The Lost Victorian Mansions of Downtown LA

By

25th Jul, 2013

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.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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