The Venice Historical Society (VHS) frequently presents programs about the past landscapes of Venice and other parts of Southern California. One of these events, held at the Venice Library May 20, showcased long-vanished Los Angeles features that chronicled the city’s growth.
The audience saw a slide show assembled from the photo collection of Milton Slade, a VHS member who grew up in Southern California and ran a landscaping business before his retirement. Slade narrated his collection, occasionally following a picture of an old landmark with a recent photo of the same building or place.
First up was an old traffic light with moving signs reading “Stop” and “Go,” and a bell that rang to tell pedestrians to cross the street. Next was an aerial shot of the Civic Center before the freeways were built. Of the “skyscraper” buildings that dotted the landscape in the 1920s, only the Court House and City Hall buildings remain today.
Another aerial shot of the downtown area showed gas tanks on Santa Fe Avenue. “The gas tanks are underground now,” explained Slade. (For those with an abiding interest in gas tanks, LA’s most famous tank, the one that James Cagney stood on top of in White Heat, was at 198th Street and Figueroa.)
A movie palace with opening night searchlights was not a Hollywood scene but the Fox Carthay Circle Theatre, a first-run movie house at Crescent Heights and San Vicente Boulevard. This photo was from the late 1940s and Slade noted that the caps on the street lights had been created during World War II to make the lights “less visible” in case the Japanese flew overhead.
The Art Moderne Pan Pacific Auditorium, on the current site of Pan Pacific Park, drew some nostalgic sighs from the audience. But a shot of a hillside with a few seats arranged on it caused laughter when Slade identified it as-the Hollywood Bowl! “In those days, (the 1920s-30s) you could drive up to your seat.”
Another photo that surprised the audience showed railroad tracks leading to a tunnel under a hillside, with a hotel in the distance, atop a hill to the right of the tunnel. “You’ve all been through this tunnel,” said Slade. His next slide showed the same view today- the McClure Tunnel that connects the 10 freeway to Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. The old shot was from the late 19th century and the hotel, of course, is long gone.
Slade admitted that railroads are his big interest. He had many pictures of old trains and streetcars. Some of these can still be seen today at the Orange Empire Museum. Slade’s slides showed old Los Angeles streetcars with open-air sides, old double-decker buses open on top, and even some very old horse-drawn streetcars and trains.
Who would have suspected that Los Angeles had a subway in the early 20th century? The subway tunnel still exists between Beverly and Glendale Boulevards, as shown in Slade’s photos. But the MTA has now covered the entrances with modern apartment houses.
There were slides showing Venice City Hall (now Beyond Baroque), Venice High School with its statue of three muses including one modeled by Myrna Loy (the statue was removed because of vandalism but it is now being replicated), and the beloved Pacific Ocean Park (POP) amusement park, closed in 1966 and destroyed by fire in the 1970s.
It felt bittersweet to contemplate all the unique buildings seen in the slide show that are now gone. But Slade ended with a picture of a field of bright red and yellow flowers. “There is still beauty in California,” he said. “and let’s keep it that way.”