North, past the Arcade Building by several blocks, is the Victor Clothing Store owned by Ramiro Salcedo. Aside from selling clothes and appliances, Victor Clothing, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Salcedo, is full of artifacts that reveal important qualities of Broadway’s history not found in the files of the CRA or Building Department, or the archives at the Grand Central Library. Referring to the photographs under the plate glass of his desktop, Mr. Salcedo traced the rich history of then unpaved Forte Calle before it was named Broadway, the social and shopping center of Los Angeles thirty years ago where the street cars would pass by old City Hall. Fifty autographed portraits of movie stars, many of them Hispanic, hang along the south wall above the changing rooms, now used for storage. The large room is surrounded by a series of painted murals. Commissioned by Mr. Salcedo, the fourteen year old artist represented daily life on Broadway and in LA, including himself kneeling, just above Mr. Salcedo’s shoulder in the photo above. Ramiro Salcedo tells the story of the restaurant down the block where he would eat lunch when he used to go out on the street. Beyond providing good food, the restaurant owner would twice a day sweep the sidewalk the length of one block as a service to the other shop owners, and due to his success, certain ‘others’ looted and burned his restaurant, driving him off Broadway. It was then that things were not quite as they appeared, that there among the action of Broadway was a hidden and compelling array of people working, peculiar spaces, austere large walls, signs leaking into the city, and other associations specific to Broadway.
Above Victor Clothing is another Salcedo business called Top Hat Bridal run by Ramiro Salcedo’s sister and mother. A pale green garment production studio in the back is operated by Carolina Lugunas, sister-in-law of the Salcedo family. Unlike the mass production garment industry managed by ANJAC, Carolina Lugunas measures each client, marks and cuts every piece of textile and assembles exquisitely detailed wedding gowns.
Off Broadway from the Biltmore Hotel heliport overlooking Pershing Square, one can see the two KRKD Radio towers atop the Arcade building. A building in the foreground has been removed creating a gap, framing a small portion of Broadway. From Bunker Hill, Broadway leaks through several of these openings, and specifically from the heliport, one can see the Cameo Theater with rooftop billboard displaying an outdated Cherry 7- UP advertisement.
The Cameo, formerly Clune’s Broadway, was the first theater on Broadway made specifically for the new technology of cinema. Designed by Alfred Rosenheim in 1913, this long narrow theater had a sky window above the audience and an electronic billboard at the entrance composed of hundreds of light bulbs and a digital clock. Later a billboard proportioned for twenty-four, 30″ x 40″ poster boards advertising the feature film replaced this sign. From the street this billboard was repetitive advertising, much like the posters that advertise Snoop Doggy Dogg, Industria del Amor and others wrapping the scaffolding arcade surrounding the vacant Broadway Department Store. As seen from the Biltmore heliport and other Bunker Hill buildings, this sign appeared as a quilted pattern of blurry image/text. The Cameo closed a couple years ago and was converted into retail shops occupying the lobby and light storage in the auditorium. The photo above-at the right-below replaces the outdated Cherry 7-UP, and from the heliport one looks over the shoulder of the film projectionist into the projection port, towards the screen.
Other building cuts along Broadway produce large exterior rooms that are surfaced for parking. Each lot has a small food shack that is out-scaled against an eight-story, blank wall. The demolished building exposes a new wall, leaving behind an outline of its section. These large austere walls are windowless. Some have painted signs that hint at the interior, telling what is being produced or who controls the building. One is painted a rich, deep red. Most, like the metal industrial shed, indicate nothing of their contents. The Sun Drug Co. Bldg. is surfaced with a lace-like pattern of ceramic tiles much like the lace on a dress in the display case of Sussy’s Brides. This particular building is occupied and active with garment production. Instead of a Miller Beer advertisement, such as the one on the Hotel Figueroa, a six-story sewing machine is painted on the south facade of this garment building, telling of the work going on inside and identifying the location of the garment district.
A survey was made of Broadway between Fourth and Seventh Streets, to determine building use, occupancy, and square footage utilized. The long plan represents not the familiar building footprint, but rather the compression of Broadway buildings against the street. The solid black line indicates a vacant building. The most obvious example of this is between Fourth and Fifth Street on the west side of Broadway where a few buildings in the center of the block are bracketed by the empty Broadway Department Store and the recently closed Newberry’s. A perpetual clearance sale forced all products down to the ground level, escalators were boarded up, sealing off the upper floors, and finally the metal gate closed, leaving only the inlaid terrazzo sign “Newberry’s” in the sidewalk floor. Instantly these buildings become voids in the city, the modern ruins of Broadway. A long narrow shop 30 x 120 feet uses only the first 20 feet of available space to sell clothes; the long back room remains empty. Another flat shop selling an eclectic variety of goods is less than six feet in depth, while Babak Saghian’s clothing store finds itself in the five foot gap between the Cameo Theater and the Pantages Theater.
On Sunday driving east on Sixth Street, Bunker Hill is quiet with few people on the street. Past Grand Central Library, past Pershing Square approaching the intersection at Broadway – then slowing for the hundreds of people packed onto the sidewalks. On Sunday, Broadway triples its daily population of security guards acting as jewelry store bouncers, street vendors selling mangos, cucumbers, and ice cream, leaflet distributors handing out coupons for haircuts or religious propaganda, street people collecting cans from restaurants, street preachers raising books and voices to the passersby, shop owners yelling “three for one” for socks and earrings, an accordion player in front of Clifton’s Cafeteria, a man selling chewing gum, an El Salvadorian woman selling pornographic magazines from one of the many green news booths, LAPD passing out parking tickets as fast as they can, layers of signage on the walls and strewn across the sidewalk. Focused on the street, one seldom looks up into the buildings or to the sky.
Driving east on the 10 towards downtown, beyond the aqua-green artificial horizon of the Convention Center, the two KRKD radio transmission towers on top of the Arcade building again are visible in the city. The Arcade Building had a complex program that included a post office, pharmacy, offices, restaurants, a basement assembly hall and KRKD Radio. The Arcade is one of the few Broadway buildings to accept the daily activity of the street within its long blackened glass covered arcade connecting to Spring Street. As a short cut to the bus stops on Spring Street, this heavily traveled corridor contains electronic stores, swap meets selling many types of gadgets, a botica, restaurant, and hair salon; the former basement assembly hall is now a parking garage.
At night the vacancy along Broadway is more apparent as security lights come on only in the active buildings. The street activity of the day, is reduced to a few waiting buses below the windows of the Yorkshire Apartments, a group of street cleaners in orange suits working at 4:00 am, and the occasional lone person walking down the street. The dormant Arcade building, closed to the street, projects nothing but an ominous facade of dark windows.
Broadway is a place that is constantly under speculation by investors, business people, developers and architects. Broadway is a social center for two and one half million Hispanic Angelenos. Broadway is supported by the garment and jewelry trades industries. Broadway, like other major retail/production streets in America, is a familiar street typology in downtown landscapes. Broadway is open for, and deserves, further consideration as a place to learn from and act upon.
photo processing: Christian Bandi
photography: Robert Adams
survey and drawing: Kyle Scot/and, editing: Vic Liptak, Deborah
advisors: Chava Danielson, Mary-Ann Ray, Robert Mangurian.