Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Hotel Figueroa, and Figueroa Street Name Origins

The Hotel Figueroa

At the completion of a Saturday morning breakfast at The Pantry at 877 South Figueroa, the walk southward brought me past the 1926-era Hotel Figueroa.  The mid-1920s building boom in L.A. included many structures along Figueroa, including the hotel, the Friday Morning Club across the street, and the Automobile Club of Southern California further down on the Figueroa Corridor.  The Pantry Restaurant was established at this location in 1924.


Located at 939 South Figueroa, Hotel Figueroa opened August 15, 1926.  It was promoted as "the largest project of its kind to be built, financed, owned and operated by women."  The project was backed by the Y.W.C.A. and cost $1,250,000.  At first the hotel was intended for female business travelers, but soon men were welcomed with their families.  The 13-story building was designated with Spanish names in its public spaces, like sala de recepcion, and its "el corredor" led to Spanish decor design elements.

Less than two years later, the hotel was in financial trouble.  A fundraising campaign ensued, and the hotel managed to pull out of its hole.

1950s postcard


Ad from the Hotel & Motel Red Book, 1965


Northward on Figueroa, bypassing the main downtown business district, The Orsini at 606 North Figueroa, is a contemporary development and one of the last multi-residential structures located at the northern edge of downtown before Figueroa Street is interrupted by the Pasadena Freeway.  The handsome and imposing buildings on all sides of Sunset Boulevard could have been named "The Orsini at 606 Pearl" if "Figueroa" not replaced the former street name of "Pearl."

Origins of Figueroa Street

Since the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the U.S. War with Mexico and transferring California to the U.S., Los Angeles instituted the land survey tradition to clarify its boundaries.  In 1853, city fathers sought to increase the size of the city and did so on its maps, even though the real authority, the U.S. Land Commission, wouldn't even confirm its original Spanish tradition "four square leagues" until 1856 (correction:  the city lands were confirmed in 1856, but the final surveyed patent was issued in 1866 by the U.S. General Land Office .  Confusingly, a new patent was issued in 1875 after the 1866 patent was deemed invalid due to a technicality; BUT in 1881 the original 1866 patent was upheld as valid.)

Early Los Angeles maps show municipal intent to expand in all four directions, with the main north and south arteries being named for the Mexican governors of Alta California:  Manuel Micheltorena, Juan Bautista Alvarado, Jose Figueroa, and Jose Maria de Echeandia.  East/west roads running south of 12th Street were named Pico Street (for Pio de Jesus Pico, the final Mexican governor of Alta California), followed by U.S. Presidents in their order of succession:  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Jackson streets.

On the old survey maps, Figueroa sat further west than where it is now.  It was drawn at where Boylston Street is today.  [Update:  1870s maps also show an earlier Figueroa Street originating below Pico Street.  The earlier street is probably attributed to Ramon Francisco (a brother of Alta California governor General Jose Figueroa).  Ramon built an adobe around 1846-47 at where present day Jefferson and Figueroa intersect.  As late as the 1930s a family member lived there.  Today, the adobe is gone but a well-known landmark there is the Felix Chevrolet dealership.]

The original western border of the city, Calle de Las Chapules, later Anglo-sized to Grasshopper Street, changed to Pearl Street, and finally what we know it today, Figueroa Street.

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