Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A Drive Down 1951 Wilshire Blvd, LA, in Color

Clean and Pristine, Stark and Beautiful

Wilshire Boulevard, LA, in 1951
Wilshire Boulevard in 1951. You can see a Bank of America sign in the distance. Bank of America has a long history stretching back to 1784, but it acquired its name in 1922 with the formation of Bank of America, Los Angeles. It was considered an "immigrant's bank" for Italians in those days, though that reputation was quickly changing by 1951. Amadeo Pietro Giannini, who basically founded the modern Bank of America, had just passed away in 1949. 

I love peeks into the past that provide a new perspective on things we think we know about. New algorithms and apps enable old films to be enhanced to make them more enjoyable for modern audiences.
This film, restored by NASS on Youtube, shows Los Angeles, California, in 1951. That was an important year for LA because the Jack Webb television series "Dragnet" began that fall and showcased the city and its police department for the next twenty years. This film was likely made to provide background shots for films and television productions and, who knows, may even have been made with Dragnet in mind. We go up and down 1951 Wilshire in Los Angelese a few times but get different perspectives each time.

LA in 1951 movie theater
Would you like to go to the movies tonight? That new Richard Widmark picture is playing down on Wilshire.

We know the film is from 1951 because we see two movie marquees. They advertise "The Frogmen," a Richard Widmark film released on 29 June 1951, and "Fugitive Lady," a Janis Paige film filmed in Rome that was released in the U.S. on 15 July 1951. The NY Times called "Fugitive Lady" "meandering claptrap," However, "The Frogmen" fared better, earning two Academy Award nominations. In addition, if you have sharp eyes and know your car history, there are some 1951 models passing by.

Bomb Shelter for $795
Buy a cheap bomb shelter!

The film shows the scenery on Wilshire Boulevard. Do you need a bomb shelter? Get one cheap for the bargain price of $795! The Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb on 29 August 1949, and the fear of a nuclear holocaust permeated the 1950s. The May Company, seen in the background, was founded in Leadville, Colorado, in 1877. It effectively went out of business in 2005-06 when acquired by Federated. We see the La Brea tar pits park before all the development that later occurred around it.

A cafeteria on Wilshire
A Cafeteria on Wilshire. Traffic in those days was a bit more lively than it is now, with drivers "taking command of the intersection" as their driving instructors taught them.

Sometimes the things that you don't see are what matter, like in the Sherlock Holmes tale of the dog that didn't bark. Very few, if any, foreign vehicles. The numerous billboards don't feature any scantily clad models. You won't see any McDonald's or Burger Kings fast food joints in this film. McDonald's was founded in 1940 in San Bernardino but did not really expand beyond a few locations until 1955. White Castle predates McDonald's, but there aren't any on Wilshire. Burger King was not founded until 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Coffee Shop on Wilshire
A typical coffee shop on Wilshire.

In 1951, you went to a "Coffee Shop" or a "Deli" if you wanted lunch. These were not little, insignificant places off on some side street, either. They were bold, magnificent, and often the centerpiece of the block.

Street scene in LA 1951
So little traffic, you often had the road to yourself. I love the sharp angles and sleek styling in this capture.

If you're a fan of art deco, fastback cars, and empty roads, 1951 Los Angeles was the place to be. Some of the scenes look like they came out of an Edward Hopper painting like "Nighthawks" (1942).

Zoot Suit 1951 LA

Men's fashions were a bit baggier in the 1950s. That fellow in the foreground appears to be wearing a Zoot Suit, though I'm not enough of a fashion expert to be sure. If you needed rust-proof gasoline, Richfield was for you! That fellow in the billboard in the distance could have served as an inspiration for James Bond. Incidentally, Ian Fleming began writing his first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," at Goldeneye in Jamaica not long after this film on 17 February 1952.

Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951
Ralphs on Wilshire in 1951.

You may buy your groceries at Ralphs. Well, that chain has been around since 1873, founded in Los Angeles. It opened its most famous store, in Westwood, in 1929. This one a few miles away is pretty impressive, too. That's a sweet convertible in front of it.

Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire, LA in 1951
An Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Wilshire. The huge Arthur Murray sign dominated the Wilshire street view for miles.

Imagine driving on empty streets like this through the heart of LA today. Maybe at 3 in the morning, but not in the middle of the day. Oh, and if you want to be in pictures, you'd better know how to dance. There's an Arthur Murray Dance Studio over there if you need some lessons (founded in 1925, though he began a previous business that failed in 1912). Compared to Murray, Fred Astaire was the new kid on the block.

Coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire in 1951

Another coffee shop/bakery on Wilshire, with traffic looking like the wild west. Have some art you want to sell? Put up a folding table and a chair on Wilshire and have at it!

Well, I hope you enjoyed this tour down Wilshire in 1951. It hasn't changed that much, but really it's changed completely from the way it was back then. Just another example of how society marches on and completely remakes itself every few generations. Thanks for stopping by!

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