Spring StreetCenter of Commerce to Center of Power to Sound Stage
In Northern California, they panned gold in the mountain canyons. In Southern California, they made gold, in the concrete canyons of Spring Street.
In the 1920's, as Los Angeles flexed its new urban strength, its financial heart beat sturdily on Spring Street, "the Wall Street of the West," where banks and financial institutions prospered along with the fledgling city.
At its center was the five-story stock exchange, for which ground was broken a week before the stock market plunge in the fall of 1929 helped to usher in the Great Depression.
1920's - Era of Optimism
The era's optimism is visible in the exuberant Beaux Arts architecture of Spring Street of the 1920's, when the Merchants National Bank, Union Oil, Mortgage Guarantee, Banks Huntley and the venerable Title Insurance and Trust Company all set up shop on Spring Street.
Many of these tycoons' office buildings facades still stand virtually intact, which accounts for Spring Street's popularity with movie studios and television companies looking to capture authentic period cityscapes.
First Skyscraper - 12 Stories High
More than a score of these buildings were designed by architect John Parkinson, whose Braly Building, built in 1904, started it all. At 12 stories, it was the city's first skyscraper, and except for City Hall and the gorgeous black-and-gold towers of the Richfield Building, it remained a giant until 1957, when a law prohibiting buildings taller than City Hall was repealed.
By the 1920s, City Hall was built on North Spring Street, defining the downtown silhouette for decades, even being depicted on the city's police badges. City Hall's 26 stories are topped by a beacon named in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh, who made his historic transatlantic flight the year City Hall opened. Its public arcades and galleries are highlighted in gold leaf, marble and teakwood; the exquisite rotunda's floor is a geometric mosaic of 400 pieces of marble.
Hollywood film crews are almost as omnipresent as civil servants; then building served as Superman's newspaper, "The Daily Planet," Martians death rayed it in "War of the Worlds," and giant ants scaled its California-granite façade in the sci-film "Them!" It was the center of intrigue in 1997's "L.A. Confidential."
Despite City Hall and the ubiquitous film crews, Spring Street never again became as prosperous and bustling as it had been in the 1920s. One of the very few new edifices on Spring Street is the 1990 Ronald Reagan State Building.
Alongside the lobby's reflecting pool are sculptures of California cougars, and of the extinct California grizzly, the bear on the state flag.
Must-See Must-Stay Hostelry
The Braly Buiding was still new when the city's most elegant hotel - and its first class-A, fireproof building - opened its doors in 1906. The Alexandria Hotel, (at Fifth and Spring) eight stories tall, was the must-see, must-stay hostelry where the famous and titled danced under the stained-glass dome of the Palm Court. Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso and Jack Dempsey were guests in its 500 rooms and suites. The Alexandria's roster of visiting presidents, present and future, was impressive: William Howard Taft, a young Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson, who pushed for support for the League of Nations from the Alexandria.
Most famously, the Alexandria Hotel was where Hollywood's earliest stars and geniuses, Charlie Chaplin - who kept a suite in the hotel - D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks met in 1919 to form their own movie making organization, United Artists.
And just how the street ended up with the name "Spring" had to do with the heart, not hydraulics. E.O.C. Ord, the surveyor charged with laying out and naming the city's early streets, was wooing a young woman named Trinidad de la Guerra, and he had given her the nickname he later abbreviated and bestowed in honor on the thoroughfare: "mi primavera, my springtime" - Spring Street.
Biddy Mason was a one-time Mississippi slave who fought to win her freedom and save the wages from her job as a midwife to buy a $250 plot between Spring Street and Broadway in 1866. The site of the old homestead is now part of a $24 million complex that contains a park in her honor.