Life Before the Secession
A nice bit of Angeleno history today from a scion of the Ahmanson family. Born and raised in Nebraska, Howard Ahmanson moved to Los Angeles and became a successful insurance underwriter before starting Home Savings and Loan, which soon became the country’s largest savings and loan, and the foundation that bears his name (and that donated money for the downtown performing arts building).
Even though the area is of the city’s most vibrant cultural and culinary districts, it’s easy to forget that the mid-Wilshire/Koreatown area’s profile was much larger half a century ago.
In mid-century Los Angeles, anything on Wilshire Boulevard was considered more prestigious than anything on the side streets. On the eastern end near Lafayette Park was the Bullocks Wilshire department store. Several miles west were the Miracle Mile department stores, which had beautiful shop windows facing the boulevard, even though most people entered the stores through portes-cochères in the rear. Many of the major liberal establishment churches—the PCUSA, the United Methodists, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin’s huge reform synagogue—lined the street. The Ambassador Hotel was one of the great hotels of the city. And then there was The Brown Derby Restaurant, which gave us the Cobb Salad.
Ahmanson, Jr. traces some of the neighborhood’s diminishment to an exodus of well-heeled whites to the OC following the tumult of the 1960s.
After the Watts Riots of 1965, and in the 10 or 15 years after that, the upper and upper-middle classes of Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia, and Hancock Park relocated en masse to the Newport Beach area in what I call the secessio patriciorum, or the secession of the patricians. Los Angeles Magazine featured an article in 1977 called “The Ripening of Orange County: Is It Stealing the L.A. Dream?” Indeed, a lot of the life seemed to get sucked out of Los Angeles at that time. One consequence of the secession was that finance and retail and new construction tended to concentrate either downtown or west of central Beverly Hills.
And, as he rightly points out, thanks largely to the efforts of Asian and Latin American immigrants, the neighborhood has enjoyed a new life, though not as a great retail and financial corridor envisioned by Ahmanson père. But that’s a small price to pay for a good Korean food and affordable rents in one of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods.