Bunker Hill, Los Angeles
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Historically, Bunker Hill was a large hill that separated Downtown Los Angeles from the western end of the city. The hill was tunneled through at Second Street in 1924. In the late 20th century, the hill was lowered in elevation, and the entire area was redeveloped to supplant old frame and concrete buildings with modern high-rises and other structures for residences, commerce, entertainment, and education.
In 1867, two wealthy developers, Prudent Beaudry, a French-Canadian immigrant, and Stephen Mott purchased a majority of the hill's land. Beaudry's land purchase ranged from present time Hill St. to Olive St. and 4th St. and 2nd St. Mott's land purchase ranged between 4th St. to Temple and Figueroa and Grand. Because of the hill's excellent views of the Los Angeles Basin and the Los Angeles River, he knew that it would make for an opulent subdivision. Beaudry employed surveyor George Hansen to help divide up the land into 80 plots to sell to individual buyers.
Beaudry started to build his house on the top of the hill, a modest two-story structure. He needed the infrastructure set up to reach the top of the hill, such as the water pipes. He asked the Los Angeles Water Company to help build the water pipe up the hill. Due to the nature of the hill and their initial concerns about the plan they denied his plea. As result, he built his own pipes and also formed the Canal and Reservoir Company  Several new streets were created, one of which - Bunker Hill Avenue (named in commemoration of the Battle of Bunker Hill) - eventually gave its name to the new neighborhood.
Beaudry developed the peak of Bunker Hill with lavish two-story Victorian houses that became famous as homes for the upper-class residents of Los Angeles. The dominant architecture of the community of the houses of Bunker Hill was Queen Anne and Eastlake style. The geography of the Hill allowed these residents to escape the hustle and bustle of the city as it slowly grew around at the flatland at the bottom of the hill. Some notable residents during these times are:
- Prudent Beaudry – 13th Mayor of Los Angeles, developer of Bunker Hill
- L. J. Rose: Arrived from Iowa, due to the death of his son to serious bronchial trouble during a harsh winter. Wine maker and entrepreneur
- Dr. Edmund Hildreth: Retired Clergyman from Chicago
- D. F. Donigan: Self-made man. Owned his own contracting business, which later was the contractor for the construction of the first railroad which led from Los Angeles to Pasadena. He became an indispensable adviser to Beaudry when it came to beginning the development of Bunker Hill in its early stages.
- Colonel Louis W. Bradbury and his wife – Made their fortune from a silver mine in Southern California. Original owner of the Bradbury Building in Downtown LA
- Judge Robert M. Widney – Founder of University of Southern California. Helped create the first transportation for the residents up the Hill, a horse-drawn carriage.
After the introduction of the horse carriage to the Bunker Hill neighborhood, the iconic Angel's Flight was proposed. Angel's Flight, now dubbed "The World's Shortest Railway", took residents homeward from the bottom of the 33% grade and down again. Colonel J. W. Eddy petitioned the Los Angeles City Council to establish an electric cable railway, which was approved ten days later signed by the mayor at the time, Meredith P. Snyder. The first railways which was established and operational was on Third St, from Hill st. to Olive st.
Initially a residential suburb, Bunker Hill retained its exclusive character through the end of World War I. Around the 1920s and the 1930s, with the advent of the Pacific Electric Railway and the construction of the freeway, and the increased urban growth fed by an extensive streetcar system, its wealthy residents began leaving for enclaves such as Beverly Hills and Pasadena. Bunker Hill's houses were increasingly subdivided to accommodate renters. Bunker Hill was at this time "Los Angeles's most crowded and urban neighborhood". By World War II, the Pasadena Freeway, built to bring shoppers downtown, was taking more residents out. Additional postwar freeway construction left downtown comparatively empty of both people and services. The once-grand Victorian mansions of Bunker Hill became the home of impoverished pensioners. Over time, these tenements became more prominent, and apartment buildings started being built alongside these houses. As more and more people crowded into these cheap housing units, the population of the hill increased 19%, most of whom were low income. As the once extravagant and elaborate Victorian buildings began to fade and deteriorate, there was also an increase in crime. The area became notorious enough to be depicted in the genre of film noir.
Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project
In 1955, Los Angeles city planners decided that Bunker Hill required a massive slum clearance project. There were a couple of major political events which led to the "removal of the blight" and redevelopment of Bunker Hill. The California Community Redevelopment Law of 1945, the Federal Housing Act of 1946 and 1949, the creation of the Community Redevelopment Agency in 1948, and also the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project in 1959.
The California Community Redevelopment law of 1945 allowed counties and cities to create and implement these agencies to help deal with the redevelopment of local cities. Until 2011, these Agencies held much power and were still around, until Governor Jerry Brown signed into law two bills to dissolve them.
Along with those political factors, other things which led to the conclusion of the blighted neighborhood came from some of the government offices. The Los Angeles Police Department called the area a "high frequency crime area", due to the fact that the area's apartments catered to known offenders. The health department of Los Angeles also called the area a health hazard for its city. It wasn't until the CRA had won an ongoing court case against the residents of Bunker Hill. This loss for the residents of Bunker Hill led to the displacement of many families and removal of many of the low income residents of the area. This victory for the CRA led to them being able to buy land to redevelop as they saw fit. Within the plans for the redevelopment, there was a section for the rehabilitation of the buildings of Bunker Hill. The section was slated to preserve the historical buildings of Bunker Hill, but instead were demolished since there was no actual rehabilitation planned.
The development of Bunker Hill caused much controversy. The creation of the Public Works Administration and the 1949 U.S. Federal Housing Act helped quickly to clear and acquire the land on which "slum and blighted" areas of Downtown's Bunker Hill were situated. The city cleared the land and sold this land to private and public development according to the plan made by the CRA. The top of Bunker Hill was cleared of its houses and then flattened as the first stage of the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project to populate Bunker Hill with modern plazas and buildings. When the height limit of buildings for Los Angeles was finally raised (previously buildings were limited to 150 feet), developers built some of the tallest skyscrapers in the region to take advantage of the area's existing dense zoning. In approving such projects, the city sought to project a modern, sophisticated image.
The project is the longest redevelopment project in Los Angeles history. The majority of the skyscrapers on Bunker Hill were built in the 1980s, with a new skyscraper or two being finished nearly every year. However, the momentum died down in the 1990s, shortly after the 52-story Two California Plaza was finished. In 1999, the vacancy rate for downtown commercial skyscrapers was 26%, one of the highest in the nation for that time. Planned office towers were canceled, including California Plaza Three, and the nearby four-towered Metropolis (brought back to life in 2005).
21st century adaptive re-use
Many of the older buildings and the early high-rises surrounding Bunker Hill are undergoing adaptive reuse from commercial to residential. This trend began in 2000, when the Los Angeles City Council passed an adaptive reuse ordinance, allowing old unused office buildings to be redeveloped as apartments or "lofts". Developers realized there was a high level of pent-up demand for living in or near downtown by artists and employees of various firms in the Financial District and government workers in the Civic Center, and that they could profit by supplying housing to meet such demand.
Because of the popularity of the New Urbanism in California, the city requires developers to build mixed-use residential buildings as much as possible. The first floor of such residential developments is devoted to commercial retailers, so that residents do not have to constantly drive around for all their shopping trips, allowing buildings to present a more welcoming façade to passersby on the sidewalk.
A sign of the success of the downtown renaissance was the lower office vacancy rate for the fourth quarter of 2004 at 16%, compared to 19% for 2003, and 26% for 1999.
While developers are primarily building market-rate housing on Bunker Hill today, Los Angeles has very strict laws, rules, and ordinances established that promote the inclusion of all income levels into the residential mix. Some examples include incentives for the creation of affordable housing (rather than market-rate housing), the preservation of existing affordable housing, the development of affordable housing by the city itself (rather than waiting for private developers), and others. The city has written documentation regarding the development of affordable housing.
On the topic of building affordable housing for very low-income to moderate-income, Principal City Planner Jane Blumenfeld said, "We are trying to make it attractive to build [downtown] and get this added affordable housing that we normally wouldn't have. We need an adequate amount of lower income housing so that in 20 years Downtown doesn't become an exclusive neighborhood."
The Emerson apartment building, owned by the Related Companies, has 271 units, of which 216 are leased at market rates. The other 55 units are at subsidized rates to tenants whose annual incomes are less than 50% of the local median, which was $42,700 for a family of four in 2014.
The 60-foot wide double stairway public art installation Library Steps was designed by Lawrence Halprin in 1989. It physically and symbolically connects the main entrance of the Los Angeles Public Library at Fifth Street with Hope Place and the Kechum-Downtown YMCA to the north. The double stairs flank a cascading river rock "stream" that flows from the pool surrounding Robert Graham's 1992 public art sculpture Source Figure, and terminate at Fifth Street with a fountain element and seating.
Angels Flight tramway
The 1902 Angels Flight funicular tramway/railway, originally connecting Hill Street and Olive Street, was rebuilt and relocated in 1996 to connect Hill Street with California Plaza.
In February 2007, $2.05 billion was approved for the Grand Avenue Project, which over the next 10 years would bring in over 2,000 new residential units, over 400 of them being affordable units for all degrees of low-income families; a million square feet (93,000 m2) of office space; a Mandarin Oriental hotel; 600,000 square feet (56,000 m2) of retail and entertainment space; and the Grand Park, connecting City Hall to Bunker Hill. Office space and residential units will be in several skyscrapers ranging between 35 and 55 stories each.[needs update]
In popular culture
Angels Flight is referenced in The Adventures of Philip Marlowe radio program episode "Baton Sinister", dated September 17, 1949, in which Marlowe has a rendezvous in Bunker Hill.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Bunker Hill was a popular film setting, especially in the film noir genre, because of its Victorian homes, its rambling hillside apartments and flophouses, its Angels Flight funicular, and its mean (or at least mean-looking) streets. It was used extensively in such crime films as Cry Danger (1951), Kiss Me Deadly (1956), Criss Cross (1949), Joseph Losey's M (1951), and Angel's Flight (1965).
Director Curtis Hanson re-created Bunker Hill in another hilly neighborhood altogether in his Oscar Award–winning L.A. Confidential (1997). Kent Mackenzie made a film in 1956 called Bunker Hill about the displacement of the residents who had to make way for construction. Another film by Mackenzie that was set in the area —his neo-realist and semi-documentary feature The Exiles (1961) — depicts the lives of a tribe of urban Indians on Bunker Hill in the late 1950s.
Bunker Hill was a destination of many local artists and photographers, some in its heyday, others as it was being demolished and rebuilt. Among the latter was the Los Angeles photographer Ray McSavaney.
Angels Flight and its Third Street neighborhood, c. 1930s, were re-created in South Africa for the filming of Ask the Dust (2006), based on the novel by John Fante, which was set in the district in the 1930s. Fante also wrote a book called Dreams From Bunker Hill, his last novel, dictated near death to his wife.
The 2nd Street Tunnel under Bunker Hill is widely used in film and advertising.
Bunker Hill is also the title of (and referenced in) the 1992 song from the Free-for-All album by Angeleno transplant Michael Penn and a B-side of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Jim Dawson's 2008 book Angels Flight includes several chapters, complete with many dozens of early photos, on Bunker Hill and its literary and film background.
Bunker Hill is the setting for much of Robin Robertson's 2018 verse narrative The Long Take which won the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize. The book includes a map of the old Bunker Hill neighbourhood. Robertson discussed his fascination with the district on BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme in March 2019.
Bunker Hill, as it was in 1947, is depicted in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire. Some of the cases in the game either occur in Bunker Hill or have the player travel to the area over the course of their investigation.
A fictionalized version of Bunker Hill appears in the 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V as "Pillbox Hill" (pillboxes and bunkers being similar structures) in Los Santos, the game's fictional rendition of Los Angeles.
The area is served by the Los Angeles USD.
- Richard Crenna, actor
- John Fante, American novelist
- Jack Webb, actor, producer, creator of Dragnet and Adam-12
- Otto J. Zahn, Los Angeles City Council member in the 1920s and pigeon racer
- 2012-2013 Official Visitors Map, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, 2012
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