Skip to main content

The Umbrellas Of West Third

June 2024
1min read

The picture directly below might have been taken in almost any Northern city on a sodden, bone-chilling day around the turn of the century. In fact, this is downtown Los Angeles whose citizens shelter under rain-burnished umbrellas and wrap themselves in warm woolen coats. If it isn’t the sunny scene beloved by the chamber of commerce, it is nevertheless an alluring photograph, due perhaps to its close look at the purposeful pedestrians and the nearly palpable sense of weather that enfolds them.

The professional photographer whose work this is, Warren C. Dickerson, generally turned out postcard views of the city. When Dickerson focused his camera on the corner of Broadway and West Third, around 1908, he couldn’t have guessed that some seventy years later this intersection would be designated the northern boundary of a historic district. It was in 1979 that the National Register of Historic Places cited the six blocks running from Third to Ninth on both sides of Broadway for the impressive number of theaters and commercial structures dating from the 1890s to the 1930s that still survive.

The National Register’s entry helps refute the notion that Los Angeles has no downtown. Here, standing as a monument to the city’s first great rush of growth (from 1900 to 1910 the population tripled), is a distinct downtown with the same random, shaggy charm that lies at the heart of most cities. At the far left in both pictures is the five-story Bradbury Building, dating from 1893, which has been given a separate commendation by the National Register. Famed for its light-filled interior courtyard, the office building often has been used as a location for television shows and movies.

Although no longer the theatrical center it once was, enough of the early theaters remain for the district to have been cited by the National Register of Historic Places.

Like its New York counterpart, LA.'s Broadway became a theatrical center. Eventually that center moved away, but a surprising number of the early theaters remain. One of them, the Million Dollar Theater, a classical movie palace visible at the right in the recent photo, rose in 1917 on the site of the Muskegon Building, seen in the earlier view.

When laying plans to match a rainy-day scene then in Southern California with one now , patience is called for. The editors first got the idea for the story in July 1987 and then had to wait exactly half a year for the weather to cooperate. Meanwhile, a major earthquake rattled the city. Fortunately, the Bradbury Building, the Million Dollar Theater, and their various illustrious companions withstood the shock. And then, in January of this year, the rains came.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.