Making of Metropolis, 1927
Many times I’ve walked around Downtown LA trying to imagine and visualize Bunker Hill. The photos are amazing but what’s better is seeing the streets of Bunker Hill in old noir movies. The movement of cinema really captures the loftiness of heights and allows us to have glimpses inside the beautiful spindly works of art that sadly were all torn down. If you have watched enough movies you have probably seen a lot of the buildings below. These two screen shots are from one of my favorites from 1949: Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, Dan Duryea, and a handful of other magnificent character actors :
Up at Sunshine Apts. on 3rd St.
Yvonne DeCarlo looking out towards Angel’s Flight.
Here’s the movie, the 2nd nightclub scene is mesmerizing. Watching the extras’ faces and the shots of the band make it very intimate and special.
post by Messy Nessy:
This is a picture of a Los Angeles that no longer exists. Affectionately knick-named “the Castle”, this elegant Victorian house was one of many in the once prestigious neighbourhood of Los Angeles, known as Bunker Hill. Downtown LA does have history, it’s just buried under gleaming high-rise office blocks and strip malls…
Despite once attracting high-income residents with its fashionable apartment buildings, Bunker Hill had become a working class lodging district by the 1920s. The once thriving leafy hilltop suburb was a symbol of urban decay that discouraged new investments. After the Great Depression, the grand old Victorian mansions were run-down and being used as cheap apartment hotels.
In the 1950s, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency came up with a drastic redevelopment plan for the entire Bunker Hill area and by 1968, every last Victorian home of Bunker Hill Avenue had been demolished.
These pictures show the last surviving houses, the Castle and another Victorian home, the Salt Box, being relocated by preservationists to another site in the 1960s, only to end up getting torched by vandals soon after.
Pre-1950s downtown Los Angeles:
Downtown Los Angeles today:
With the future looming in the background, the Castle is pictured above, fenced off, awaiting its fate. Behind is Downtown’s first skyscraper, the Union Bank Building.
The controversial redevelopment destroyed and displaced a community of almost 22,000 working-class families who renting rooms in the architecturally significant but ill-maintained buildings.
In 1966, The Los Angeles Times wrote of Bunker Hill: “Nowhere else in Los Angeles was the architecture so ornate. The mansions were wooden-frame Victorian with Gothic gingerbread touches applied with a heavy hand to simulate masonry.”
The original Angel’s Flight, a landmark funicular railway at Bunker Hill, once stood half a block north of where it stands today. But in 1969, the railway was closed as the area underwent total redevelopment and all its components were placed in storage for nearly thirty years. You can see here how it looked amidst its Victorian backdrop, looking almost European even.
Circa 1890 view of the Bradbury Mansion on the corner of Hill Street and Court Street
Pictured: The Lima apartments, an example of the residential ‘hotels’ of the early 20th century in Bunker Hill, formerly desirable apartment buildings before the area’s decline.
The Melrose Hotel, built in 1882 and Hotel Richelieu at Grand Avenue and Second Street in the late 1950s.
And after “progress” moved in to the neighbourhood in 1957…
Just to get your bearings here, if you could stand on the front porch of the Melrose Hotel today, you’d be looking at this building across the street, the Disney concert hall.
If you have a good enough imagination walking around downtown LA, perhaps you might be able to visualise the ghost of Bunker Hill.
This macabre French-Italian film is one of my favorites because not only is the story fascinatingly awful, but the cinematography is breathtaking. I once saw a tap dance musical in Chicago based on this story which was, well, interesting, not great, but I had to give them kudos for trying. This film was met with praise and disgust when it premiered in 1960, which only gives it more value in my eyes, as I feel art in any form needs to move you in some way, even if it’s negative. It is an interesting story about ego, vanity, isolation, the helplessness of sentient beings, and obsession. The crushing vanities of the bourgeoisie?
Kabukichō is the red light district in Shinjuku, a commercial and administrative ward in central Tokyo. Apparently Kabukichō took its name from plans to build a kabuki theater in the district sometime in 1940s. This never happened. Instead the area became a busy red light world of nightclubs, hostess clubs and love hotels. It’s estimated there are some 3,000 such enterprises operating in Kabukichō today. At night, the busy neon-lit streets thrive with the curious and the criminal—around a thousand yakuza are said to operate in the area. All this relentless activity gave Kabukichō its nickname as the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街).
Among the curious drawn to Kabukichō was photographer Watanabe Katsumi (1941-2006). During the 1960s and 1970s, this seemingly quiet and unassuming character prowled the streets camera in hand offering to take pictures of the sharp-suited yakuza, the pimps, the prostitutes and the drag queens who lived and worked in and among this red light district’s narrow streets. Watanabe thought of Kabukichō as his theater and the men and women who posed for him as his actors.
He approached each of his subjects and offered to take their picture. He took the pictures quickly. But whatever he said to make each individual sufficiently relaxed worked. His photographs captured something unguarded and utterly spontaneous about his subjects. The next night he would return, deliver three prints of each photograph for 200 yen—roughly around a dollar back then. This was how he made his living.