Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Pulchritude of Pearl Street: the Cesspool of the 1890s and the Clean-Up in the 1990s; or a Tale of Two Figueroa Streets

Upper left:  Figueroa street sign at L.A. Live
Right:  Darryl Holter 

The Figueroa Corridor

If Figueroa Street had not undergone a name change in 1897 from Pearl's hotels, residential lofts, restaurants, museums, sports stadiums and auto dealerships from here to Exposition Park might have flourished along a very different, perhaps not-so-catchy name, the Pearl Corridor.

Then again, Figueroa Street was already on the map in 1855.  Why the contradiction?

This blog post will tell a tale of the two Figueroa's...literally, the conundrum of two streets... historically, a place alternating from blight...then beauty and vitality again. Look back at the cesspool on Cottage Place, the Progressives and others who lived nearby, and a clean Figueroa one hundred years later culminated by the strategies of the historian from Minnesota, Darryl Holter.

A Tale of Two Figueroa Streets

Pull up a comfy chair - this will take some time to explain.

Map dated 1887 (Red notations made by blogger)
Courtesy of the Seaver Center for Western History Research,
Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History (GC-1310-2223)

Pearl Street (or the new Figueroa Street)

Edward Ord, the moonlighting army lieutenant, surveyed the city in the summer of 1849, placing on the map for the first time Calle de las Chapules, meaning Grasshopper Street, which later became Pearl Street.  Chapules extended south only as far as an unnamed 12th Street on the Ord Survey. Chapules denoted the approximate line of doom for grape crops when locusts from the low grass plains of the Ballona and Cienegas ate their way to the east.

In 1897, Pearl Street was officially changed to Figueroa Street (between Pico Boulevard and northward to White Knoll Drive in the hills of today's Chinatown).  On a side note, unexplainable is how Pearl extended down from 12th to Pico.

Figueroa Street (or the original Figueroa Street)

In 1855 or 1857[1] a handful of years after the Ord Survey,  major arteries were added by a couple of surveyors named Henry Hancock (the dad of George Allen Hancock, who developed Hancock Park) and George Hansen (also known for founding the city of Anaheim).  These were streets running north/south for several Mexican governors of California such as Jose Figueroa; the east/west cross streets included one for Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican era, and followed by the seven U.S. presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson - but the last four names went away).

Hancock & Hansen's handiwork established a Figueroa Street where on one end reached the city's southern boundary (today's Exposition Boulevard) and the opposite, north end was at the vicinity of a road that would not be named Bellevue Avenue until thirty years went by.

The street is seen on various maps to veer northwesterly beginning at Pico, as it moved away from where it connected with Pearl Street. 

(The northern end of original Figueroa may have extended further north than Bellevue in 1876, to Baxter Street in today's Echo Park neighborhood.  Later, portions of this Figueroa were vacated or name-changed, notably portions from Baxter to Lilac Terrace and also Bellevue to Sixth Streets were re-named Boylston in 1897.)[2]

According to USC urban planning professor Meredith Drake Reitan's research, there was a missing Figueroa segment between Sixth and Pico; it did not appear on many maps before 1890;  the stretch of road was obliterated and the "street has been taken possession of by residents, fenced in, built on and planted in orchards, though the city officials state that the street has never been abandoned."[3]

Further research by Drake Reitan revealed that in 1890 the city began contemplating to open up Figueroa as a throughway between Sixth Street and Pico.  Concerned property owners raised a ruckus, and it took four years and a succession of three city attorneys to the outcome - the street was abandoned by a city council ordinance in 1894 - between Sixth and Ninth Streets and also between Tenth Street and Pico.[4] 

But what about Cottage Place?  The answer is coming up.

Figueroa Street (that remained Figueroa Street)

(Original) Figueroa below Pico remained status quo down to Santa Monica Avenue (today's Exposition Boulevard).

Due to city expansion in 1896 called the Southern Addition, Figueroa Street was named for the stretch between Santa Barbara Avenue (today's Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard) and Slauson Avenue.

A remaining unnamed segment between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara Avenues was designated Figueroa Street in 1906.

Cottage Place - the Forgotten Piece of the "Original" Figueroa Street

Cottage Place sat between Ninth and Tenth Streets, and it may have been an example of a street that eclipsed old Figueroa.  It was bypassed when the city vacated the former Figueroa between Sixth and Ninth and also between Tenth Street and Pico.  The predicament came to light when sewage woes began.

Below is the 1894 birds-eye view that includes Cottage Place.  Though un-named on this map, Ninth Street along here later became James M. Wood Boulevard, a naming tribute to the well-regarded labor leader who died in 1996.  Tenth Street was changed in the 1930s to Olympic Boulevard.

Map, 1894, by Bruce Wellington Pierce
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
The same map with a view looking north
Digital version courtesy of the Library of Congress

Close-up view looking south
Courtesy of the Seaver Center
Today Cottage Place is an alleyway behind the west side of Figueroa Street.
Photo taken December, 2018

The earliest city directory found with a listing for Cottage Place was 1891 and showed the names and addresses of numerous residents.  The last listing found in the 1956 directory had only the names of two women at 911 Cottage Place.  Today there are no longer houses here.

Where all the cottages were previously situated only along the east side of the street, today there is the Athena Parking Lot, Rick's Bar, and an endangered car wash sitting on land worth millions and millions.

The view along Cottage Place looking north

The view of Olympic Boulevard while standing past Figueroa, looking west

The Cesspool at Cottage Place

The Los Angeles Herald newspaper reported in June of 1892 about a cesspool at the residence of Charles B. Patterson, a baggageman for the Southern California Railway.  Patterson complained to the Health Officer of the situation at 924 Cottage Place.  This blogger did not find subsequent articles regarding the matter.

In the summer of 1896, in August, the paper reported on the Health Officer recommendation for sewers to be installed at various streets, including Cottage Place.

In November, the paper reported that J.R. Hyland was protesting the sewer construction.  A hearing the following month disclosed that the bone of contention was that the property owners on only one side of the street would foot the costs.  The protest was sustained and the proceeding was abandoned.

Two summers later, in July of 1898, the City Engineer recommended sewer construction, and an was ordinance passed.  In a week's time, another protest was filed by businessman and neighbor, A.W. Francisco, insisting that ample sewers were provided by drains on Ninth and other streets.  His property included an orchard boundary at Cottage Place.  The protest impeded construction, but by the end of the summer, Francisco's petition was denied.  Because he was already assessed for sewerage on three sides of his tract, he was ordered to abide by the law but to pay only a nominal amount on the disputed sewer.

In January of the new year, A.W. Francisco had passed away.  New protests were filed by Mrs. Nancy R. Thayer, and also Dora Haynes.  Mrs. Haynes and her husband owned a two-story Victorian house fronting Pearl Street, another large house on the lot, and cottages in back.  (More on the Haynes later.)

Throughout the year of 1899 the city became embroiled in the matter of a clouded title on the property along Cottage Place, since it was overlooked as former Figueroa all around it became vacated back in '94.

Some residents wanted a wider street while others wanted the street to be left untouched but abandoned.  The Francisco estate chimed in, too, hoping to dissuade any widening, as that would be at the expense of the Francisco tract.  Another Francisco suit was filed against the city and may have prevailed because in late October the newspaper reported that the city would not take any action against the suit to quiet title to Cottage Place.

The city's title may have been straightened out in 1916.[5]

This blogger assumes that the sewer construction was eventually completed, though later newspaper reports did not turn up.

Notoriety for a Resident at 926 Cottage Place

Los Angeles Herald, October 8, 1912
Courtesy California Digital Newspaper Collection, UC Riverside

The front page of the Herald featured a human interest story on the Baron Alfred de Wolfer, an artisan whose work once impressed the French royal court.  The story described the man "slowly losing his grip on life in an humble little dwelling at 926 Cottage Place."  On his door hung a "dingy sign" that read A. de Wolfer, sculptor in bronze, providing a livelihood for him and his equally aged wife.  The article continues to tell of his misfortunes:  when his first wife (a countess) died, he then married an ordinary woman to his father's disapproval.  Any inheritances dissipated.  The Baron came to America, and then the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire ruined him financially.  Tragically his only daughter died of exposure after the disaster, and the Baron and his wife resettled in Los Angeles.  He died at age 73 two years following this news story.

Francisco Street

Francisco Street was named in 1903, several years following the death of Andrew Wiggins Francisco, Sr.  The man was active on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce from 1892 to 1895.  The street renaming took out Moore Street (between 7th and 9th Streets) and Okey Street (between 9th and 10th).

A portion of the Francisco property bound by 9th Street became the new Salvation Army headquarters, built in 1924.  It is still there today.

Another view of the headquarters taken from Figueroa:

Dora and John Randolph Haynes:  an Important Progressive Legacy

The Haynes lived at 945 South Pearl Street from about 1893 until 1911.  During these years, Dr. John Haynes was a physician and surgeon in the city, caring for the well-being of a cross-section of citizens, including prominent families.  Haynes descended from English settlers, and his father was a well-to-do Pennsylvania coal mine operator. 

Significantly, while residing at this address, this "millionaire socialist" became an active reformer.  Or as historian and biographer Tom Sitton wrote, Haynes was a "late-blooming reformer."[6]  His prolific influence upon his adopted city included being a member of an elected group to develop a new city charter.  He was key in bringing forth direct legislation to the city in 1902 as well as to the state of California by 1911 - the voters referendum, initiative and recall.  Today he is considered "the father of direct legislation."  He sat on the very first civil service commission of the city.  Those within his large sphere of business and politics included fellow socialist businessman, H. Gaylord Wilshire (think Wilshire Boulevard).

When the Haynes departed from this house, they moved further south on Figueroa near Adams.  In the years following, John Haynes was impactful in the creation of a public utility - the Department of Water and Power.  Today, the couple's names remain prominent in historical and documentary projects that fulfill social science research for Los Angeles, under the credit "John Randolph and Dora Haynes Foundation."

Dora was active in the community in her own right, fitting in with the influential Caroline Severance and the Friday Morning Club.  She assisted alongside her husband in his professional work, and John's accomplishments proliferated with the advantage of his wife's social circle.  She pre-deceased him.

John Randolph Haynes
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

Shown below was the main house at 945 South Pearl (945 South Figueroa).  Cottage Place ran behind the house where the Haynes built three cottages.

Image from the book Men of Achievement in the Great Southwest Illustrated, 1904
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

To place this house in context with today's enduring Hotel Figueroa, below is a postcard of the Haynes house dwarfed by the 1926 hotel that was originally built for a women-only clientele:

Image from blogger's collection

Research has not uncovered when the house was torn down.  Below is a recent view of where the Haynes house once stood:

Friday Morning Club

Standing at Cottage Place, one can peer across the parking lot, past the mural-laden Hotel Figueroa and set sight on the former Friday Morning Club on Figueroa Street.  Founded by reformer and suffragist Caroline Severance, the building has weathered through the years.  Today a vibrant neighborhood surrounds it.  Though no longer functioning as a woman's club, the landmark is a reminder of Severance, whose contributions included starting the kindergarten movement in L.A.; and advocating to free women of the fashionable but bone and organ-crushing corset.  She was given the honor as the first woman to register to vote in California.

Friday Morning Club building seen in center background

Darryl Holter and an Unexpected Mission to Clean Up Figueroa 

Labor activist, union organizer, state lobbyist, historian, university professor.  These were some of hats well-worn by Minneapolis native Darryl Holter before settling in Los Angeles in 1991 to begin a teaching job at UCLA.  Several years later a challenge was in store for him across town in downtown as he found himself enmeshed with merchants struggling after a slowed economy and the riots in 1992.  His involvement was personal, familial, and perhaps a Hail Mary maneuver to keep his father-in-law's business investments afloat.  He discovered there were solutions in his unexpected mission to clean up the streets along the Figueroa Corridor.

Not far from Cottage Place and the Hotel Figueroa, the area surrounding the Figueroa Street-facing Convention Center was affected by various factors after World War II.  A population shift to the suburbs enabled low-income families to occupy the stock of pre-war apartment houses.  Their homes became casualties to the Harbor Freeway in the mid-1950s and then the 1971 Convention Center. Motels sprung up around the Center - the Downtowner, the Empire, the Kent Inn, and the Royal Host. The expansion of the convention complex in 1988 to its completion in 1993 wiped out remaining housing units along De Long, Francisco, Georgia and Wright Streets.

A walk around the neighborhood in 1986, particularly when a convention was not in town, enveloped this blogger with a sense of stillness and desolation.  The Center in those years was city-governed, and one of the matters the Municipal Auditorium Board of Commissioners grappled with was to get more hotels built.

Auto Row is situated south of here.

Further uptown away from Figueroa in the historic core and the old banking district were seedy SROs, or single room occupancy residences, that comprised the old hotels.

A Renaissance of the City

Like-minded forces surged and contributed to the developing 24-hour living/working downtown of today:
  • 1989 was the year that a program began for developing a 25-year plan called the Los Angeles Downtown Strategic Plan (DSP) and was published in 1993.  Project advisory committee members included co-chairs Robert Harris and Alan Woo, Sue Laris, and Ira Yellin.
  • Huell Howser!  The popular half-hour program "Visiting" from the years 1993 through 2011 provided weekly affirmation that the places and people of southern California and Los Angeles were diversely interesting.
  • An anomaly to the "erasure-tecture" school of tearing down structures, a Figueroa-adjacent building was renovated in 1996.  The Young Apartments at 1621 South Grand Avenue had been vacant since 1990, vandalized and marred by graffiti.  It was sold to a non-profit developer by the city's redevelopment agency.  The re-do kept the historic integrity of the Classical Revival 1911 building, for habitation by low-income couples and individuals.
  • The development of downtown business improvement districts, BID for short, started with one formed within the Fashion District in 1996.
  • Tom Gilmore's real estate group formed in 1998 with a primary objective to redevelop the downtown historic core.  He was a driving force in the city's adoption of an Adaptive Re-Use Ordinance in 1999, enabling a developer-friendly, streamlined process for converting old buildings particularly for housing purposes.  The ink on the signature line of the ordinance had barely dried when an infusion by Tokai Bank of California was announced of $10 million for revitalization projects.
  • Times writer Robert A. Jones profiled Gilmore in late 1999, and he followed up with a December article titled "Requiem for the Suburbs?"  Writing about a new energy in the city, he detected "a largely unheralded movement that began in the past five years," not only downtown, and he pointed out the growing number of walking streets.
  • In 1999 the head of the city's Cultural Affairs Department, Adolfo V. Nodal, turned on the city lights in the program LUMENS (Living Urban Museum of Electronic and Neon Signs) to refurbish over 250 building signs in Hollywood, the Wilshire corridor and Downtown.  By doing so, he lit up city pride too.  This blogger often craned her neck to watch the bowler hit a strike atop of the Jensen's Recreation Center building.
  • The headlining story in the Spring, 2000 issue of the Los Angeles Conservancy newsletter was "HPOZs:  the Quiet Revolution in Los Angeles' Historic Neighborhoods."  Property and home owners from different socioeconomic backgrounds were consciously upholding the character of their beloved places.  At the time of the report, the city's nine historic preservation overlay zones (HPOZs) - which began with Angelino Heights in 1983 - would soon increase before the close of the year 2000 to include neighborhoods adjacent to the Figueroa Corridor:  Adams-Normandie and University Park.
Cover of the 1993 publication
Click here to see full text 
Magazine cover from 1999 introducing Tom Gilmore
and his plan to revive downtown through coffeehouses and loft apartments
Image from blogger's collection

The Figueroa Corridor Partnership BID

Back on the Figueroa Corridor, in contrast to Gilmore's interests in the historic core of downtown, Darryl Holter's early purview was retail rather than housing.  He was to administer CPR to the automobile dealerships, or actually, shuttered dealerships.  The family business includes two flagship holdings that also correlate to the range of their presence on Figueroa:  the 1925 Petroleum Building at Olympic/Flower and down south to Jefferson/Figueroa with Felix Chevrolet.

His breadth of experience in labor research and industrial relations naturally prepared him to organize the Figueroa Corridor Partnership, a business improvement district.  He pushed the pragmatic efforts of keeping the streets clean and trash-free to reduce crime; and the presence of wayfinding signs provide a tangible sense of place.

Importantly, a level of community-building developed as business owners became acquainted with one another.  Holter's success in getting USC, the Orthopaedic Hospital and the Automobile Club of Southern California on board helped to coalesce other stakeholders.

The strategies and experiences can be encapsulated by a couple of mottoes Holter likes to repeat:  "Build it and they will come; maintain it and they will come back" and "People make things happen."

It did not hurt that his instincts were likely augmented by some abc's - a boost of acumen, a touch of bon vivant and a dash of charisma.  Let's also add "d" for driven.

The following set of Questions/Answers was conducted with Darryl Holter by email.  It will illuminate the circumstances that led to the formation of the Figueroa Corridor Partnership BID.  As Holter explains below, he joined forces with Carol Schatz, the then CEO of the weighty Central City Association.  The Downtown Center BID, spearheaded by Schatz, received a motion of approval the same day in 1998 as the Figueroa Corridor Partnership.

Q:  What was your early impression of the Figueroa Corridor before all the improvements?

A:  I agreed to go on leave from UCLA to see what could be done to help my father-in-law’s business and properties on Figueroa.  Driving up and down the street I could see the effects of the recession, the economic slowdown in the early ‘90s and the effects of the Rodney King riots: boarded up storefronts up and down the street, businesses closed, graffiti, homeless people, and gang activity.  The first day I arrived at an office they set up for me I wasn’t sure where to begin but I asked for the reports from the security people who were on duty the night before.  The reports provided hourly information about all the problems: break-ins and stolen property, vandalism, graffiti, radios stolen out of cars, people sleeping in doorways and using them for restrooms. Page after page of problems that seemed to be beyond solution.  I marked them all with red pen and asked Nick Shammas:  “Look at this. Why would anyone want to come to Figueroa?”

On the other hand, I could see incredible potential.  The street was a major thoroughfare with tens of thousands driving through every day.  USC was across the street and was the largest private employer in the city.  Downtown was in distress but had a lot of advantages that were hard to see because most of the city leaders had given up on it and were leaving it to the poor people who depended upon the missions to survive, the handful of artists in the warehouse district, and a small contingent of middle class people in fortresses on Bunker Hill.

So, I saw major problems but also great potential.  

Q:  Although the Figueroa Corridor Partnership encompasses south of the freeway down to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, can you delineate the Figueroa Corridor?

A:  Although the Corridor could probably be defined as extending from Wilmington to Highland Park, we generally conceptualized it as extending from MLK on the south to Sunset on the north.  I was able to wrangle some money from the CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency]—maybe $50K or so—to do an economic development study of the street.  We modelled our plan on the DSP [Downtown Strategic Plan] and learned a great deal from working closely for nearly a year with Bob Harris, former Dean of USC’s school of architecture and a group of very talented architects, urban planners, economists, and others to produce the 51-page “The Figueroa Corridor Economic Development Strategy” in January 1998.  We divided the district into six distinct districts, brought together stakeholders from each for charettes (French term for focused presentation and open-ended discussion) and analyzed each in terms of anchor uses, building form, open spaces, transportation, and strengths and opportunities. We offered a set of elements that would be needed to overcome the economic problems that we faced including 1) Balancing public and private sector investment, 2) Promoting economic integration, 3) Strategic and catalytic projects, 4) Retaining existing businesses and attracting new ones, and 5) Provide an infrastructure for economic development. Then we analyzed each district by emphasizing opportunities, economic engines, strategic projects, and future vision. I carried the study with me wherever I went and I had copies to give to others.  We used it as a document that could demonstrate in real terms the potential of the Figueroa Corridor.  It was a very important study and I used it in my first discussions with Ira Yellin and Tim Leiwike who brought the Staples Center and LA Live to Figueroa and to others who followed. 

While we worked on the study I was busy organizing the BID [Business Improvement District].  Even though I was working downtown, I still taught one course every semester at UCLA and I was involved in setting up the curriculum for the new School of Public Policy.  The new Dean, Archie Kleingartner, was very supportive of all my research for years and like me had a Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin.  He said, “Darryl, give me a proposal and I’ll see if we can fund it.”  I asked for a Research Assistant for a year, paying $20 an hour for 10 hours a week.  He said Ok and I hired one of my Teaching Assistants, Rebecca Mead, to help me organize the BID.  It took about 18 months to organize.  Ironically UCLA funded a project that greatly benefited its cross-town rival. 

We pulled together all the property owners and businesses together and got them to meet regularly to decide what we would do. From the beginning I said “We are going to tax ourselves and use our money to do this.  There are no free riders. We are making an investment for the future.”  This was important because as they got into the effort, they got to know each other and together as a group learned about what they could do and what they couldn’t do and how they could work together to make a difference.  And because it was their money that was being invested, they all had a stake in the results and they all wanted it to succeed.  That was the powerful internal logic and material force that pushed them into organizing.

We drew the district on Figueroa from the 10 freeway on the north to MLK on the South.  Initially, we wanted to go from 9th street on the north to Exposition on the south.  But in my meetings with property owners between the 10 and 9th street I could not find a consensus because they were divided into two groups: a small group of owners who owned high rises like the Transamerica buildings and a large group of owners who had parking lots with little or no improvements.  The parking owners wanted an assessment formula based on square footage of buildings because they had few or no buildings and wouldn’t have to pay much.   The high-rise owners wanted a formula based on street frontage not building square footage.  After several meetings I told them we were moving the boundary south to the 10 freeway and leaving them out.  I told them that in the future they may be able to put something together but I couldn’t wait for that. Several years later, under new circumstances with the Staples Center and LA Live they were able to organize into the South Park BID.

On the south end we decided to extend the BID from Expo to MLK in part so we could more closely connect to the population of South LA.  My vision in all of this was to connect the economic engine of DTLA [Downtown LA] with the intellectual power of USC and the working population of LA.  We also decided to bring Flower Street into the BID seeing the two streets as forming a transportation couplet.  That was the original BID boundaries when it was formed on March 18, 1998. Every five years the BID was renewed and when it came up for renewal more property owners wanted to join so the BID boundaries were extended west to Vermont and north to LATTC [Los Angeles Trade Technical College].

Q:  The Figueroa Corridor sign – does it only represent the Figueroa Corridor Partnership BID? 

A:  After the BID was formed in March 1998, we designed the first logo for the Figueroa Corridor which we used on our Newsletter.  Later, after we were formed and other BIDs were formed in DTLA, the BIDs developed a 'wayfinding signage" program for all of Downtown.  At that time, probably in 2000 or so, we hired a designer and all new logos were designed for use. Our BID employees always wore the color Teal so that went into our new logo.  You will notice a car is in the center--this was not my idea but Carol Schatz, but I agreed as the car has always been central to Figueroa.  At first we used vinyl banners on street signs but these didn't last long so instead we installed permanent "community medallions" made of aluminum with the logo.  The logo belongs to the BID.

Q:  Where are the signs posted?  Only on Figueroa Street? 

A:  From south of the 10 Freeway to MLK?  I think the medallions are placed on all streets included in the BID, i.e. Fig, Flower, Hoover, Vermont.  But I'm not totally sure about this as the BID has expanded over the years.

Q:  Your CRA study in January 1998 was in the works - was there any impact of the study on the Tim Leiwike development of Staples?  I imagine that Staples would have been in development before 1998.  Did the CRA study help bring Leiwike to downtown?

A:  I'm very sure that Tim and AEG was very much aware of the following:  1) CCA had a standing committee called the Figueroa Corridor Committee (It was chaired by a developer, Ned Fox), 2) That a Figueroa Corridor BID was being formed, 3) that a Figueroa Corridor Economic Development Plan was being prepared with CRA backing.

Another element in this is that the South Park area was one of the few in DTLA that was most suitable for a large project like the Staples Center--and all the ancillary land needed for parking and other needs.  It was less developed, had fewer historical buildings, etc. (Some of the same forces that moved early auto dealers to Figueroa helped move AEG).  I do remember meeting Tim (with other people) and making this point.  It was the same point I was making in my own plans to move our VW, Porsche, and Audi dealerships to Washington and Figueroa--because there was more land that was available for use.

Q:  Was the Downtown Strategic Plan (DSP) a part of your playbook for the Figueroa Corridor Partnership?  From the Plan’s get go in chapter one, First Steps:  Safe and Clean Streets, there was the recommendation to establish business improvement districts. 

A:  I’m not sure if my knowledge of the BID idea came from reading the DSP or not.  I tend to think I had already heard about the BID concept without knowing much about it. And I think I first saw a copy of the DSP when I began working with the architect consultants on the Figueroa Corridor Economic Development Plan.  I took it home and read it in one night.

There were three developments that were going on:

1) Carol Schatz who I didn’t know from Adam or Eve came to my office in the PB [Petroleum Building] unannounced and said, “I’ve heard about you.  You are doing things and you need to join CCA [Central City Association].”  We went round and round until I said I would join if CCA set up a standing Figueroa Corridor Committee, find a good person to chair it, and assign some staffing.  I said that I would make sure it functioned.  And I did. 

2) We decided to go to the International Downtown Association meeting in South Beach, Miami with about 10 downtown leaders to learn from people who organized BIDs.  I met Jan Perry, Rita Walters’ Chief of Staff, on the plane as I sat next to her nine-year old daughter.  We came back and started to organize the BIDS—Carol did DT Center BID and I did Figueroa Corridor.

3) CRA gave us $50k for a Figueroa Economic Development study and Mark Ridley-Thomas [County Supervisor] found another 75 to expand it further south.  I used the DSP to shape the Figueroa Corridor plan.

Q:   Who introduced the Plan to you?  Was it Robert Harris? 

A:  I’m not sure where I first saw it, but soon after I met Bob and gave more information about it.  I researched a few previous plans and saw how important the DSP was.  Bob played a very big role in shaping it.  

Q:   It was a compelling Plan, forgotten by many, according to Harris, yet it was made a quest for your group of students to study the Plan in a UCLA School of Policy Studies graduate course.  So you advocated this Plan?

A:  The Dean of UCLA’s school of public policy asked me to do a seminar on any topic of my choice so I chose this.  The nine students each had to select a key issue such as transportation, retail, housing, homeless, entertainment, etc.  They had to answer these questions (for their topic):  1) what did the DSP recommend?  2) what happened or didn’t happen? 3) why did it happen or not happen?  They had to read the literature, interview important people, write up their findings for a “Green Paper”, and do an oral presentation to downtown leaders.

Q:  Were there other downtown leaders who were advocating clean streets and BIDs at the same time you were?  Who was the vanguard; or did others follow your example?  For example, when you joined forces with CCA’s Carol Schatz, did you inform her; or were both of you trying to emulate the Fashion District BID?

A:  Carol organized hers and I organized mine.  It was not a particularly easy task, and I can give you a lot of details and it took 18 months, but we succeeded and the two BIDS were approved by the City at the same time.  My sense is that neither of the BIDs would have been formed without Carol and I.  But then, I always think that it is people that make things happen—they don’t just happen by themselves.

Q:   The seeds of the Plan were planted about 1989, looking forward to laying out a 25-year plan.  By the time the Plan was published in 1993, add 25 years to it, we arrive at present day.  Looking around downtown today, areas such as the Figueroa Corridor, fill the bill as a vibrant, “highly connected, 24-hour living-working city” as described by the original Plan consultants Moule & Polyzoides on their website at  This time table would not have materialized without you as a major catalyst.  Your comments?

A:  A quarter of century seems like a long time, but the progress has been incredible.  It is wonderful to have been able to see the progress day after day, year after year.

Parting Shots

For those readers who have made it this far - here is your reward.  Below the two images show the before (1929) and after (1941) shots of Olympic Boulevard having undergone a street-widening makeover.  The same building on the left in the pictures is the extant Petroleum Securities Building, built by Edward Doheny and is today where Holter is headquartered.  Also both pictures provide views in the direction of Figueroa and Cottage Place; and the Hotel Figueroa is visible on the right sides beyond the Belmont Apartments.

Images from publication A Comprehensive Report on the Master Plan of Highways 
for the Los Angeles County Regional Planning District, 1941
Courtesy of the Seaver Center

New image added 5-18-2019:

Shows how Olympic & Figueroa created a T-intersection before Olympic was widened.  One can also see a few houses behind Figueroa, at where Cottage Place was, and still is today.

Image courtesy of The Shammas Group/Petroleum Building


[1]   Bernice Kimball, Street Names of Los Angeles (Los Angeles:  Bureau of Engineering, 1988).  While Hancock & Hansen's City Map No. 58 seems to be dated 1857, Kimball's entry for Figueroa Street lists 1855 as the establishing date for the street.
[2]   Ibid.
[3]   Meredith Drake Reitan, "Grasshopper Pearl Fig," LAvenues Project, December 9, 2013.
[4]   Meredith Drake Reitan, "Abandoning Fig:  the High Cost of Cartographic Uncertainty," LAvenues Project, January 27, 2014.
[5]   Bernice Kimball, Street Names of Los Angeles (Los Angeles:  Bureau of Engineering, 1988).  The entry for Cottage Place between 9th & Olympic lists 1916 as the establishing date for the street.
[6]   Tom Sitton, John Randolph Haynes:  California Progressive (Stanford, Calif.:  Stanford University Press, 1992), vii.

For earlier posts about Figueroa Street on Los Angeles Revisited:

The Hotel Figueroa and Figueroa Street Name Origins, January 22, 2011
Before the Convention Center, the Staples Center, LA Live and Football, October 4, 2011