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90012: Discovering DTLA

Ryan McRee

90012—North DTLA

The 90012 ZIP code delineates the section of Downtown Los Angeles north of West 3rd Street, west of the L.A. River, stretching north into Elysian Park and extending a few blocks west of the 110 Freeway. The major areas that comprise the ZIP code are the Civic Center (Grand Park, L.A. City Hall and various governmental buildings), the Music Center, Little Tokyo, Union Station, Olvera Street, Chinatown, and Dodger Stadium.

As a major administrative and cultural hub of Los Angeles, this relatively compact, urban area features a number of landmarks that the city is known for. The Downtown area is home to over 30 public sculptures, concentrated primarily in Grand Park, Olvera Street, Pershing Square, and Chinatown. While a number of them are abstract art pieces or memorials (including the Armenian Genocide Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and the Doughboy Memorial), the majority of monuments feature likenesses of celebrated individuals. These include a diverse array of regional and national icons including Abraham Lincoln, Antonio Aguilar, Beethoven, Bruce Lee, Felipe de Neve, George Washington, and Sun Yat-sen. The area has grabbed headlines in recent years as activists have questioned the appropriateness of honoring certain historic figures. In 2018, a bronze statue of Christopher Columbus was removed from Grand Park, and last June activists toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest largely responsible for the establishment of the California mission system, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. As legacies are being re-considered, new candidates are being put forth for memorialization. Clara Shortridge Foltz, the first female lawyer on the West Coast, prolific suffragette, L.A. deputy district attorney, and first proponent of the public defender system, is one such candidate. In 2002, the Criminal Courts Building was renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, and Foltz has also been proposed as California’s entry to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.

The birthplace of Los Angeles was very near today’s Olvera Street; Spanish settlers occupied what had previously been Native Tongva lands by the order of King Carlos III and founded El Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Avila Adobe, constructed in 1818 and today the oldest existing house in the city, was along the original Vine Street that was the main thoroughfare in the town. In 1877 the street was renamed Olvera after Agustín Olvera, the county’s first judge. What remained of area was slated for demolition in the 1920s but was saved by wealthy socialite Christine Sterling, who in 1926 became an advocate for the preservation of the oldest part of the city. Her efforts led to the establishment of the El Pueblo Historic Park, which today features a number of historic buildings and a lively Mexican marketplace.

The Los Angeles Town Square (now Pershing Square) was established in 1866, and the population of the area exploded when in the 1880s the price of a railroad ticket from Kansas City to Los Angeles dropped to a dollar. A surge in oil prospecting led to a surge in land development, and by the late 1890s the population had grown from 11,000 in 1880 to nearly 100,000 people. South Spring Street became known as “the Wall Street of the West” and the area around the present-day Civic Center became a major center for finance, shopping, entertainment, and night life by the 1920s. By 1930 the city was home to 1.2 million people. However, prospects for oil further out from the city center increased traffic congestion, and a shift in commerce closer to the L.A. Harbor slowed development in the area. The population declined from the historic center of Los Angeles after World War II, when the development of suburbs and construction of the highway system encouraged de-centralization. Many construction projects that had been halted by the Depression, such as the Civic Center, weren’t fully realized until decades later. In 1966, the Civic Center Mall was completed, and plans originally proposed sixty years earlier to centralize major government buildings in one area were finally realized. The Music Center complex was completed in 1967. In 2007 the Grand Avenue Project was approved, which resulted in the construction of today’s Grand Park and features continued plans through 2032 to revitalize and expand the Civic Center. The Music Center was significantly expanded with the addition of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which opened in 2003. The Broad contemporary art museum opened further down Grand Avenue in 2015.

Northwest from the Civic Center across the 101 Freeway lies L.A.’s Chinatown. Today’s Chinatown is actually a relocation of the original; Old Chinatown was centered on what is today Alameda Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue. Established in 1880 in response to a growing population of Chinese immigrants hired to work for the Central Pacific Railroad, Old Chinatown reached its peak in the 1910s, consisting of fifteen streets and alleyways and over 200 buildings, including an opera theatre, three temples, a newspaper and a telephone exchange. But a combination of increased crime and statutes from the city inhibiting its growth and access to resources caused the area to decline, and in the 1930s the original Chinatown was demolished for the construction of Union Station. Though Union Station is celebrated today as “the Last of the Great Railway Stations” and still serves today as the busiest railway station west of the Mississippi, the city’s vote to construct it in the Chinatown location was a wellspring of racial tension for decades and displaced many homes and businesses. Two competing Chinatowns emerged to replace the old: China City, conceived by Christine Sterling (who had similarly refurbished Olvera Street) and New Chinatown. China City was devastated by multiple fires and eventually closed in 1949, and New Chinatown, which had received more support and sponsorship from the Chinese-American community, survived to become the Chinatown we know today. Though by the end of the 20th century many Chinese-Americans had moved away from Chinatown into suburbs like Monterey Park, the area continues to attract tourism with its charm, commerce, and architecture.

Southeast of Grand Park lies Little Tokyo, one of only three officially recognized “Japantowns” in the United States (the other two being in San Francisco and San Jose). By 1905 the area had become home to 3,500 Japanese inhabitants, along with a notable Russian and Jewish population. By 1941, the Japanese population of Little Tokyo had increased to 30,000. However, Little Tokyo was completely emptied of Japanese inhabitants by the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. After the Japanese population was re-located to internment camps, the area was quickly resettled by black and Hispanic populations, and became known as “Bronzeville.” Segregation laws prohibiting them from living elsewhere led to debilitating overcrowding in the neighborhood, and incidents of crime rose. The Zoot Suit race riots of 1943 brought further hardship to the area. After 1945, some Japanese-Americans returned to Little Tokyo and many of the African-American and Hispanic inhabitants were driven out by white landlords who chose not to re-lease to them. In the 1970s there was significant redevelopment of the neighborhood as overseas Japanese corporations set up headquarters in Los Angeles. Although the Japanese population never truly recovered from internment, the area has continued to be a cultural landmark, community hub, and tourist attraction. The Japanese American National Museum, opened in 1992, preserves much of the history of the area and of the experience of the Japanese in the United States.

In the northernmost stretch of the 90012 ZIP code lies Dodger Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers. Opened in 1962, it is the oldest MLB ballpark west of the Mississippi, the third-oldest in the country, and the world’s largest baseball stadium by seat capacity.

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