Main Street

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.

Main Street looking north from Temple, photo by T.E. Stanton, 1886. On the right (east) side of Main, the Baker Block is the prominent building towards the back. On the left from north (top) to south (bottom): the Cosmopolitan Hotel (later the St. Elmo), the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and at bottom left at the northwest corner of Temple St., the Downey Block with the Commercial Restaurant.
1910 Baist map of Main Street from the Los Angeles Plaza/Olvera Street area south to Temple. North of what is now US 101, the buildings around the Plaza largely are still intact. Below US 101, nothing original stands. The current buildings, the Spring Street Courthouse and the Los Angeles Mall, are shown in blue. The U.S. Post Office shown was, from 1871–1910, the location of the Downey Block, another important pioneer building.

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 in 1875
Pico House and the Plaza in 1876, photo looking west, taken from Fort Moore
Pico House, Merced Theater and Masonic Hall
Pico House today

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.[125] Eventually, it gained an “unenviable reputation” because of “the disreputable dances staged there, and was finally closed by the authorities.”[126]

West side, 400–500 block of N. Main St.

Sentous Block/Building, 1920
“La Placita” a.k.a. the Plaza Church, the church on the Los Angeles Plaza. Full name: La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (The Church of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels)
Vickrey-Brunswig Building
Vickrey-Brunswig Building and Plaza House

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.[127] 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.[128]

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.[129]

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.[130] The San Fernando Theatre was located here. The site is now part of the El Pueblo parking lot.[131][132]

300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)

East side, 300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)

Baker Block

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;[143] 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.[144]

The Abel Sterns adobe, c.1857. Built in 1835-8, demolished in 1877 to make way for the Baker Block. Site is on the east side of Main Street under the 101 freeway.
Lithograph of the Baker Block c.1880. Note the horse-drawn streetcars, which Los Angeles had from 1874 until 1897.

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 (“Libería Española”), Grand Central (“Osaka Co.”, “Chop Suey”), Pico (“Arizona Cafe”, “Money to Loan”), Bella Union/St Charles (“Azteca”), 312 and 306-8 buildings, 1930s.
  • 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.[145] 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.[146]
  • 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.[147]
  • 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.[148] Home to the Federal Theatre from c. 1913–1917.[149]

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.

c.late 1870s: the east side of Main Street just south of the Baker Block. From left (north) to right (south): What was originally the Grand Central Hotel now branded as part of the St. Charles, Bank of Los Angeles in the Pico Bldg., St. Charles hotel proper, 312 bldg. and L. Harris store, forerunner of Harris & Frank
Sketch of east side of the 300 block of North Main Street, between Arcadia and Commercial streets, as it looked around 1880. At far left is the Baker Block.
The Downey Building in 1957, when it was the last of the old buildings standing on this block.
View of the area in 2005. Main Street runs along the left (west) side of the Plaza (top left), and Pico House, Masonic Hall and Merced Theatre; over US 101 (site of the Baker Block); and along the western edge of the Los Angeles Mall (bottom center), site of the Downey, Pico and Ducommun buildings and the Grand Central, St. Charles and Bella Union hotels.

West side, 300 block of N. Main St. (Arcadia to Commercial)

The St. Elmo Hotel (originally called the Lafayette Hotel), around 1890

This block is now part of the Spring Street Courthouse block. Buildings previously located here include:

200 block of N. Main St. (Commercial to Temple/Requena)

1921 Baist map of the 100 and 200 blocks of N. Main Street. Notable buildings include the 1910 Post Office (previously the site of the Downey Block), the Lanfranco Block, the United States Hotel, the Bullard Block (previously site of the Clocktower Courthouse), the Phillips Block and the two McDonald blocks.

Market, Court, Requena (a.k.a. Market) and Commercial streets no longer exist, and Temple Street was extended east (for which the Lanfranco Block was demolished). Requena St. had actually been renamed Market St. at the time of this map.

East side, 200 block of N. Main St. (Commercial to Requena)

United States Hotel, SE corner Requena/Main. c.1880

Add photo –Triforium sculpture at the Los Angeles Mall just N of the NE corner of 1st/Temple, 2018.

Currently, this site is the southernmost end of the Los Angeles Mall; Triforium is approximately on the site of Commercial Street.[150]

  • #240 Farmers and Merchants Bank was located here in 1896[150]
  • #236 Los Angeles Savings Bank was located here in 1896[150]
  • #226-8 Commercial Bank, renamed First National Bank in 1880, was located here in 1896.[151]First National Bank was located here in 1896.[150]
#214–222 N. Main St. (pre-1890 numbering: #74 N. Main): the New Lanfranco Block, built in 1888, architects Curlett, Eisen & Cuthbertson.[152] This building had replaced the Old Lanfranco Block, demolished in 1888.[153][150]

#214–222 (pre-1890 numbering: 74): New Lanfranco Block, built 1888, architects Curlett, Eisen & Cuthbertson[152] 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.

View from the east side of Main St. looking NW at the Old Downey Block, c.1870,. This building was replaced by the “New” Downey Block (1871-1910). Retailers that got their start here included Harris & Jacoby,[137][138] forerunners to the Harris & Frank clothing chain and the large Jacoby Bros. department store; and M. Kremer,[139] forerunner of the Los Angeles City of Paris, not to be confused with the San Francisco store by the same name. Both stores’ signs are visible in the photo.
Looking west across Main St. at the south end of the Downey Block (1871-1910), at the NW corner of Temple/Main, 1880s. The Downey Block was replaced by the New Post Office in 1910. Retailers who were located here included Coulter’s (1878-9),[140] Jacoby Bros. (1878-9),[141] and Quincy Hall (1876–1882) (see Advertisement by L. Harris/Quincy Hall”. Los Angeles Herald.

Looking southwest at the north end of the Downey Block, which ran along the west side of Main St., 1887. Temple Block at left; Spring Street runs towards the Phillips Block (tower) in the background at center-left.
The new Post Office, also known as the Federal Building (1910–1937), replaced the Downey Block. Razed in 1937 and replaced by a new Federal Building now known as the Spring Street Courthouse, opened in 1940.[142]
The Spring Street Courthouse, built 1940, NW corner Temple/Main, 2008. Replaced the 1910 Post Office and Courthouse. Architects Gilbert Stanley Underwood and Louis A. Simon. At the time it was built it was the largest federal building in the Western United States.[142]

100 block of N. Main (Requena to Temple)

See map above

East side, 100 block of N. Main (Requena to Temple)

East side of Main St. at Requena in the 1940s.

At left, the Victorian building at 200–202 N. Main, northeast corner of Requena, housed the Southern Pacific ticket office in 1888.[154]

At center, the United States Hotel, 158–172 N. Main, southeast corner of Requena Street (also known as Market Street). Built in 1861-2, demolished in 1939. When built it was one of three hotels in the city, alongside the Bella Union and the Lafayette. It was ornate and Italianate in style, with a “profusion of brackets, corbel tables and oriel windows. On one end, a tower with a mansard roof lit by l’oeil de boeuf windows, poked up another story to signal the hotel’s location to travelers.”[155] The site is now the south plaza of the Los Angeles Mall.
The United States Hotel, 158–172 N. Main St., SE corner of Main and Requena.

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.[156]
  • Northwest corner of First and Main streets.

100 block of S. Main St.

1921 Baist map of the 100 block of S. Main St.

East side, 100 block of S. Main St. (1st to 2nd)

Two horsecars pass in a blur c.1889. Looking north along Main from just south of 1st Street. Grand Opera House at right. Towers of the United States Hotel at back, behind which the towers of the Baker Block.
Grand Opera House, 110 S. Main, sometime between 1884 and 1893. Built in 1884, demolished 1936, capacity c.1,300–1,800, in later years known as the Orpheum (Dec. 1894–Sep. 1903), Clune’s Grand (c.1912), The Grand Theatre (c.1920s), and Teatro México (1930s). (The Orpheum Circuit (circuit meaning “chain“) moved the Orpheum name to a different venue in 1903 at 227 S. Spring, and again in 1911 to what is now the Palace Theatre). This theater was the site of the first commercial showing of motion pictures in the city, when on July 6, 1896, several films from the Edison Studios were projected by Billy Porter, who would later become a famous silent film director. Appeared in the film in Busby Berkeley‘s Bright Lights (1st National/Warner Bros, 1935). Demolished in 1936 to make way for a parking lot.[157]
Orpheum Theatre when located at the Grand Opera House building, c.1898
Forster Block, 122–128 S. Main St. (post-1890 numbering), 22–28 S. Main St. (per-1890 numbering), was a two-story building built in the early 1880s, five doors south of the Grand Opera House. It housed a coffee house of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union at #26, heavily damaged in an 1885 fire, and a saddlery.[158]

West side, 100 block S. Main St.

Southwest corner of 1st and Main

Natick House, a hotel located in the Bernard Block, southwest corner South Main and West First Streets; shows Italianate style Commercial block building with molded arched windows, bracketed cornice, small cupolas; horse-drawn carts and wagons parked at curbside, men on sidewalk under awnings; street railroad tracks in foreground. Los Angeles; ca. 1900. Source: California State Library.

Third and Main

View of the south side of 3rd Street, looking east from Spring to Main Street, c.1887. In view: New York House, which had originally been the New York Brewery. Back left: The Thom Block. At back right: the Olmsted & Wales bookstore in the Panorama Building.
The Panorama Building, east side of Main between Mayo (3rd) and 4th, c.1890. The center entrance led through to the panorama exhibition space in the back. Note the Olmsted & Wales Panorama Bookstore, and the offices of the Evening Express. At right, the Hotel Westminster at the NE corner of 4th/Main.

On the corner of 3rd and Main were located:[159]

  • 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