Then & Now: Streetcars along the Crenshaw/LAX Line alignment in the mid-1950s compared to those places today

For those who were interested in yesterday's “then & now” post from Florence Avenue, below are a few more then & now photos taken along or near the alignment for the Crenshaw/LAX Line project (the project map is at the end of this post).

One other note: all the streetcar photos were taken by Alan Weeks. His photography and tons of other photos of old streetcars, trains and buses that served the Los Angeles area can be seen on the Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream, which has 8,876 photos and is growing all the time.

Alan is now 81 and still shooting photos of transit — his photos of construction of the Gold Line Foothill Extension can be seen on the Metro Library's Flickr page.

A Los Angeles native, Alan has been interested in transit since he was 10. At 15, he started taking photos with his family's box camera. The photos below were taken with a 35mm SLR made in Germany with a 50mm Zeiss Tessor 2.8 lens and Kodachrome slide film. Kodachrome was known for its sharp colors but Kodak stopped manufacturing it a few years ago. (More below on photography then and now).

Alan worked for many years as a transit scheduler first with the RTD and later the MTA. He is now retired and — as he should be — very proud of his many years of public service.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Library & Transportation Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Library & Transportation Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

 

The top photo of an eastbound streetcar on 54th Street was taken in 1955, just a few steps east of Crenshaw Boulevard. The bottom photo was taken Thursday; the only real difference: there are no streetcars or Metro buses running anymore on 54th. The bus bench from 1955 is now gone.

Otherwise, all the buildings in the 1955 photo are still there in the 2013 photo. The brick building at right no longer has an awning over its ground-floor windows, but the 2nd story windows do have awnings. The billboard atop the building is still there. And the building on the opposite side of Crenshaw is still there, but the red roof of 1955 is now a green roof. I can't tell if the palm trees behind the green roof are the same. But I doubt it.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

 

The top photo was taken in 1955 looking north on Crenshaw Boulevard from 54th Street. The bottom photo was taken from a few feet to the left of that spot on Thursday.

The most obvious similarity is that the building with the rounded top at right is still there; it's now the Pacific Beauty College. I'm not sure what it was 58 years ago. The streetcar tracks down this stretch of Crenshaw were replaced by a median. The median will in the next few years be replaced by tracks for the Crenshaw/LAX Line.

A few other differences. Firestone is gone from Park Mesa Heights. Access roads were added to Crenshaw at some point, likely after the streetcars were gone. The access roads will disappear as part of the Crenshaw/LAX Line project — there will be a parking lane and bike lane.

I should have taken a photo of a bus here. I missed the first few southbound on Crenshaw. They had green lights and I didn't feel like playing chicken with traffic. Another day, people!

More photos after the jump!

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Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

 

The top photo was taken in 1955 just south of the intersection of Crenshaw & 67th, where streetcar tracks turned west toward Florence Avenue. I was standing in roughly the same spot, but everything has changed except for one thing — I think the billboard that can be seen behind the streetcar is the same one that nows advertises “Kick Ass 2.”

Progress, eh?

I believe the building with the Magnavox sign was torn down, with the corrugated fencing in the same spot. There is a building on the northwest corner of 67th/Crenshaw that could be the same, although the location seems too far north. The telephone poles at left in the 1955 photo may be the same as the ones in the bottom — there's one with nothing on the top and another that forms a simple 't'.

The old Crenshaw streetcar tracks are long gone, but the old Harbor Subdivision tracks that cross Crenshaw remain — although are inactive. The Crenshaw/LAX Line will follow the same path as the streetcar although the tracks will be underground between Crenshaw/60th and just east of the new Florence/West station.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

 

This was another tough one. Top photo was taken in 1955, the bottom one on Thursday at the intersection of Market and Queen in downtown Inglewood.

The obvious similarity is the Fox movie theater remains, although now shuttered. The marquee is still there, too, behind the trees that have grown in along Market Street. The United Artists theater is now gone. Several buildings on both sides of Market Street look old but I couldn't find any signs remaining from 1955.

No Metro buses run on Market Street, although several lines run in the area. The Crenshaw/LAX Line's Florence/La Brea station will be two blocks north of this spot.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation Library & Archive's Flickr stream.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The top photo was taken looking down Leimert Boulevard from 43rd Street in Nov. 1954. The bottom photo was taken Thursday afternoon. While fiddling with my camera I missed a 102 bus go past — but that large of a vehicle would have blocked the street view.

Why? Without streetcar tracks, the median has been narrowed, which allows for today's diagonal parking versus 1954's parallel parking. Trees in the median and along both sides of the street have grown in nicely — can't tell if they were the same trees in the 1950s photo that had already lost their leaves in November.

The apartments on the left side of the frame in 1954 are still there, although they have been painted. The red tile roof on the building to the far left is the most noticeable similarity.

This location is just a stone's throw from Leimert Park Village. The station for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will be below the intersection of Crenshaw and Vernon.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY: The above comparisons were pretty easy to put together. There were two challenges: getting out of the way of traffic and trying to process my contemporary digital photos to look more like the ones captured on film in the 1950s. In that sense, I wasn't very successful — film is a very different animal than digital.

The other obvious challenge is matching the lighting, which I didn't even try to do. My photo were taken in the middle of a bright August afternoon with flat harsh light and some tough shadows; some of Alan's photos were taken in winter when Southern California is bathed in very crisp, low-angle light.

For those who care: I used a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm lens and shot in RAW; I was trying to match my DX format camera with the the 50mm lens that Alan had used.

I processed the photos in Adobe Lightroom, using presets from VSCO and onOne, two firms that make processing software. I also fiddled with white balance, clarity and saturation. VSCO makes presets mimicking some popular slide films, but unfortunately not Kodachrome, which VSCO says they can't do because no one even processes Kodachrome anymore. TRAGIC!!!

While I may have managed to make my photos look less digital, I did not succeed in capturing the color, crispness, texture or great depth of field that Alan did in the 1950s. I'm guessing my camera and lens — while not expensive by today's DSLR standards — probably cost ten times what Alan paid for his camera in the 1950s.

Both Alan and I thank you for looking and reading!

The new version of the map of the Crenshaw/LAX Line is posted after the jump. The 8.5-mile light rail line will run between the Expo Line and the Green Line. Utility relocations are underway and construction is expected to begin next year with a forecast opening date of 2019.

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16 replies

  1. Joel,

    I hope you gave Alan Weeks and Steve Hymon (Metro) credit for the pictures. I’ve seen Alan’s pictures at various websites, and not any credit at all.

    Many of us have watch the change in the Los Angeles Region. I’ve moved to Inglewood after WW-II off of La Brea and Century. As a kid, I and others my age knew the danger of both cars and the Streetcar. We did not have high fences and sound walls next to the tracks. We did not get hit by any streetcar. I don’t remember all the times I rode streetcars being involved in one collision with another car. for the time they were in operation, I do remember witnessing one collision where a car made a left turn at 98th street (now closed) and La Brea in front of the 5-car. Very little damage. The streetcar’s bell was being rung constantly as it approached the at-grade crossing. Nothing I could do but just stand there and watch the minor collision. (I was walking to work at Ben Knoth Dodge – Plymouth dealership.)

    The fix time traffic signals between Arbor Vitae south for miles kept the traffic moving at 30 mph. We had the malt shop across Manchester from Inglewood High with radio station KTYM broadcasting about the malt shop. The Regent, Fox and U.A. Theaters along Market with the best Ice Cream cones at Sav-On. Fresh donuts, we had the donut machine at the 5 and 10 cents store. See’s candy’s where a pound was a dollar ten.

    Our RCA 10″ B/W TVs were great, and when the 17″ models came out, how can they make them any larger with the huge picture tubes (CRT) they had.

    A day after the Hollywood Park fire, thought it was great to watch it the next night on the nightly news. KTLA signed on each night at six. Many vacant lots to play ball in and fly kites. When we fell and got hurt, a little mercurochrome and a Band-Aid fix the problem. We did not have to use our justice system.

    Long run, the Then and Now photos being posted by Steve does show a time when life was similar and things were done to help the people, not all the cost and delays and law suits that we are witnessing today.

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