When Los Angeles developed from a small town of one- and two-story adobe buildings, to a larger town in the 1870s, the business district of Los Angeles grew from the Plaza south along Main Street. The Baker Block, opened in 1878, was an impressive example of Second Empire architecture that marked a turning point from small town to a rapidly growing, major city that would eventually rival San Francisco as commercial capital of the Western United States, and go on to become a major world city.
400–500 block of N. Main St., from the Los Angeles Plaza south to Arcadia
East side, 400–500 block of N. Main St.
Pico House was a luxury hotel built in 1870 by Pío Pico, a successful businessman who was the last Mexican governor of Alta California. With indoor plumbing, gas-lit chandeliers, a grand double staircase, lace curtains, and a French restaurant, the Italianate three-story, 33-room hotel was the most elegant hotel in Southern California. It had a total of nearly eighty rooms. The Pico House is listed as California Historical Landmark #159.
Masonic Hall at 416 N. Main St., was built in 1858 as Lodge 42 of the Free and Accepted Masons. The building was a painted brick structure with a symbolic “Masonic eye” below the parapet. In 1868, the Masons moved to larger quarters further south. Afterward, the building was used for many purposes, including a pawn shop and boarding house. It is the oldest building in Los Angeles south of the Plaza.
The Merced Theater, completed in 1870, was built in an Italianate style and operated as a live theatre from 1871 to 1876. When the Woods Opera House opened nearby in 1876, the Merced ceased being the city’s leading theatre. Eventually, it gained an “unenviable reputation” because of “the disreputable dances staged there, and was finally closed by the authorities.”
West side, 400–500 block of N. Main St.
This Plaza House is a two-story building at 507–511 N. Main St. houses part of the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which includes the Vickrey -Brunswig Building next door. It is inscribed “Garnier Block” on its upper floor, but there were two Garnier Blocks, and the one known by that name today is the Garnier Block/Building on Los Angeles Street, one block away. Commissioned in 1883 by Philippe Garnier, Plaza House once housed the “La Esperanza” bakery.
The Vickrey-Brunswig Building, a five-story brick building facing the Plaza at 501 N. Main St. houses LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which also occupies the Plaza House next door. It was built in 1888 and combines Italianate and Victorian architecture; the architect was Robert Brown Young.
The Sentous Block or Sentous Building (19th c., demolished late 1950s) was located at 615-9 N. Main St., with a back entrance on #616-620 on what is now called North Spring St., previously called Upper Main St., then San Fernando St. It was designed in 1886 by Burgess J. Reeve. Louis Sentous was a French pioneer in the early days of Los Angeles. The San Fernando Theatre was located here. The site is now part of the El Pueblo parking lot.
300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)
East side, 300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)
The Baker Block, 334–348** N. Main at the southeast corner of Arcadia Street, opened late 1878, Second Empire architecture. The Baker Block was erected on the site of Don Abel Stearns’ adobe mansion also called El Palacio, built in 1835-1838 and demolished in August and September of 1877; Col. Robert S. Baker who had the Baker Block built, had married Stearns’ widow, Arcadia Bandini de Stearns Baker. When built, it was called the “finest emporium of commerce south of San Francisco”. The ground floor housed retail tenants such as Coulter’s (1879–1884), George D. Rowan and Eugene Germain. The second floor was offices, and the third floor held the city’s most upscale apartments. In 1919, Goodwill Industries bought the building and opened its store and operations. That is not to say though, that nobody fought to save the building. The Metropolitan Garden Association tried to move the Baker Block to another location for use as a public recreation center, while city councilman Arthur E. Briggs raised funds to convert the building into a city history museum. Nonetheless, in 1941, Goodwill sold the building to the city, which demolished it in 1942. Currently, the US 101 freeway, and the new, more southerly route of Arcadia Street, run over most of the site.
South of the Baker Block
South of the Baker Block stood buildings that are now the site of the northwestern-most part of the Los Angeles Mall:
- Downey Building (not to be confused with the “Downey Block”), 324–330** N. Main, opened 1878, three stories, captured in a 1957 color photo standing alone as the last building on the block, demolished that year. In the 1930s photo above, it is home to the Librería Española.
- Grand Central Hotel, opened 1876, later rebranded as part of the St. Charles Hotel, demolished.
- Pico Building, 318-322** N. Main, opened 1867, the city’s first bank building, to house the new Hellman, Temple & Co. bank, then in 1871 the first location of Hellman’s own bank Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles, forerunner of Security Pacific National Bank. Later tenants included the Los Angeles County Bank (1874-1878), Charles H. Bush, jeweler and watchmaker (1878-1905), Louis E. Pearlson’s jewelry, loan and pawnshop (from 1905), as well as several barber shops and then a succession of owner-operated restaurants. The last occupants were a jewelers and the Mexican restaurant Arizona Cafe #2. Demolished in 1957.
- Bella Union Hotel, later the St. Charles Hotel, 314–316** N. Main. Opened 1835, demolished 1940. Home to the Azteca Cafe in the 1930s.
- 312 N. Main, two stories, home to a saloon in the mid-1890s
- 306–308 N. Main, three stories, home to offices (at #308) and Bright’s Cheap Store (#306) in 1882.
- Ducommun Block or Ducommun Building, 300-2-4** N. Main (200-2-4* N. Main). In the 1880s, home to the Ducommun hardware store, a furniture store and Prager Dry Goods. In the early 20th century, site of the Security Pacific National Bank. Home to the Federal Theatre from c. 1913–1917.
The Los Angeles Mall replaced these blocks; it is a small shopping center at the Los Angeles Civic Center, between Main and Los Angeles Streets on the north and south sides of Temple Street, connected by both a pedestrian bridge and a tunnel. It features Joseph Young‘s sculpture Triforium, with 1,500 blown-glass prisms synchronized to an electronic glass bell carillon. The mall opened in 1974 and includes a four-level parking garage with 2,400 spaces. As of 2020 there were plans to replace it with mixed-use development with a design that would create a continuous, attractive pedestrian corridor between City Hall and Little Tokyo.
West side, 300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)
This block is now part of the Spring Street Courthouse block. Buildings previously located here include:
- Lafayette Hotel, 343 N. Main, opened in the 1850s, c. 1882 renamed the Cosmopolitan Hotel, then the St. Elmo Hotel. Razed in 1933.
- Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles location from 1874 through 1883, after leaving their original quarters in the Pico Building across Main Street. Architect Ezra F. Kysor.
200 block of N. Main St. (Commercial to Temple/Requena)
East side, 200 block of N. Main St. (Commercial to Requena)
- #240 Farmers and Merchants Bank was located here in 1896
- #236 Los Angeles Savings Bank was located here in 1896
- #226-8 Commercial Bank, renamed First National Bank in 1880, was located here in 1896.First National Bank was located here in 1896.
#214–222 (pre-1890 numbering: 74): New Lanfranco Block, built 1888, architects Curlett, Eisen & Cuthbertson Site of the Old Lanfranco Block, demolished in 1888.
West side, 200 block of N. Main St. (Commercial to Temple)
Northwest corner of Temple and Main
On this corner stood four buildings in succession, the first two of which had a key role in the history of retail in Southern California.
100 block of N. Main (Requena to Temple)
East side, 100 block of N. Main (Requena to Temple)
West side, 100 block of N. Main St. (Temple to 1st)
West side, 100 block of N. Main St.
This block has been occupied by Los Angeles City Hall since 1928. A description of what was there before is as follows (from north to south, that is, from Temple St. south to First St.):
- Temple and Main. Before 1926, Spring St. met Main St. at Temple. From Temple, Main and Spring streets proceeded south; Spring at a more southwesterly angle. This created a narrow triangle with the triangle’s northern point at Temple. Proceeding south along Main on the right-hand (west) side you would pass along the eastern edge of Temple Block.
- At the end of Temple Block, the intersection with Market Street.
- On the south side of Market was the Clock Tower Courthouse until it was demolished in 1895, and then the Bullard Block was built in its place.
- On the south side of the Clock Tower Courthouse, and later the Bullard Block, was Court Street.
- Illich’s Restaurant and Oyster Parlors, 41–43 (pre-1890 numbering)/145–7 (post-1890)** N. Main St.. Starting in the 1870s as a small chophouse, Illich’s grew to be the largest restaurant in the city. Owner Jerry Illich was born in Dalmatia. He was connected with the Maison Doree restaurant at 4th and Main and later opened his own restaurant in 1896 on west 2nd Street between Broadway and Hill.
- Northwest corner of First and Main streets.
100 block of S. Main St.
East side, 100 block of S. Main St. (1st to 2nd)
West side, 100 block S. Main St.
Southwest corner of 1st and Main
Third and Main
On the corner of 3rd and Main were located:
- Wells Fargo and Co. offices, northwest corner of 3rd/Main as of 1894
- The Thom Block, southeast corner of Mayo/Third and Main as of 1894
- Schwartz Block and Jackson House, southwest corner of 3rd/Main as of 1894
**house or building number according to the current numbering system which has been in place since 1890. First and Main streets are the dividers and numbers start with 100. Previously, numbers started at 1, so the old 1 S. Main Street on the southeast corner of 1st St. became the new 101 S. Main St.. 2 S. Main St. at the southwest corner of 1st St. became 100 S. Main St.
Notes and further information
125. Lois Ann Woodward (1936). “Merced Theater” (PDF). State of California, Department of Natural Resources.
126. Rose L. Ellerbe (1925-10-25). “City’s Progress Threatens Ancient Landmarks: Structures Once City’s Pride Now Hidden in Squalor”. Los Angeles Times.
127. “Plaza House”, Library of Congress
128. “Plaza House”, Water and Power Associates
129. “LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, Vickrey-Brunswig Building”, Los Angeles Conservancy
130. Louis Sentous biography, Bridge to the Pyrenees
131. “San Fernando Theatre”, Los Angeles Theatres
132. plate 003 of the 1910 Baist Real Estate Survey
133. “Lafayette Hotel”, Water and Power Associates
134. “Federal Site’s Razing Starts”. Los Angeles Times. February 10, 1933. p. 32.
135. “The Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank”. Los Angeles Herald. June 14, 1874. p. 3.
136. “Farmers and Merchants Bank”, Water and Power Associates
137. “The Jacoby Brothers: Pioneer Jewish Merchants of Los Angeles”. Jewish Museum of the American West. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
138. Wilson, Karen (3 May 2013). Jews in the Los Angeles Mosaic. p. 6. ISBN 9780520275508.
139. “Maurice Kremer: Very Early Pioneer Jewish Merchant and Civil Servant of Los Angeles”. Jewish Museum of the American West. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
140. Knapp, Dan “A Retail History on the Shelf”, USC News, November 12, 2010, University of Southern California. Retrieved April 30, 2019
141. “Legal notice”. Los Angeles Express. February 15, 1878. p. 2.
142. Jump up to: a b General Services Administration page on the United States Court House (Los Angeles).
143. “The Baker Block”. Los Angeles Evening Express. February 11, 1879.
144. “Baker Block”, Water and Power Associates
145. “North Main Street building at the 101 Freeway coming down soon”, Huntington Digital Library
147. 1882 photo of east side of Main Street, “Early City Views”, Water and Power Associates
148. “Ducommun Building”, Water and Power Associates
149. “Federal Theatre”, Los Angeles Theaters
150. Plate 14, vol. 1 of 1896 Sanborn Fire Map of Los Angeles, via Library of Congress
151. “Main Street”, Calisphere
152. “Lanfranco Block”, Romanesque Revival Downtown
153. “To Be Replaced”. Los Angeles Herald. January 15, 1888. p. 9.
154. Ad, p.7, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1888
155. “United States Hotel”, Pacific Coast Architecture Database
156. “Jerry Illich” in the Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and of the Pioneers of Los Angeles County (1902) 5 (3): 309.
157. “Grand Opera House”, Los Angeles Theatres
158. “Fire: A quick, hot blaze on Main Street”. Los Angeles Mirror. October 24, 1885.
159.Sanborn 1894 map of Los Angeles, vol. 1, plate 9