This old postcard showed up on eBay the other day in the Los Angeles category. As you can see, it says it's "Broadway looking North from Sixth St." But right away, I thought, that's weird, if this is Broadway looking north from Sixth, then why can't I see old City Hall, or the County Court House on Pound Cake Hill? No, this can't be Broadway. Is it even Los Angeles? Yes, it is, absolutely. The square white building at right center is definitely the Pacific Mutual Building at Sixth and Olive Streets.
OK, so where exactly in old Los Angeles is this, then? Well, first of all, we are obviously looking west on Sixth. That's Central Park there at right (now Pershing Square), so that would be Hill Street at the east edge of the park, then coming this direction, the unseen street in front of us would be Broadway. That means the picture was taken from a location on Spring Street, and, judging by the angle and perspective, that vantage point would almost have to be the Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank at the northwest corner of Sixth and Spring. That's it! So, this postcard is actually "Sixth Street looking West from Spring St." And the date? It's postmarked 1912, and the L.A. Trust & Savings building... I believe that went up in 1910, so yeah, I'd say the photo for the postcard was probably taken then, in 1910.
Then I stop and think – I can recognize where I am in Los Angeles a century ago with perfect precision, but if I found myself at the same spot in downtown L.A. in 1999 (the last time I was there), I would have been almost completely lost.
What's funny is, I've acquired all this knowledge about the streets and buildings of old L.A. simply by casually viewing old images and maps I've found in online archives in only the last year or so. I've never actually sat down and studied any of this. I've just passively absorbed all this information, and have reconstructed most of turn-of-the-last-century Los Angeles in my imagination. These imaginings are so vivid now, they almost seem like real memories sometimes. It's so strange to feel so at home in a place and time as far away as this. Strange, but wonderful, too!