Jan. 5, 1908
Journey back with me now to the simple, carefree days of life in Los Angeles in 1908.
You might wonder what our great-grandparents were up to 100 years ago, or 30 years before the ground-breaking for the Pasadena Freeway.
imagine your great-uncle in the parlor serenading the family on the
mandolin or winding up the Victrola while great-grandma was opening the
kitchen door for the iceman and wondering if great-grandpa had stopped
off at the saloon on the way home.
In a word: No.
Strangely enough, what they were really doing exactly a century ago was
complaining about the awful traffic in Los Angeles. But wait, you say,
we're talking about 1908. Traffic couldn't have been all that terrible,
Indeed, it was.
"At every corner where two streets cross, we used to see an express
wagon, as many as four at a junction, standing there most of the day
waiting for business to come to them. And at some places were these big
furniture vans almost as big as a house," one unidentified councilman
said, according to The Times of May 16, 1908.
The councilman was speaking about the results of an ordinance described
in The Times on Jan. 5, 1908, that established a downtown "business
district" and a "congested district," where traffic was to be tightly
The business district was a large chunk of downtown from Los Angeles
Street to Hill Street and generally Temple to 10th Street. (It's more
complicated than that, but I don't want to overly tax anyone's
knowledge of local geography--the Google map is complicated by the fact that I have to approximate where Marchessault Street was).
I wonder if you can guess the boundaries of the newly designated congested district.
Oh, come on. Try.
Did someone say "Spring Street and Broadway from 1st to 7th?" How about "1st through 6th streets from Hill to Main?"
It's painfully familiar, isn't it?
Now remember, this is 1908. Was our new friend, the automobile, the problem?
Mostly, no. In general, it was freight vehicles drawn by animals, which
were banned from the congested district from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven
days a week.
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Here are selections from the 1908 traffic ordinance:
"Between the hours of 8 o'clock a.m. and 7 o'clock p.m. of any day, it
shall be unlawful for any person to drive or propel upon any street in
the congested district of the city of Los Angeles, excepting 3rd Street:
Any freight vehicle drawn by more than four animals
or any two freight vehicles hitched in tandem
or any wagon loaded with hay
or any crude oil wagon
or any freight vehicle, the bed, body or carrying part of which shall exceed 20 feet in length or 8 1/2 feet in width
or any freight vehicle carrying a load, which load, together with the
bed, body or carrying part of said vehicle shall at any point occupy a
space greater than 20 feet in length or 8 1/2 feet in width.
The law also banned furniture vans, express or other wagons waiting for hire.
And at last, the regulation mentions automobiles: The number of cabs,
autos or other passenger vehicles that may "stand on any block in the
congested district" is limited to six, not more than three on one side
of the street, nor within 75 feet of a corner.
And notice this: "They must have permission of the occupant of the property and a license from the Police Commission."
In addition, the speed limit for all vehicles was 12 mph in much of the
downtown area (again, it's more complicated than that but that's the
basic principle). The speed limit at intersections in the business
district was 6 mph.
Not surprisingly, the new provisions of the complicated ordinance sowed
confusion among the courts, police officers and drivers (of wagons,
Did it help ease traffic? The unidentified councilman thought so,
but the drivers of freight wagons fought hard against the law.
Interestingly enough, the regulations made parking permits from the
Police Commission a valuable commodity that sold for $500 to $1,500
($10,433.26-$31,299.77 USD 2006).
Yep. I was thinking the same thing.