Early Los Angeles Street Lights

Historical Street Lights of Los Angeles

 
(1869)* - View of Calle Principal (now Main Street) looking northwest with the Old Plaza Church seen on the left. To the right is the Los Angeles Plaza (square at the time) with two gas lamps, one on each of its corners. These were the first gas lamps installed in the City of Los Angeles.  

 

Historical Notes

In 1867, Los Angeles Gas Company, the forerunner of today's Southern California Gas Company, installed 43 new gas lamps along Main Street, making the city safer at night. The gas lighting business was run by five entrepreneurs who manufactured the gas from asphalt, a tar-like substance, and later from oil.

A lamplighter on horseback rode down the street at dusk to light the streetlights. By 1873, about 136 gas lamps provided the outdoor night lighting for the City.

 

 

 

 
(Early 1870s)^ - San Pedro Street, a muddy dirt street, near 2nd Street in the early 1870s. A gas lamp post can be seen standing in a pool of water.   

 

The gas company was enjoying modest success until Thomas Edison introduced his electric light in 1879.

In 1882 electricity was introduced to Los Angeles. That year 3,000-candle power arc lamps were lifted atop seven 150-foot poles. The state of the art at that time encouraged the use of a few tall standards with high illumination.

But difficulty with maintenance and the undependability with lamps on 150-foot “masts” encouraged engineers to improve lighting technology so more pole locations could be used economically with shorter poles and less energy requirements.**

 

 

LA's First Electric Street LIght

 
(ca. 1882)* - One of the first of seven electric street lights installed in the City of Los Angeles at Main Street and Commercial Street in 1882. It stood 150 feet tall.  

 

Historical Notes

In 1882, C. L. Howland installed seven 150-foot tall streetlight masts, each carrying three carbon-arc lamps of three thousand candle-power. He also installed a small power plant to provide the electricity for his new street light system.

In 1883, Howland and other investors would go on to form the California Electric Light Company (changed to Los Angeles Electric Company within a year). It was the first electric utilty in Los Angeles.*

Click HERE to see more in First Electricity in Los Angeles.

 

 

 
(ca. 1882)* - Another look at one of LA's first electric light poles. View is of the buildings on the east side of North Main Street at Commercial Street at near right, looking toward the Baker Block. A man can be seen standing on a platform half way up the street light mast.  

 

Historical Notes

Approximately 30, 150-foot tall poles with carbon-arc lamps were installed in Downtown Los Angeles between 1882 and about 1885.  These were reported to provide illumination equal to the level of a full moon.^^

 

 

 

 
(1880s)^ - Photo of a drawing showing Main Street looking north from atop the Temple Block.  Baker Block is just right of center. This vantage point is now occupied by City Hall. This gives a good view of where one of the first 150-ft. tall street light poles stood.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1889)^ - A parade on Main and Temple streets, looking north. The City's new 150-foot tall electric light pole can be seen in the center of the photo.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1890)*^ – Close-up detail view showing a 150-ft tall streetlight in Boyle Heights.  

 

Historical Notes

On New Year's Eve of 1882, with much less reportage and ceremony, and only twenty-four hours after electric lights were introduced to Los Angeles, the electric light mast at First Street and Boyle Avenue was switched on.

There were four other locations in Boyle Heights and East LA.   (Using present-day street names) they were Avenue 22 and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights (the area was then called East Los Angeles), First Street and Central Avenue, Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, and Sixth and Main streets.^##

 

 

 

 
(1889)^## – Sketch found on a map published in 1889 of the William Workman property and vineyards in Boyle Heights.  The “Electric Light” mast is plainly seen and identified on the upper left.   

 

Historical Notes

These maps were generally produced to promote a subdivision, neighborhood or city and prominent features, like the light mast, were given attention as part of selling a well-planned and suitably outfitted area for potential buyers of property and structures.^##

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1890)*^ – View looking west toward Bunker Hill showing the impressive Brunson Mansion at center-right with the Rose Mansion at far left.  Note the 150-ft tall streetlight at center-left.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1892)^ - View showing one of the City's 150-ft tall streetlights in the residential area of Orange Street (later Wilshire Boulevard) at Lucas Avenue.  

 

Historical Notes

By the mid-1880’s there were over 240 of the new electriic 150-ft tall streetlights throughout the city.**

 

 

 
(1890s)^ - A sailboat and several row boats are seen on the lake at the City's new park, Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park). The hillside is beginning to be filled with new homes. The very tall pole in the background is one of the City’s new streetlights (150-ft tall).  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1895)^ - View of Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park) circa 1895. Transportation was still by horse and carriage (lower left of picture) and ladies carried parasols to shade themselves from the sun. The tall pole seen on the other side of the lake is one of the City's first 150-ft tall electric light poles  

 

 

 

 
(1896)*^ - View is looking east at Washington Boulevard from Main Street. There are storefronts on both sides of the wide dirt road. Horse-drawn carriages can be seen on the left as well as a very tall white streetlight with a small platform at the top. The platform is actually in the middle of the pole.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1899)#^^ – Panoramic view showing a train leaving the La Grande Station.  Standing tall In the background (center-left) is one Los Angeles’ first 150 ft. streetlights, installed to illuminate the railroad yard.  

 

 

 

 

LA's First Electric Light Power Plant

 
(1883)* - The first electric light plant in Los Angeles was built in 1882 by C. L. Howland (Los Angeles Electric Company) on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets.  

 

Article from LADWP's Historic Archives

“Los Angeles City is famed not only for its climate and for its oranges, but its electric light comes in as its crowning glory . . . "

This glowing eulogy depicts the enthusiasm 130 years ago when on December 30, 1882 the first streetlights were turned on in Los Angeles, illuminating the way to a pioneering age of growth and development for the expanding metropolis.

There had been a time in Los Angeles, a century ago, when a scattering of dimly lit gas lanterns, hanging from an occasional front porch, were the only traces of light on the otherwise darkened city streets. By law, early residents and business owners in the small pueblo of 12,000 were required to hang a lamp outside their doorway for the first two and one half hours of every dark night, or face a penalty of $2 for the first offense and $5 for each subsequent offense.

It was a vexing time for early Angelinos who could rarely leave their homes at night without stumbling about in the dark, toting candle-burning lanterns to find their way. A rumbling began among the citizenry for universal night lighting. The need for city dwellers to be able to find their way home, to have protection from crime, and to have greater illumination for stores and properties at night created fervor of support.

The interest was intensified in 1882 when Thomas Edison put his Pearl Street Station – the first commercial central station in the world – in operation on September 4 in New York. This was the start of the electric industry as it is known today.

The Edison plant supplied its light through incandescent lamps. A similar kind of lighting, in an improved form, was proposed for Los Angeles by C. L. Howland, representing the California Electric Light Company. While numerous proposals had been made, on September 11, 1882 the City Council unanimously voted to enter into a contract with Howland to “illuminate the streets of the city with electric light.”

At the time, it was a revolutionary idea. The proposal called for Howland, at his own expense, to erect seven, 150-foot-high masts each carrying three electric lights or lamps of three thousand candle-power. The masts were to be located in the heart of the city and its settle suburbs “which would be thoroughly and satisfactorily illuminated.”

Howland set quickly to work. He had received a deadline of December 1, 1882 to have the masts erected and electricity on. By October 25, he had purchased a lot on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets where he proceeded to erect a brick building, 50 by 80 feet, to house the boilers, engines and the 30kw, 9.6 ampere “Brush” arc lighting equipment for supplying the electric energy. Three weeks later, by November 16, the masts were in place and soon afterwards the pole lines and wires were strung along the streets leading to the masts.

By December the only hold-up was the delayed arrival of the dynamo and lamps. In growing anticipation, the citizens anxiously awaited the moment in history when the first streetlights would illuminate the night skies of Los Angeles. That moment came on December 30, 1882 before an admiring crowd of spectators. Mayor Toberman threw a switch at twenty minutes past eight, simultaneously lighting two mast tops, one at Main and Commercial and the other at First and Hill.

An account in the Express newspaper at the time, recounted the historic event in this way: “The Main Street light burned steadily and beautifully and it cast a light similar to that of the full moon on snow. The First Street light was very unsteady, glowing at times with brilliancy and again almost fading from sight. The only complaint so far is from young couples who find no shady spots on the way home from church or theatre.”

By the following evening, five more masts were lighted on First Street and Boyle Avenue; Avenue 22 and North Broadway; First Street and Central Avenue; Fourth Street and Grand Avenue; and Sixth and Main Streets.

The project was considered so successful that before the expiration of Holland’s two year contract, he and others had formed the Los Angeles Electric Company, which besides serving streetlights, supplied arc lights for commercial establishments.

From these early beginnings, engineers over the years have worked to improve lighting technology. In May 1905, the first ornamental post system in the city was introduced on Broadway between First and Main Streets. This installation consisted of 135 posts each equipped with six small glass globes, enclosing 16 candle-power amp, and one large glass globe, enclosing a 32 candle-power lamp. This system operated until 1919 when it was demolished to make way for a more modern system.

The progress of street lighting in the years hence has been truly phenomenal. The present electric system of the DWP is a far cry from the pioneer service of the Los Angeles Electric Company in 1883. Yet, this pioneering system paved the way for today’s sophisticated electric system, which like its predecessor still “illuminates the streets of the city with electric light." **

 

 

 

 
(1888)* - Banning Street Electrical Plant now showing two smokestacks. It appears that the building as been enlarged from its original footprint as seen in the previous 1883 photo. Click HERE to see more in Early Power Generation in Los Angeles.  

 

 

 

Early Street Lights - Bureau of Power and Light

 
(Early 1920s)* - Bureau of Power and Light crew working on an ornamental street light.  

 

LADWP Historical Archive

(1973) Despite the variety of designs, street lights are known as either electrolier or utilitarian types, according to Harvard Johnson, engineer in charge of Street Light Design. Customers own the electroliers --- lamps affixed to concrete or metal posts. The customer-owners of these are most likely the Department of Public Works or residents who form a private street lighting district.

The DWP owns the utilitarian lights. These are temporary lamps attached to wooden poles. Other agencies and lighting districts will eventually replace this type with the more modern electrolier systems. With both types, the DWP supplies the electrical energy, cleans the glassware, replaces lamps and glassware, and paints the electrolier posts. There are 191,000 electrolier standards and utilitarian lamps presently (1973) in the city.**

 


 
(Early 1920s)* - An electric powered street light truck used by the Bureau of Power and Light in the 1920s.  

 

 

 

 

 

(Early 1920s)* - Electric-powered street light truck with platform fully extended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Utilitarian Streetlights

 
(ca. 1920s)* - Early LA residential street light installation.  

 

 

 

 

 

 
(Early 1920s)* - Bureau of Power and Light worker changing out a hanging lamp in the middle of an intersection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Early 1930s)* - New street light being pulled up for installation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

(1933)* - L. G. Gould with a new and an old incandescent lamp at 30th and Trinity Streets.

 

 

 

 

Historical Notes

This marked the close of another era in the development of Los Angeles. The last arc light in the City was removed November, 1933 by L. G. Gould's street lighting section and replaced with a modern incandescent lamp.*

 

 

 

 
(1928)*^ – View showing a "Utilitarian" Streetlight attached to a wooden pole located at the apex of the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and N. Virgil Avenue. On the right is Jake's Market Fountain Cafe. Across Beverly on the left is the American Storage Building .   Barkies Sandwich Shop can be seen in the background where Beverly intersects with Temple Street.  

 

Historical Notes

"Utilitarian" Streetlights are lamps attached to an overhead wire or to a power pole.

 

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Early Street Light Electroliers

Streetlight "Electroliers" are defined as free-standing streetlights generally on their own posts.

 

 
(ca. 1905)*^ - View of Broadway looking north from Sixth Street. The 7-lamp ornate streetlights that ran along the sidewalk curb consisted of a large round bulb surrounded by six smaller ones.  

 

Historical Notes

In May 1905, the first ornamental post system in the city was introduced on Broadway between First and Main Streets. This installation consisted of 135 posts each equipped with six small glass globes, enclosing 16 candle-power amp, and one large glass globe, enclosing a 32 candle-power lamp. This system operated until 1919 when it was demolished to make way for a more modern system.**

 

 

 
(1907)*^ - View looking north on Broadway near 5th Street at dusk or dawn. Beautiful 7-lamp streetlights are illuminating the nearly vacant street.  

 

 

 

 

 
 
(1909)^^# - From Los Angeles, California/The City Beautiful aka Report of the Municipal Art Commission for the City of Los Angeles.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1908)*^– Postcard view looking south on Broadway at night with the Bullock’s Department Store building in the background. An ornate 7-bulb lamp stands tall in the foreground adjacent to a horse-drawn wagon.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1910)*^ - View looking at the southwest corner of Broadway and 7th Street showing two ornate 7-bulb lamps on the corners with the Vogel Building and its onion-shaped tower in the background.  

 

 

 

 
(1910)^ - At right, a man stands under a multi-bulb electrolier located on the southeast corner of Broadway and 7th Street. Horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians share the road at the intersection and Bullock's Department Store can be seen across the street.  

 

 

 

 
(1910)^ - An evening crowd gathers under the marquee of the Hyman Theater at 802 S. Broadway, on the southwest corner of 8th and Broadway. Two boys stand under an ornate 7-bulb streetlight, one leaning on it.  

 

 

 

 
(1910)*** - A 7-bulb decorative streetlight stands in front of the LA County Building located at Broadway at Temple Street.  

 

 

 

 
(1905)* - Looking west from 5th and Hill streets. Ornate 5-bulb streetlights appear as far as the eye can see. The trees of Pershing Square are visible on the left, and the State Normal School, on the present site of the L.A. Public Library, Central Branch shows prominently in the background.  

 

Historical Notes

This five-globe streetlights (called Llewellyn) were originally installed on all streets in Downtown Los Angeles in the early 1900s.  Today, the last of these poles are still being used as architectural features in the gardens and malls adjacent to City Hall.^^

 

 

 
(1908)^^* - Close-up view of the same corner as previous photo, in 1908. The ornate 5-bulb streetlight can be seen in greater detail.  

 

 

 

 
(1910)^#^ - A beautiful 5-bulb electrolier stands on the corner of 5th and Olive streets. The Clune's Auditorium is seen on the north side of 5th Street across from Pershing Square. A horse-drawn carriage is seen parked by the curb while a streetcar is in the middle of the road.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1910)^ - View showing two ornate 5-bulb streetlamps standing on the corners at the intersection of First and Spring streets. The Wilson Building with its copula is seen on the southeast corner.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1912)^ - Early view of Van Nuys Boulevard, looking north. Note the ornate 5-lamp light posts along the sidewalks. These lamps were also installed in front of most of the old mansions in Downtown LA.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1913)*** – Night view looking south on Sherman Way (later Van Nuys Boulevard). Two rows of 5-lamp eletroliers illuminate the area showing two sets of tracks and an electrical pole line running down the commercial center of town.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1913)*** – Close-up detailed view showing a five light ornamental lamp.  Street sign on lamp post reads: SHERMAN WAY.  Sign on left reads:  “Electroliers Wired & Installed by   ____n Iron Works”.  Sign at right reads:  “Private Road – Exclusively for Autos”.  

 

 

 

 

 
(1914)^^* - View of a 3-lamp electrolier on the corner of Wilshire and Windsor boulevards. This is the west side of the 600 south block of Windsor Blvd. in Windsor Square. Both houses in the photo amazingly resemble some of the homes built today.  However, the house on the left was built in 1911 and the house on the right in 1914.  

 

 

 

 
(1919)^^* - View of Adams Street in 1919 showing inverted six-globe lighting posts along the parkway.  

 

Historical Notes

The six-globe streetlights were installed in the West Adams district beginning in 1903.^^*


 

 

 
(ca. 1924)*^ - A closer view of the six-globe electrolier in front of a Craftsman three story home, Adams Street, west of Figueroa Street.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1928)*^ - View looking south on Portland Street toward Adams Boulevard.  A six-globe streetlight stands in front of The Second Church of Christ Scientist (today the Art of Living Foundation) at 946 W. Adams Blvd.  

 

 

 

 
(1919)^ - View showing a multi-globe street light on the corner of 7th Street and Figueroa Street.  A small Standard Oil Company gas station is on the corner and behind it is the home of Samuel Calvert Foy, businessman and one-time LA Chief of Police, and also Foy's daughter, Mary E. Foy, the first woman to hold the position of City Librarian in 1880.  

 

Historical Notes

Carrol Avenue in Los Angeles, a two block long street, now has an international reputation for restored Victorian homes, c.1880 - 1910. Three, four and five globe authentic fixtures taken from various locations in the City and which date from that era now grace both sides of Carrol Avenue.^^

 

 

 
(ca. 1920)^ - View of Spring Street looking south from 2nd Street. The five-bulb electrolier can be seen on both sides of the street.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920)*^ - Exterior view the old Federal Building and Post Office on the corner of Temple Street and Main Street. A multitude of five-lamp ornate streetlights surround the building.  

 

 

 

 
(1922)^ - Exterior view of the Masonic Temple located on Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and La Brea. Note the two ornate 5-bulb streetlights in front of the building.
 

 

 

 

 

 
(1925)^#* - View of the front entrance to the Pantages Theatre. The beautiful curved marquee reads: Irene Rich in "Compromise" and Buzington's Rube Band. Note the ornate 5-lamp streelight posts in front of the theatre.  

 

 

 

  (1920s)^^ - A worker is perched at the end of a crane while installing a new two-lamp streetlight assembly as two men watch below.

 

Historical Notes

Replacing the five-globe Llewellyn in Downtown Los Angeles and extending outward along several major streets, hundreds of dual-lamp electroliers (UM 1906's) were installed in the mid 1920's.^^

 

 

 

 
(1924)*^ – The new light posts were 24 feet in height and manufactured by Keystone Iron & Steel Works of Los Angeles.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - A dual-lamp UM-1906 electrolier is seen in the foreground on Spring St. between 2nd and 3rd Streets.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1927)*^ - View looking north on Figueroa from just south of Washington Boulevard.  A paperboy dressed in light-colored clothing stands at the center of the street to the right hawking papers while cars pass him on either side.  A dual-lamp UM-1906 electrolier stands in the foreground.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)*^ - A two-lamp ornate electrolier is seen here on the corner of West 12th Street and South Broadway. A street light with a sign reading "Go" hanging from its side can be seen to the left of the lamp post, while a fire hydrant can be seen to the right.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - A busy scene with pedestrians and city traffic in this view of Broadway and 5th looking north, showing the new UM 1906 two-lamp electroliers as far as the eye can see.  

 

 

 

 
(1922)* - View of the Loew's State Theatre building located at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Streets.  On the right is a close-up view of the two-lamp electrolier the was so prevalent starting in the 1920s.   

 

 

 

 
(1926)* - A view of Broadway looking north from 7th Street showing a 2-lamp streetight (UM-1906) standing tall on the S/E corner as hundreds of people walk by.  

 

Historical Notes

The ornate streetlight seen above is also referred to as the 'Broadway Rose'. It was so named for the distinctive climbing rose design on the post. The Broadway Rose only appeared on Broadway. 

 

 

 

 
(1930)*^ – Close-up view looking at a 2-lamp streetight (UM-1906) on the southwest corner of Broadway and 7th Street. These electroliers are seen running up and down both sides of Broadway.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - The 1st St. Bridge as viewed from across the street. A trolley and several cars can be seen driving across the bridge. Note the ornate streetlight design on the bridge. It consists of a three-prong configuration with the center bulb taking on a different shape than that of other two.  

 

Historical Notes

Special ornamentation was common on bridges constructed between 1900 - 1925.  These poles serve two purposes:   1) to hold the decorative streetlight lanterns and  2) to support the overhead for the Los Angeles Railway (LARy) streetcars that used the bridge.^^

 

 

 
(ca. 1923)*^ – View looking at the northeast corner of Hill and 12th streets showing the back side of the Examiner Building.  An ornate 5-bulb streetlight stands on the corner with a line of billboards behind it.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1923)*^ - Hill Street and 1st looking north toward the Hill Street Tunnel. Ornate 5-lamp electroliers appear on the east side of the Hill Street.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1924)*^ - Decorative 5-bulb streetlight lamps can be seen running down both sides of Main Street near 4th.  

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1925)^ - Exterior view of the Bullard Block located on the northeast corner of Spring and Court streets. At one time the building housed the courthouse. Note the ornate 5-bulb lamps on the corners.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1920s)* - Residential streetlight lamp on Fourth Street. Note that the street sign is attached directly to the streetlight concrete post.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1925)* - Single-lamp streetlights in a residential area. View is south on Serrano Ave. from the corner of Franklin showing a tree-lined street with well-kept lawns in the Los Feliz district, built in the early 1920s.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1926)^ - View of the HOLLYWOODLAND sign with homes seen in the foothills. Note the single-bulb streetlight on the right. This was the type of lamp used in Hollywood's residential neighborhoods during this time period. Click HERE to see more Early Views of 'Hollywoodland'.  

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1926)^ - Two-lamp electroliers are seen along the side of the walkway at Venice Beach.  

 

 

 

 
(1928)*^ – View looking west on Pico Boulevard at Bonnie Brae Street.  Note the ornate 5-bulb lamposts on the corners.  

 

 

 

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References and Credits

* DWP - LA Public Library Image Archive

^ LA Public Library Image Archive

*^USC Digital Library

**LADWP Historic Archive

^^Bureau of Street Lighting Image Archive

#*Library of Congress: 4th and Lorena Street Bridge Light

#^San Fernando Valley History Digital Library - CSUN Oviatt

#+Facebook.com: Classic Hollywood/Los Angeles/SFV

***Huntington Digital Library Archive

*^^Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles - losangelespast.com

^^*Noirish Los Angeles - forum.skyscraperpage.com; Windsor-Wilshire

^^^California State Library Image Archive

^**Vintage Los Angeles: Trocadero Nightclub ; Hollywood and Vine

*^*Photo Ramblings - Garth Buckles

^*^Mail Online - Daily Mail Reporter

**^Flicker: Tripod2011

^#^LA Times: Amestory Building

*#*Flicker: smgerdes - 4th Street Bridge Lights

*#^LAPL-El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Photo Archive

^#*Facebook.com - Los Angeles Theatres: Warner Bros. Downtown

**#San Fernando Valley Relics - Facebook.com: Van Nuys Blvd., Ca. 1940

^^#Flickr.com: Michael Ryerson

*^#Facebook.com - Bizarre Los Angeles

^*#California State Library Image Archive

^##Boyle Heights History Blog: Introduction of Electric Light to Boyle Heights

+##MartinTurnbull.com: Fairfax and Wilshire

#**Facebook.com - Vintage LA

#*^Facebook.com - San Pedro's Original Website, San Pedro.com

#^*Facebook.com: West San Fernando Valley Then And Now

#^^Facebook.com - Bizarre Los Angeles

^* Wikipedia: Los Angeles Country Art Museum; Hollywood Playhouse (Avalon Hollywood); MacArthur Park

 

 

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