on the first Fourth of July under American rule, though the fort was never completed.

The garrison stationed at the fort was abandoned by order of Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general and hero of the Civil War, and whatever was left of the structure decayed quickly.  A Protestant cemetery appeared on the hill not long afterward, by 1854 and was used for several decades before it was abandoned because Evergreen Cemetery opened at the eastern edge of the city in Boyle Heights in the late 1870s.

A prominent part of the photo, at the upper left, is Los Angeles High School, which opened in 1873 and which was covered in a post on this blog.  Built during the height of the city’s first sustained economic and growth boom, the school represented a significant milestone in the emerging city.  Los Angeles High is now west of downtown, but the Los Angeles Unified School District still has a major presence on Fort Moore Hill.  The district’s headquarters were there for many years and, in 2009, the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, with its highly distinctive modern architecture, is on a ten-acre portion of the hill.

At the center left is a tidy little wood-frame dwelling, while portions of a few other wooden houses, are off to the center right, cater corner to the former.  Fort Street then wends, rather crookedly, south from the hill towards a part of town that was newly developing.  Mainly residential in the first part of the 1870s, this section eventually developed more of a commercial and municipal character by the 1880s.

A few years after the photo was taken, Payne was living with his wife on Sixth Street near Hope Street and working as a photographer with his brother Daniel, and their partner Thomas E. Stanton.

When the massive Boom of the 1880s hit by the end of the decade (and which dwarfed the growth period of the late Sixties and first half of the Seventies), Mayor William H. Workman, nephew of William and Nicolasa Workman of the Homestead, oversaw the building of a new city hall.

The Romanesque structure, with a tall spire setting the building apart fro its neighbors) was completed in 1888 on the east side of street, between Second and Third.  Fort was then renamed Broadway to give the busy thoroughfare a name befitting its growing prominence.  The city hall remained in operation for forty years until the current municipal building opened in 1928, partially on the Temple Block, once owned by Jonathan Temple and then his half-brother, F.P.F. Temple, son-in-law of William and Nicolasa Workman.

Through the Viewfinder card front
My colleague Jennifer Scerra came up with this excellent design for the “Through the Viewfinder” flyer, including a remarkable 1906 cover image from the museum’s collection of a woman taking a photograph on the beach at Avalon, Catalina Island.

Obviously, the area where the photo was taken has been dramatically transformed, with much of Fort Moore Hill graded and leveled, the 101 Freeway cutting through the scene, and modern buildings, streets, sidewalks and other elements of a megalopolis there today.  When Payne took his photo, though, he was showing the early stages of urbanization in Los Angeles poised on the verge of the dramatic changes to come.



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