A Time Capsule of 1940s Downtown Los Angeles

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

The founder of Prelinger Archives, Rick Prelinger, shares a look at 1940s Los Angeles via old Hollywood stock footage:

As you know, the present wipes out the past faster in Los Angeles than perhaps anywhere else, and the everyday landscape of the past can often be very difficult to imagine. This is especially true in high-value areas like downtown, where massive redevelopment leveled the Chavez Ravine and Bunker Hill areas. Bunker Hill, just a block up from the busy center, was an old neighborhood of 19th-century buildings inhabited by pensioners, working-class people and even a few bohemian characters. Now it's skyscrapers, museums and high-rise apartments.

Here's an outtake from an unknown feature film (specifically, a "process plate" intended for rear projection behind characters driving in a car). If it was ever used, it was seen fuzzy and out of focus. Today, however, it's amazing documentation of a lost neighborhood. Watch the signs, the spectators and passersby, and the streetscapes, and marvel how historical images can carry evidentiary value that no one ever imagined they would.

The Internet Archive's HD transfer of the 35mm nitrate negative is crisp with detail: shiny cars, palm trees, and depression-era shop fronts.

A scene from the 1950 noir film Quicksand, also courtesy of the Internet Archive, illustrates how this kind of footage was used:

See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2011/09/a-time-capsule-of-1940s-downtown-los-angeles/244590/

To see more stock footage and to watch Quicksand in its entirety, visit the Internet Archive. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2011/09/a-time-capsule-of-1940s-downtown-los-angeles/244590/