Category: Architecture

China City fire


Image of post-fire Buddha statue from .

With the construction of the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal on the old Chinatown site, socialite and investor Christine Sterling created the China City tourist attraction near her Mexican themed Olvera Street north of downtown Los Angeles. Set buildings from the 1938 The Good Earth film were used.


“In February 1939, a suspicious fire (most likely arson) burned much of China City. After making repairs, Sterling reopened it in the summer of 1940. However, the rebuilt tourist center was not as successful as its previous incarnation.”

But there is more to the story:

Around 1935, Old Chinatown community leader Peter Soo-Hoo, Sr. met with Christine Sperling, the person responsible for adapting  Olvera Street into a Mexican themed shopping district. Sterling envisioned a new China City tourist district in downtown Los Angeles that played to popular Chinese themes. Soo-Hoo hated her idea, so he decided to pursue his own development project at another site. 

“Soo-Hoo and Sterling became bitter rivals which intensified after construction began on their competing Chinatown projects. Sterling scoffed at Soo-Hoo and his supporters by telling the press, “What do they want? An Oriental Westwood Village? Let them build [New Chinatown] if they think they can get away with it, but I think it will fail.”

“Soo-Hoo, in return, argued that the Chinese-Americans were best suited to design and build a New Chinatown…

“Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown opened three weeks later [than Sterling’s China City in 1938]. Not only was Soo-Hoo’s New Chinatown funded, owned, and operated by Chinese investors and businesses, it provided homes for displaced Chinese, while Sterling’s did not. New Chinatown also reflected a more authentic Chinese culture and clientele.

“The competing business districts factionalized Chinese residents. China City’s shopkeepers and workers were grateful for the opportunity to find work in Sterling’s business district and were happy with the influx of celebrities and tourists. New Chinatown’s shopkeepers and business owners, however, felt that China City’s vendors mocked their culture by offering rickshaw rides and selling ‘Chinaburgers.’”

Excerpts and image from .



150th anniversary of Lighthouse Service

“Suitable observance of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Lighthouse Service was called for by a joint resolution of Congress, signed by the President on May 15, which was known as Public Resolution No. 16. By this resolution the week of August 7, 1939, was designated lighthouse week.”

Excerpt from .


1937 postcard view of the Point Fermin Lighthouse.

Note on postcard reads: “Built in 1876”, however, all other records indicate it was built in 1874.
Image and information from . Photo from Calisphere: University of California Image Archive .

To learn more about the Point Fermin and Cabrillo Point lighthouses near Los Angeles see: .

Academy Theatre


Image: Julius Shulman photo from UCLA Archive via .

Art deco Academy Theatre at 3141 West Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood. Above photo taken in 1939, the year it opened.


“Opened on November 7, 1939 and designed by architect S. Charles Lee, the Academy Theater, a classic Art Moderne style structure, was originally designed to house the Academy Awards.

“Sadly, however, the Academy Theater never did host the ‘Oscars’, but it was often the location of film premieres and served as a major suburban theater for the Fox West Coast Theatres chain.”

Excerpt and 1940 photo from .

Ranch home


1943 image of 1939 Cliff May residence, Riviera Ranch: from An American Vernacular, Cliff May’s Ranch Homes, by Ed Fitzgerald

The contemporary Ranch Style originated in 1930s California amidst a design atmosphere that embraced the International Style championed by European architectsIt was in this environment that the work of designers like Cliff Mayexcelled.May, a self-taught San Diego architect, is credited as the foremost pioneer of the modern Ranch Style…”

The suburban Ranch Style homes that grew so popular in the three decadesfollowing the Second World War originated in pre-war west Los Angeles with theconstruction of May’s Riviera Ranch development in 1939.

“…May’s ranch house designs were widely adopted and mass produced. May’sranch design sold almost 15,000 plans, making up the entire neighborhoods of LongBeach and Anaheim…”

Learn about Cliff May designed homes by downloading: .

In an unrelated topic, the term “suburban ranch” appeared in a southern California newspaper: “…On Sunday they attended the eighty-first birthday anniversary celebration held in honor of Mr. Cahill’s uncle, Ed Stiles. The celebration was held at the suburban ranch home of the Stiles’ two miles east of San Bernardino. Mr. Stiles, who is still active for one of his age, drove the first 20-muleteam hauling borax out of Death Valley, in 1882, ’83 and ’84. He is truly one of the pioneers of the district…”

San Bernardino Sun, April 5, 1939 .

Streamline moderne


There are many sources of images and information on the style called streamline moderne. The Machine Age In America 1918-1941 by Wilson, Pilgrim and Tashjian (above) is one of several books. The Streamline Era by Reed is another.

Online, here are two “must see” websites that really show the subject well:

Neferteri by Larry Pointer with Rik Hoving

Don’t be distracted by the title, this is an excellent multi-part series showing the origins and then plenty of examples of streamline moderne aircraft, boats and motor vehicles. .

At the bottom of each installment, be sure to click on the link to go to the next one.



“If Art Deco skyscrapers could be thought of as “vertical”, Streamline Moderne buildings typically embraced horizontal massing.”

Excerpt from .

Hope’s home


His two-story French Revival residence was built in Toluca Lake, California (in the San Fernando Valley near North Hollywood) in 1939. It was designed by Los Angeles architect Robert Finkelhor. The postcard image above is undated but likely contains images of him and the home soon after it was completed.

To learn more, see: and (scroll down).