Avenue of Palms

Posted on 8 January 2014

Avenue of Palms array

Southern California real estate boosters of the late nineteenth century always included photographs of floral novelties such as yard palms and palm-lined allées in their promotional publications. Through selectively chosen “typical views” and “characteristic views,” commercial photographers greatly exaggerated the presence of palm trees in Los Angeles. (In truth, the treescape of Los Angeles circa 1900 was dominated by acacias, eucalypts, and especially pepper trees—a species of sumac [Schinus molle] from the arid zone of South America with distinctive feathery leaves and scarlet berries.) Makers of postcards and stereoscopic views returned again and again to a single vista of a single residential drive near Adams Street, south of downtown—a place variously called Palm Drive, Palm Avenue, and the Avenue of Palms. As these specimens of Mexican fan palm (Washingtonia robusta) grew into some of the tallest palms in the world, the neighborhood beneath them changed from posh to dilapidated—and now ripe for gentrification. A portion of the once famous allée has survived because long ago it was incorporated into the courtyard of the fenced-in Orthopaedic Hospital. Motorists leaving the 110 at Adams Boulevard look up at these orphaned floral ornaments from the 1870s, among the oldest palms in the metropolis.

The text in the middle image (from the back cover of a 1929 municipal “history” booklet) reads:

These Palms Bear Witness
To the Coming of the Iron Horse,
the Cable Car, the Telephone, the
Electric Light, the Trolley Car, the Auto-
mobile, the Waters from the Snows, the
Motion picture, the Aeroplane, the Tread
of Victorious Veterans, the Radio, the
Telephoto; to the Coming of a million
home-seekers. Still they stand, chal-
lenging greater Wonders and a Greater
Los Angeles!

(For more images, see this blog post; just don’t believe the misinformation that Confederate General James Longstreet planted these palms.)

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