A.W. Ross was a visionary, who could see the need for a new retail district set apart from downtown Los Angeles in the early-1920s. With the American public adopting the automobile and the continued growth of the city in all directions, Ross could see the future, but the problem was that no one else could.
In 1921, when he decided to move forward with his plan, Wilshire Boulevard was nothing more than a narrow dirt road that serviced oil wells in the area and gave farmers access to their barley fields. He purchased 18 acres at $3000 each for a total of $54,000, a huge sum at the time.
Ross then tried to sell off or lease lots to retailers, but at the time none were willing to take a chance that it might pay off down the road. Prospective investors had no interest for the same reason. His dream was soon referred to as “Ross’ Folly.”
Exactly what he had envisioned came to pass by 1924, and LA turned into a boom town in the “Roaring Twenties.” With new zoning changes, he was able to get the ball rolling by selling small lots to retailers, who constructed structures to suit their needs. Ross next named his development the Wilshire Boulevard Center as it slowly turned into a retail district that served the new residential subdivisions popping up in the area.
His big break finally came in 1928 when he and investors constructed the Wilshire Tower building, and he renamed the section between Sycamore St. and Fairfax Ave. the Miracle Mile. Desmond’s a fashionable downtown men’s clothing retailer opened a new store in the Tower that put his shopping district on the map. The Ralphs grocery store chain then built and opened a new store.
The lead photo shows the Miracle Mile sign with the May Company building in the background.
Traffic on Wilshire Blvd. at Vermont Vermont Avenue in the early-1930s.
The landmark E. Clem Wilson building with an imposing tower was built in 1929, along with a bank and other businesses. The vision that Ross had a decade earlier was now in full bloom and began to pay off now that the western side of Los Angeles had expanded. Despite the ongoing Great Depression, retailers that could weather the storm continued with new construction through the 1930s
In a sign that the area had arrived, Coulter’s Department Store, one of the largest and most popular Los Angeles retailer’s closed its downtown store and built a new store on the Miracle Mile. The May Company followed soon afterward and opened a large store at Fairfax Ave. in 1940. More development continued in the postwar era and the area continued to prosper until the arrival of the new shopping malls in the 1960s.
A rapid decline in the viability of the area for retail operations soon resulted in vacant storefronts and blight. Thankfully in the late 1960s a new beginning arrived when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art settled there. It soon became a fashionable area to restore art deco structures for other uses and many other such institutions including the Peterson Automotive Museum found a home there. Today the Miracle Mile is reborn as a mix of museums, magazine publishers and office buildings.
The images are courtesy of the USC Libraries.
This video shows footage of Wilshire Blvd. in nearby Beverly Hills in the mid-1930s. It is worth including here to give you a feeling of what traffic on the Boulevard was like back in time.
Wilshire Boulevard west of Western Ave. – Early-1930s
Green T Cafe and Texaco Gasoline station at Wilshire Blvd. and South New Hampshire Ave. circa 1930.
Rush hour Traffic on Wilshire Blvd. heading west – Late-1930s.
Simmons drive-in at Fairfax Ave and Wilshire Blvd. – Late-1930s.
Wilshire Blvd. and Western Ave. – Late-194os.