Friday, May 29, 2009

Vintage Photo Friday

The Miracle Mile, early 1960's

We live very close to the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles. People often refer to this stretch of Wilshire between La Brea and Fairfax as Mid-Wilshire. WRONG! Mid-Wilshire is the portion of Wilshire further east, near our beautiful, departed Ambassador Hotel and Bullocks-Wilshire Department Store, closer to Western Avenue. Mid-Wilshire is also referred to as KoreaTown. With changing demographics come changing location names.
I digress. Back to the Miracle Mile. I asked my Dad once why this stretch of Wilshire was called the Miracle Mile. He gave me his historical viewpoint that when he was a kid all of the major department stores were located in Downtown L.A. By the early 1930's, the city was expanding west and people didn't want to travel all the way downtown to go shopping, so development started along Wilshire Blvd. Mansions were torn down, open fields were built upon. Dad said that it all happened within a matter of a few was a MIRACLE of architecture and design!
To read up on the history of Wilshire Boulevard, check out this book. It's fantastic!
L.A. County Museum of Art, 1965
photo from L.A. Library Photo Database
One of the greatest additions to the Miracle Mile was the building of the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA), 1964 by William Pereira and Associates. When I was a tiny girl, we used to visit the Art Museum collection at the LA County Museum of Natural History located at Exposition Park, near USC. The art collection was hidden away, behind the dinosaur bones. Once our current Museum was built on Wilshire, the collection of modern art was added, modern sculptures were displayed, shows were mounted of avant garde artists! It was another miracle on Wilshire!

LACMA, under contruction, 1963, photo from L.A. Library Photo Database

Today, the beautiful modern architecture of the original LACMA complex is obscured by the Anderson Building. The new Broad Building also faces on Wilshire, between the Museum and the historic May Company Department Store, designed 1939 by Albert C. Martin and Samuel A. Marx. LACMA now occupies May Company and uses it for exhibition space and offices.

You can see in the photos above that there used to be this moat around the Museum. There were fountains and sculptures in the water. It was peaceful to just sit and look at the ripples. The moat also served as a sound barrier to the traffic on Wilshire while sitting in the Museum plaza. LACMA did need to expand to house it's growing art collection. I'm just sad that the original serene design has been altered.

LACMA, today

More vintage photos here.

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At 2:45 PM PDT, Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2:47 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history lesson, Ellen! I always enjoy learning about Los Angeles.


At 7:29 PM PDT, Blogger Jean said...

I was always curios about the Miracle Mile sign. This area has alot of character.

At 11:34 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The blue "LT" building is on the corner of Cochran and Wilshire. Cochran is the extension of Alta Vista, my parent's block. It was always a thrill to be able to pick out the corner from high in the air whenever we'd fly back from a trip. Sadly the new black cladding gives that once light and lively beacon a funereal look!

At 11:40 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered about the sign ("Miracle Mile") also. I'd see it on the way to the LACMA. Which brings up another great memory of my mother taking me to see the Pop art exhibits at LACMA sometime in the 60s.

Ellen do you remember an old tv show - 'Ralph Story's Los Angeles'?

At 10:05 PM PDT, Blogger Kelli B said...

Love the pic of the Miracle Mile. I walk down this little section of Wilshire almost daily (I live between Wilshire & 6th on Dunsmuir), and it is really cool to see old pics of it. I too have often wondered why it is called the Miracle Mile. Thanks for the info. I might have to check the book out from the library too.

At 1:27 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog and this post while looking for historical pics of Miracle Mile.

I'm a docent at the Petersen Museum (originally the Seibu department store, then Orbach's) and I can shed a little more light on this based on the training materials that we were given:

You can also learn more here:,_Los_Angeles,_California

A.W. Ross had a vision of a "Fifth Avenue of the West" when he bought all that acreage on Wilshire between La Brea and Fairfax in 1920. He picked an area that's approximately 5 miles from Beverly Hills, downtown LA, Hollywood and (roughly) Santa Monica. He felt that with the increasing numbers of households having automobiles, there would be enough people willing to drive 5 miles to shop to sustain the business of the stores once they were built.

He had a hell of a time getting the zoning changed though. At that time, his property was zoned for farm and agricultural use (and there were lots of oil wells too) and the county apparently had no interest in letting him subdivide it into smaller parcels for building retail stores. Once he got that accomplished however, he started drawing in the large retail stores. He insisted on having a say in the design of the stores themselves. They were all to be beautifully design with distinctive architecture. Signage and large plate glass windows were designed to face the street to give motorists a view of what was available in the store and draw them in. All parking lots were behind the stores and the main entrance to the stores was off the parking lot - not the street. You could walk in off the street, but the main entrance was off the parking lot.

At the time, Ross' vision was the subject of a lot of derision and teasing by his friends who told him basically that if his plan ever worked "it would be a miracle". It did work - beautifully. Hence the name "Miracle Mile"


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