Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Two Photographer Programs in November

Photo Friends and the Los Angeles Public Library invite you to two special November programs, celebrating local photographers William Reagh and George Mann.

First up is the Southern California release party for The Book Club of California's new book, William Reagh: A Long Walk Downtown, Photographs of Los Angeles & Southern California 1936-1991. Reagh's son Patrick, and Michael Dawson will be giving a presentation, and light refreshments will be served afterwards.

Saturday, November 3rd, 2pm.
Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library
630 W. 5th Street, 90071

Next is "George Mann's Lost Los Angeles." The Los Angeles Visionaries Association, the On Bunker Hill time travel blog, the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and Photo Friends present an evening celebrating the photographic work of the late George Mann (1905-1977) as it was meant to be seen: in jaw-dropping Kodachrome 3-D. George Mann’s rediscovered color images of mid-century Los Angeles are astonishing, and a must-see for anyone who loves the city and wants to know it better. The event celebrates the recent donation by the George Mann Archive of a portfolio of Bunker Hill prints to the Los Angeles Public Library.

Wednesday, November 14th, 6pm
Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library
630 W. 5th Street, 90071

Both events are free and open to the public. No reservations required. 

Additional info for visiting Central Library can be found here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Visions of Romance: Christine Sterling's Quest for Change

By Zoey Smith - 2012 Getty Intern - LAPL Photo Collection

Christine Sterling was born Chastina Rix in Oakland, 1881. She briefly attended Mills College before she married (twice) and moved to Los Angeles. She and her husband had two children before he died and left her a widow.

Portrait of Christine Sterling, order# 00037035
Olvera Street was established when Los Angeles was first settled in the late 18th century. However, by the 1920s, the site of the original settlement had become a dirty, rundown area with a shady reputation. As Ms. Sterling explored the historic area, she was taken aback by the filth and neglect, especially since she had been drawn to the city in part by promises of “old Missions, rambling adobes – the ‘strumming of guitars and the click of castanets.” She thought it important that the roots of the city be recognized, and saw the potential in this “birthplace of Los Angeles.” In a 1933 booklet, Sterling wrote, “I closed my eyes and thought of the Plaza as a Spanish-American social and commercial center, a spot of beauty as a gesture of appreciation to México and Spain for our historical past.”

Olvera Street before improvement (Avila Adobe second building on left), order# 00008510 
Ms. Sterling became especially interested in the Avila Adobe, the oldest existing residence in Los Angeles. The building was established by Don Francisco Avila, the 1810-1811 mayor of Los Angeles, but was set to be demolished. In 1928, after a final condemnation notice had been posted on the door of the adobe, Ms. Sterling posted her own sign in front of the adobe which ended with a call to action: “Let the people of Los Angeles show honor and respect to the history of their city by making sacred and inviolate the last of the old landmarks and that spot where the city of Los Angeles was born."

Avila Adobe as it looked in 1890, order# 00078892
Although Christine Sterling initially had difficulty drumming up support, the increase of media coverage brought her struggle to the attention of influential people. Sterling turned to Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, for help. In her diary, she praised his willingness to “talk Idealism and Sentiment," and noted that it was “a privilege to have talked to him.” Chandler became interested in her cause and helped her gain financial support from prominent businessmen. All the materials necessary to repair the house itself were donated. In addition, the Los Angeles County Sheriff promised to have prisoners perform the labor required to repave the street and repair surrounding buildings.

Portrait of Harry Chandler, order# 00040899
In September of 1929, the street was closed to vehicles, and work began on November 7. In addition to repaving and repairs, reconstruction involved lowering the level of the street and building stalls, or puestos, which would be given to families from Mexico for use as shops. On April 19, 1930, Olvera Street opened to the public. Ms. Sterling dubbed the street “El Paseo de Los Angeles,” thrilled that her dreams of celebrating the city’s roots had come to fruition. Not only had she created a thriving Mexican marketplace, which currently attracts over two million visitors every year, she had brought attention to the historic neighborhood, and ensured the preservation of many historic buildings.

Christine Sterling, however, was far from finished. Not only was she the “Mother of Olvera Street,” she also headed another neighborhood reconstruction project, China City. In the early 1930s, the construction of a new Union Station in the midst of Old Chinatown caused the dislocation of thousands of Chinese residents. Sterling attempted to recreate her Olvera Street success with China City. She envisioned a small town with an “exotic” atmosphere, something that would cater to the public’s romantic idea of Chinese culture. China City was competing with Peter SooHoo’s plan for “New Chinatown,” but was the first community to open. Bounded by Ord, N. Spring, Macy (now Cesar E Chavez Ave.), and North Main Streets, China City opened on June 7 1938.

Gateway to China City in 1938, order# 00057486
China City offered rickshaw rides, traditional Chinese performances, temples, restaurants, and shops. The community provided an opportunity for many Chinese residents who were searching for ways to support themselves. It was, after all, a tourist attraction, complete with replicas of the set from the movie The Good Earth. The American taste for Chinese culture was increasing, and many Chinese took advantage of this.
Chinese vendor in China City, ca. 1940, order# 00073248
However, in 1939, a large fire caused extensive damage to China City. Christine Sterling decided to rebuild the damaged areas, and China City was soon reopened.

China City after the fire, 1939, order# 00057491
China City remained a fixture of the community for almost ten years, serving as a center of business and tourism as well as a place to gather and celebrate festivals such as Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival. However, in 1948, China City would again succumb to a devastating fire, and would never be rebuilt. Although China City succeeded in attracting visitors and creating a Chinese community, it ultimately did not succeed in the way that Christine Sterling’s previous project, Olvera Street, did.

Despite the success of Olvera Street (and the short-lived success of China City), Christine Sterling’s vision was not without problems. She has been criticized for romanticizing Mexican and Chinese cultures and exploiting stereotypes. While Olvera Street was received well and has become a much-loved Los Angeles landmark, many Chinese resented China City for its artifice, instead supporting Peter SooHoo’s New Chinatown plan. As Chinese-American author Lisa See said to the Los Angeles Times, "China City was supposed to be an 'authentic' Chinese city, but was pure fantasy and stereotype." 

Pagoda Gift Shop in China City, order# 00057495
This fantasy can be seen in Sterling’s writings on Olvera Street:
“Life in Los Angeles before the Americans came was an almost ideal existence. People lived to love, to be kind, tolerant, and contented. Money of which there was plenty was just for necessities. The men owned and rode magnificent horses. The women were flower-like in silk and laces. There were picnics into the hills dancing at night, moonlight serenades, romance and real happiness.”
Christine Sterling kept this romantic vision in mind as she worked to bring these golden days to life. She was ultimately satisfied with the result, writing in her diary, “The surface of the old street felt again the touch of dainty slippers and polished boots. Romance sings the love songs of yesterday.”

Flawed though they were, Christine Sterling’s visions demonstrate her passion for Los Angeles and its history, her shrewd mind for business, and her determination to effect change where she saw a need.

Christine Sterling in 1963, order# 00037036


Cheng, Suellen and Munson Kwok. “The Golden Years of Los Angeles Chinatown: The Beginning.” Old Chinatown Los Angeles. Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

Poole, Jean Bruce. “Christine Sterling.” The Historical Society of Southern California.

Rasmussen, Cecilia. “How ‘The Mother of Olvera St.' Got Her Moniker.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Apr. 2005.

Sterling, Christine. “Olvera Street: Its History and Restoration.” Los Angeles: Adobe Studios, 1933. Print.

All photos from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Silent Footsteps: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd in Downtown Los Angeles

Part of the free lecture series, LA in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection

Silent Footsteps
Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm
Taper Auditorium, Central Library

The silent-era comedians filmed extensively on the streets of Los Angeles, capturing everyday life in the background of their films. Using archival photographs, vintage maps, and scores of then and now comparison photographs, author John Bengtson will lead a virtual tour across the lost-and-found neighborhoods of Bunker Hill, Court Hill, and the downtown Los Angeles Historic Core, as documented in the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. 

John Bengtson is a business lawyer, film historian, and author. His latest book, Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd, follows Silent Echoes about Buster Keaton, and Silent Traces about Charlie Chaplin, to complete his highly acclaimed trilogy about the giants of silent film comedy, hailed by the New York Times as a “Proustian collage of time and memory, biography and history, urban growth and artistic expression.” Each book features a foreword by Academy Award winning film historian Kevin Brownlow. Bengtson is a frequent speaker at events hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and has provided bonus programs for several Keaton and Chaplin DVD/Blu-ray releases. Those unable to attend may access written tours at

Sponsored by the Photo Collection and the Art, Music, & Recreation Department; presented by Photo Friends

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Heroes, Villains, Jedi
The Fan Convention Portraits

The Photographer's Eye with KEVIN KNIGHT
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 @ 12:15 pm
Meeting Room A, Central Library (just off the Fifth St. entrance, bring your lunch)

Please join us for a presentation of Kevin's fan convention portraits--this will be a super-fun talk!

The Photographer's Eye is a FREE lecture series presented by Photo Friends of the LAPL. The Photographer's Eye series for 2012 is generously sponsored by Christy & Steve McAvoy.

For information, visit
Parking is available at 524 S. Flower St. Garage (show your LAPL library card at the Central Library’s information desk to receive a validation for reduced rates). Handicap accessibility available.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

L.A. in Focus: Images from the LAPL Photo Collection 
Saturday, June 9 @ 2:00 p.m.
Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library

David Davis, author of Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze, presents images of the 1932 & 1984 Los Angeles Olympics from the LAPL Photo Collection. From Babe Didrikson, Eddie Tolan and Buster Crabbe to Carl Lewis, Joan Benoit, Michael Jordan and Mary Lou Retton. Just in time for this summer's London Olympics.

O.J. Simpson carries the Olympic torch before the start of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Credit: Javier Mendoza

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Coming This Weekend!
Painting, Bombing and Buffing L.A.'s Freeway Walls: The Birth, Life and Slow Death of the Olympic Festival Murals 1983-2012.
Sat. May 12 @ 2 pm. 
Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library 
Stefano Block will discuss the murals based on in-depthethnographic research conducted on the graffiti community and historical research conducted on L.A.’s Chicano and mainstream muralist traditions. Bloch argues that two decades of bad policy, belligerent graffiti abatement, and combative freeway bombers conspired to turn aesthetically inviting freeway walls into alienating beige eyesores. He will also be showing images from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and sharing excerpts from his personal archive of interviews, images, and reflections that focus on the appearance of L.A.’s public walls.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kevin Roderick Presents the Valley Times Collection

Photograph caption dated October 9, 1956 reads, "Members of 'Throttle Queens' put last touches to their pride and joy, club coupe which will compete against male-driven car at the San Fernando Drag Strip. From left are Wilma Brown, Pat Marian, Pat Field, the driver, and June Minnich. Car hit 97 miles per hour and won trophy in its division."(Valley Times Collection, order# 00082875)

This Saturday, March 10th, Kevin Roderick, local journalist, blogger, KCRW commentator and author of "The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb," presents images from the Los Angeles Public Library's Valley Times collection. Published in North Hollywood from 1946-1970, the Valley Times captured the social clubs, science fairs, and shopping malls of the post-War San Fernando Valley.

2pm in the Mark Taper Auditorium at Central Library.

Additional info can be found here:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Week Offers Not One, but Two Programs!

Hi Photo Fans,

We hope you will be able to join us for one (or both) of the programs we have scheduled at Central Library this week.

The first is on Wednesday, Feb. 15th at 12:15pm in Meeting Room A. Beth Ann Guynn, curator of the exhibition,"A Nation Emerges: The Mexcian Revolution Revealed," (Central Library, Getty Gallery September 8, 2011–June 3, 2012), discusses the emerging practice of photojournalism during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Please feel free to bring your lunch. Free and open to the public.

Our second program is on Saturday, Feb 18th at 2:00pm in the Taper Auditorium. The early days of silent cinema included more than just films. Join Galen Wilkes as he reveals the fascinating story of the Illustrated Song - once a standard on the program. Featuring a vocal performance by Miss Tyler Azleton! History, humor, and censored material! Free and open to the public. Pre-show at 1:30 p.m.

Hope to see you there!