Thursday, July 26, 2012
History of Miracle Mile, Los Angeles
Developer A. W. Ross saw potential for the area, and developed Wilshire as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles. Ross's insight was that the form and scale of his Wilshire strip should attract and serve automobile traffic rather than pedestrian shoppers. He applied this design both to the street itself and to the buildings lining it. Ross gave Wilshire various "firsts", including dedicated left-turn lanes and the first timed traffic lights in the United States; he also required merchants to provide automobile parking lots, all to aid traffic flow. Major retailers such as Desmonds, Silverwood's, May Co., Coulter's, Mullen & Bluett, Myer Siegel, and Seibu eventually spread across Wilshire Boulevard from Fairfax to La Brea. Ross ordered that all building facades along Wilshire be engineered so as to be best seen through a windshield. This meant larger, bolder, simpler signage; longer buildings in a larger scale, oriented toward the boulevard; and architectural ornament and massing perceptible at 30 MPH (50 km/h) instead of at walking speed. These simplified building forms were driven by practical requirements, but contributed to the stylistic language of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne.
Ross's moves were unprecedented, a huge commercial success, and proved historically influential. Ross had invented the car-oriented urban form—what Reyner Banham called "the linear downtown" model later adopted across the United States. The moves also contributed to Los Angeles' reputation as a city dominated by the car. A sculptural bust of Ross stands at 5800 Wilshire, with the inscription, "A. W. Ross, founder and developer of the Miracle Mile. Vision to see, wisdom to know, courage to do."
As wealth and newcomers poured into the fast-growing city, Ross' parcel became one of Los Angeles's most desirable areas. Acclaimed as "America's Champs-Élysées."this stretch of Wilshire near the La Brea Tar Pits was named "Miracle Mile" for its improbable rise to prominence. Although the preponderance of shopping malls and the development in the 1960s of financial and business districts in downtown and Century City lessened the Miracle Mile's importance as a retail and business center, the area has retained its vitality thanks to the addition of several museums and commercial high-rises. The Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), A+D Museum, and La Brea Tar Pits museums, among others, positioned "Museum Row" on the Miracle Mile as a rival to Exposition Park.
The Art Deco bank recently joined an elite group of local buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by the architecture firm of Morgan, Walls & Clements, which did the Wiltern Theatre, the El Capitan, and many other notable Los Angeles buildings; 5209 Wilshire was built in 1929.