RED JADE, my first Avery Shepard novel, takes place in and around Los Angeles in late 1926. Modern day time travelers might need to orient themselves if they were to visit that world, for the Los Angeles of “then” has some notable differences to “now.”You didn’t have to drive very far to run into an orange grove in 1926. Mt. San Antonio, “Old Baldy,” in the distance.
Los Angeles then had two streetcar lines- the yellow cars of the Los Angeles Railway, which served the central downtown, and the well-remembered big red cars of the Pacific Electric Railway that extended to the suburbs and outlying areas such as Hollywood and Long Beach. In 1926, the PE completed its Subway Terminal Building on Hill St.
The city still had a slight inferiority complex when visitors compared it to eastern cities, but in 1926 it could proudy point to its new cultural institutions like the Orpheum and Belasco theaters, and the Shrine Auditorium; and civic buildings including the public library, the Hall of Justice, and the new city hall rising against the skyline at First & Spring and Main & Temple streets. There were swank hotels like the Biltmore and the Ambassador, popular tourist hotels like the New Rosslyn, and the Cecil, the YWCA’s Hotel Figueroa for ladies, and the Breakers in Long Beach. Voters approved construction of a new union station train depot in 1926, but it would be many more years before it came to fruition.
The downtown business district was growing as well. 1926 saw the opening of several new structures, including the Quimby Building, the Chester Williams Building, the Kodak Building, and the Board of Trade Building.
The retail shopping center was anchored by large department stores like J.W. Robinson’s and Bullock’s for upscale shoppers, and the May Company and The Broadway for the budget-minded. Pioneer clothing merchants Harris & Frank moved into their new building in late 1925, and the venerable old furniture and household goods firm, Barker Brothers, took up residence in their block long building at the start of 1926.
Then there were its scenic recreation areas, with both beach amusement areas such as the Long Beach Pike, and mountain resorts like Mt. Wilson with its important observatory a short automobile trip away. Moving offshore, the Los Angeles Steamship Co.’s Harvard & Yale could take you to San Diego or San Francisco, while William Wrigley, Jr.’s “Great White Steamships” made the trip to Catalina Island.
It was a sportsman’s paradise as well. Boxing fans could find a fight on somewhere almost any day of the week. The new Memorial Coliseum hosted the first professional football game in Los Angeles when Red Grange brought the Chicago Bears to town in January 1926, and the first USC-Notre Dame game later that year. The city had a new baseball park, too- Wrigley Field, the first ballpark to have that name- and two minor-league baseball teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the Hollywood Stars.
The city supported several daily and evening newspapers then. The upstart Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News was saved from bankruptcy in 1926, much to the annoyance of established papers such as Harry Chandler’s Los Angeles Times, and William Randolph Heart’s Los Angeles Examiner.
In 1926, Los Angeles was a city of 1,268,680 people with 560,136 passenger cars registered within the county. Where to park them all then as now was a problem, and the practice of pulling down old buildings to make way for parking lots is not a new one.
Los Angeles could be proud of its many parks, like Sunset Park in Beverly Hills, Exposition Park with its history & art museum and rose gardens, and Westlake Park, west of the city. Pershing Square Park was then a green oasis in the central downtown district.
The motion picture industry had been gradually shifting its focus to the West Coast and by 1926 was definitely in Los Angeles (or Hollywood, Culver City, etc) to stay. Paramount Pictures bought its Melrose Avenue property in 1926. Louis B. Mayer’s Metro and Marcus Loew formed a merger to become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1924, the year Harry Cohn’s Columbia Pictures got its name; the Warner Brothers merger happened in 1925.
Los Angeles loved going to the movies, which were still “silent” in 1926. Premieres typically took place downtown on Broadway rather than in Hollywood, but that started to change with the opening of the Carthay Circle Theater off Wilshire Blvd. in May 1926. Several other movie theaters debuted this year also, including the El Capitan in Hollywood, and the Westlake Theater.
I hope you’ll enjoy exploring Avery’s Los Angeles, as it was in 1926.