Sunday, September 18, 2011

L.A.'s Bunker Hill: the Historic Wall of the Fremont Hotel

Bunker Hill observer Arnold Hylen once wrote that the hill and its neighbor Fort Moore Hill “rose like a spine in the center of old Los Angeles.”

Developer Prudent Beaudry (French-Canadian, former L.A. City Mayor) named a street "Bunker Hill Avenue" in 1874 to commemorate the upcoming centennial of the Revolutionary War battle.  The area was referred to as Beaudry Highlands or Olive Street Hill, but the Bunker Hill name stuck.

Joined by his younger brother Victor their land development ventures grew to prolific proportions and included contiguous regions north and northwest into present day Chinatown and Echo Park. The brothers had ample land holdings by the time of the frenetic Land Boom of 1887-88.

By the late 1890s, the area became an emblem of urban blight characterized by a changed residential make-up from affluent mansions to transient boarding houses. As early as 1912 proposals were made to drastically alter the residential neighborhoods on the hill. 

In 1959 the city council adopted the Bunker Hill Renewal Project, which set in motion a wholesale obliteration. By the mid-1960s, the hill was emptied, and the former grand mansions, converted rooming houses, hotels, apartments, and other streets and structures were moved or demolished.

Today, a city sign promotes the history of the erased neighborhood.

Visitors and Angelenos alike appreciate the downtown sites for its photo iconographic appeal:

Photographers at the corner of Spring and First Streets.
Contemporary Walls

Several blocks northwest of Spring and First is the equally photogenic Bunker Hill.  Shown are views of two current occupants:
A south wall of the Museum of Contemporary Art from Grand Avenue
Pictured here is the sleek facade of the Colburn School, next door to MOCA
The Historic Wall

Down the southern slope of Bunker Hill at Fourth and Olive Streets there is a nearly 110 year-old limestone wall once a part of the Fremont Hotel that opened October 1, 1902.

The wall from the hotel that once sat here on the west side of Olive, just south of Fourth Street

A shot of the wall from its opposite side, covered with late 20th century concrete
Photographers did not converge to this wall on this particular afternoon as I was the lone person paying homage.  The wall has been previously pointed out on the website On Bunker Hill.  The hotel was an early casualty in the establishment of a parking lot.  According to the website, its demise occurred in the mid-1950s.

The hotel opened in October 1, 1902 and was located at 401 So. Olive Street
[Update 12-6-2016:  George Wharton James wrote in an Out West publication, 1903, Fremont in California, that the hotel was named for John C. Fremont and that the hotel opened September 9th, 1902, on California's admission day).  Fremont's widow, Jessie Benton Fremont, supposedly was the first to sign the hotel register.]