In a city where reinvention comes second nature to much of its citizenry, the Wilshire Corridor fits right in.
Stretching 1.7 miles from Hoover Avenue on the east to Wilton Avenue on the west, mid-Wilshire rose from virtually nothing in the early 1920s to become home to some of the city's swankiest apartment buildings. Decades later came high-rise office buildings comprising the largest center for insurance companies west of the Mississippi. Now, after an extended slump, the corridor has reemerged as ground zero for the Korean-American business community.
"It's really quite remarkable," said Cathy Gudis, director of education at the Los Angeles Conservancy. "Mid-Wilshire has gone through so many transformations."
The first development along what is now Wilshire Boulevard came in 1895, when developer Henry Gaylord Wilshire purchased 35 acres around what is now Lafayette Park for $52,000; the land had been used as a city dump. He then agreed to have a street run through the property as long as it bore his name and began building homes.
Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, land baron Isaac Van Nuys and other prominent Angelenos moved into newly built mansions along the street.
In 1921, two landmark buildings went up. One was the opulent Ambassador Hotel, built on a 23-acre site that had been a dairy farm. Almost directly across the street, Wilshire built the 14-story Gaylord Hotel, which set the standard for posh apartment-style living. It was followed by the Langham, the Fox Normandie, the Los Altos and most lavish of all the Talmadge, built by United Artists president Joseph Schenck for his actress wife Norma Talmadge at the corner of Wilshire and Berendo Avenue.
With so many wealthy residents moving into so many elegant apartment buildings, it wasn't long before businesspeople took note. In 1926, Gloria Swanson's husband Herbert Somborn opened the Brown Derby, a hat-shaped eatery at the corner of Wilshire and Alexandria Avenue, a couple of blocks west of the Ambassador. It closed in 1982 and was converted into a Korean nightclub in the early 1990s.
Alongside the extravagant apartments and entertainment venues, another building boom was taking place: houses of worship. Wilshire Christian Church was the first to be built in 1911; in the 1920s came St. James Episcopal Church, Immanuel Presbyterian Church and Wilshire Boulevard Temple.
By this time, the art-deco movement was in full swing, and would be epitomized in 1929 with the opening of Bullock's Wilshire on the corner of Westmoreland Avenue. Dubbed the first department store designed for the suburban auto age, Bullock's Wilshire featured a "porte carchere," or a covered rear entrance for cars.
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