7th Street/Metro Center Tour: History

First, some nationwide downtown myths – a sampling:

  1. There’s nothing to do in Philadelphia except leave it.
  2. New York’s Times Square is a dirty, drug-infested hole.
  3. The only thing to do in Seattle is open your umbrella.

We now know they’re all the stuff of tired, urban legends. But maybe no downtown suffers quite like Los Angeles:

4.   L.A. doesn’t have a downtown.

Surprise, surprise. L.A. does have one and the 7th Street/Metro Center station at Figueroa Street is smack in the middle of it. True, for a city of 4 million, L.A.’s “Financial District” is about the size of downtown Hartford but that makes it even more suited for a WalknRideLA tour, don’t you think?

About 150 years ago, today’s skyscraper-lined Figueroa Street carried the name “Grasshopper Street” (or in Spanish,Calle de las Chapules). Clearly, it was hardly “hopping” with merchants or residents. That’s because back then the town’s “downtown” was centered about a mile away at Olvera Street, near today’s Union Station. As the city grew, particularly following the arrival of railroads in the the late 19th century, that hub drifted south and west.

By 1900, downtown was near centered around today’s First and Spring Streets. By 1920 it had migrated south to around Fifth Street and from there, spread a few blocks westward during the 1920s and 30s. The financial district remained centered on Spring Street and was sometimes called (at least by downtown boosters) “The Wall Street of the West.” After World War II most of the city’s growth didn’t happen in downtown at all – it spread out along the boulevards and into the suburbs, miles from the city’s center.

Everything changed when Bunker Hill was marked for urban renewal in the early 1960s. A spanking new Music Center went up first, followed by high-rises housing banks, insurance companies, law firms and city offices – all clusted atop the hill and spilling down Figueroa, Flower and Hope Streets into what is called today’s “Financial District.” That’s the neighborhood this tour visits.

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