Central Business District, Los Angeles (1880s-1890s)

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Spring Street, looking north from Temple, 1880s
Spring Street, looking north from Temple, 1890s

During the 1880s and 1890s the central business district (CBD) of Los Angeles was located around Spring and Main streets from just south of the Los Angeles Plaza to Second Street. Of the old CBD not a single building remains except at the extreme southern edge below 2nd Street, as all structures from this period were razed to make way for the construction of the Civic Center during the 1930s–1950s.[1][2]


Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Los Angeles was a small town (population 1860: 4,385; 1870: 5,728) of low-lying adobe and brick buildings. Most businesses were located on or nearby the Plaza. With the arrival of the railroad the city grew in population, almost quintupling in ten years (1880: 11,183, 1890: 50,395) and businesses opened further south and west away from the Plaza; especially along Spring and Main, reaching southward to Temple, First, and Second streets.[1][2]

After the turn of the 20th century, banks, hotels, and retailers would establish much larger buildings along Spring and Broadway from Third Street southward, in the area today called the Historic Core; the central business district would shift to the area between Third and Ninth streets: along Broadway for retail, cinemas, and restaurants; and along Spring Street for banks and financial businesses, the Spring Street Financial District.[1][2]

The blocks north of Second Street lost prestige and began to house businesses catering to working-class and Spanish-speaking Angelenos; the buildings deteriorated.[1][2]


The area contained many streets which no longer exist or only exist outside the boundaries of the 1880s-1890s CBD; these include: Arcadia St., Buena Vista St., Center Pl., Commercial St., Ferguson St., Franklin St., Marchessault St. (now Paseo de la Plaza), Market Ct., New High St., Nigger Alley, and Requena St.

Maps of the area from Hill St. east to Los Angeles St. and from the Plaza south to 2nd St. in 1886, left; and today, right:

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of the Los Angeles CBD in 1886 2019 map (Hill St. E to San Pedro St., Plaza S to 2nd St.)


Sources: Los Angeles Times,[2] Water & Power Associates[1] Centrally located businesses and institutions in the 1880s-1890s CBD area are listed; some were built after 1900 when the area formed part of a larger CBD, but all were demolished for the construction of the Civic Center.

Mixed-use blocks[edit]

Arcadia Block, 1870s
  • Arcadia Block, Arcadia, NW corner of Los Angeles Street. Built by Abel Stearns in 1858 for $80,000. Razed in 1927.[3]
Baker Block, Los Angeles, around 1880
  • Baker Block, Second Empire architecture, SE corner Main and Arcadia, 1875 (third floor added 1878). Built on the site of Don Abel Stearns' 1835-8 adobe "palacio" (mansion), Col. Robert S. Baker having married Stearns' widow, Arcadia Bandini de Stearns; when built, it was called the "finest emporium of commerce south of San Francisco". The ground floor housed retail tenants such as B. F. Coulter (at one time), George D. Rowan and Eugene Germain; the second floor was offices, and the third floor held the city's most upscale apartments. By the 1930s, the block housed Goodwill Industries.
Bryson a.k.a. Bryson-Bonebrake Block or Building built 1886-8, photo 1905
  • Bryson Block (aka Bryson-Bonebrake Block, Bryson Bonebrake Building), SE corner 2nd & Spring, built 1886-1888 for $224,000 on the site of a public school and an early city hall, as a 126-room bank and office building. Romanesque architecture. Two stories added 1902-1904. Demolished 1934. Architect Joseph Cather Newsom (Newsom and Newsom), its exterior was, according to PCAD, "nothing short of amazing, displaying a riotous and eclectic amalgam of features". Built for mayor John Bryson and Major George H. Bonebrake, President of the Los Angeles National Bank and the State Loan and Trust Company.[4]
Downey Block, Los Angeles, 1880s
View north on Main towards Philips Block (W side N of Temple), 1890s
  • Philips Block, Main north of Temple (across from Commercial), built c. 1882, architect Burgess J. Reeve, housed A. Hamburger & Sons "The People's Store", the largest retailer in Los Angeles at the time; four stories, cost $260,000[5] Shortly after construction housed most of the A. Hamburger & Sons "People's Store", eventually the city's largest retailer.
Temple Block, Los Angeles, around 1880
  • (New) Temple Block, not to be confused with the first "Old Temple Block", nor with Temple Market Block a.k.a. Temple Courthouse. Located at the corner where Main & Spring used to diverge/merge, built 1858, expanded 1871, housing many law offices. On the ground floor retail tenants included Daniel Desmond, whose hat shop would later turn into a chain of department stores; Jacoby Bros. Dry Goods, who would sell their business to May Company in the 1920s, Harry Slotterbeck's gun shop, and the Wells Fargo office.
Wilcox Building, built 1895-6, photo 1905
  • Wilcox Building, SE corner Spring & 2nd St. (205 S. Spring), built 1895-6, 5 stories, all but the ground floor demolished 1971 after damage from the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, ground floor remains. Housed the California Club until 1904, when it moved to 4th & Hill. H. Jevne's wine and gourmet grocery store. Southwestern School of Law was located on its top floors 1915–1924.[6]
Wilson Block, SE corner Spring & 1st as seen in 1920
  • Wilson Block, SE corner Spring & 1st


  • B. F. Coulter 101-103-105 Spring St. at 2nd (after moving from the Baker Block)
  • London Clothing Co. at Spring and Temple, which would become Harris & Frank a chain of department stores focusing on men's clothing


  • Temple Market Block or Temple Courthouse, located between Spring (W) and Main (E), Market (N), and Court (S) streets. Market was a small street south of Temple and Court was a small street north of First. Not to be confused with Temple Block at the north end of Spring St. where it merges with Main Street. Served as a market and retail as well as the County Courthouse 1861-1891 until the Red Sand Courthouse was built.[7] A.k.a. the "Clocktower Courthouse" because of its rectangular tower with a clock on all four sides.[8][9]
  • New Post Office, Main/Spring & Temple, built 1910 for $1,500,000. Demolished 1937 and a new federal building built on the site.[9]
  • City Hall (1888 location; City Hall moved to its present location in 1928, demolished 1929, now a parking lot). Three stories, 150-foot (46 m) campanile. Architect S. I. Haas. Romanesque architecture. Red and brown brick. Housed the Los Angeles Public Library for a time until it moved to the new Hamburger's department store building at 8th & Broadway in 1908.[10]
  • Los Angeles High School original location on Pound Cake Hill (1873-1887), between New High (W) and Broadway (E), on the south side of Temple Street. It was moved to California/Sand street and in 1890 a new facility was built on Fort Moore Hill, approximately where Broadway today crosses the Hollywood Freeway and immediately north.
  • The Red Sandstone Courthouse on Pound Cake Hill, between New High (W) and Broadway (E), on the south side of Temple Street. It was built on the site of Los Angeles High School and replaced facilities at the Temple Courthouse, it functioned additionally as a post office and federal agency building, built 1891. Damaged beyond repair by Long Beach earthquake 1933, demolished 1936.[9]
  • The Hall of Records was built next door to the Red Sandstone Courthouse in 1911, taking up the block between Spring St. (E), Broadway (W), Franklin (N) and First St. (S). It was demolished in 1973.


At the east side of Main Street, between Arcadia and Commercial streets:

  • Pico House hotel
  • Lafayette Hotel, later Cosmopolitan Hotel, (later, 20th c., the St Elmo), Main Street just north of the Downey Block
  • Merced Theatre
  • Los Angeles Times (1881 building), Temple & New High Streets; 1886 building razed after damage from a bomb 1910, rebuilt 1912 three stories in stone, NE corner First & Broadway. The Times would move further south on Broadway.[14]
  • Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, various locations
  • Hollenbeck Hotel built in 1884 by John Edward Hollenbeck on what was called the Hollenbeck Block at the corner of Spring and Second. [15]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Early Los Angeles Historical Buildings (1800s)", Water and Power Associates
  2. ^ a b c d e "Los Angeles Fifty Years Ago: The Re-Creation of a Vanished City". Los Angeles Times. November 15, 1931. p. 90. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Historic Building Is Razed: Flood of Memories Released". Los Angeles Times. May 15, 1927.
  4. ^ "Bryson-Bonebrake Building, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA (1886-1888) demolished". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  5. ^ "Architect B. J. Reeve". San Francisco Examiner. August 14, 1887. p. 19. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  6. ^ "Wilcox Building #2". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  7. ^ https://waterandpower.org/museum/Early_LA_Buildings%20(1800s)_Page_1.html#Temple_Block
  8. ^ https://waterandpower.org/museum/Early_LA_Buildings%20(1800s)_Page_1.html#Temple_Block
  9. ^ a b c "U.S. Courthouse, Los Angeles, CA". General Services Administration. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  10. ^ "CityDig: This Was L.A.'s City Hall for 39 Years". Los Angeles magazine. May 8, 2014. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  11. ^ Cal Parks, Site 744
  12. ^ hmdb.org, Mirror Building
  13. ^ californiahistoricallandmarks.com 744 -No. 744 Mirror Building - Los Angeles
  14. ^ https://waterandpower.org/museum/Early_LA_Buildings%20(1800s)_Page_2.html#LA_Times_Building1
  15. ^ boyleheightshistory, John Edward Hollenbeck