7 Great Things From 1920s Los Angeles

Everybody says LA has no past, but it does — it just gets torn down. Fortunately, there are a few amazing attractions left in the City of Angels that cropped up during the dawn of LA’s golden age in the 1920s. Here are seven of ‘em.

1. Dead Carnival Workers’ Graveyard (1922)

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In 1922, the Pacific Coast Showman’s Association was established to help out-of-work and retired carnival employees, even after they died. Later, the Vatican appointed “carnie priest” Monsignor Robert McCarthy to look after the circus folk, including candy peddlers, toy makers, carnival barkers, thrill-ride operators and pretty much anyone who made a living at the circus. Now, more than 400 departed carnies rest in peace at the Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association Plot, including Emily Bailey, a 300-pound “fat lady,” and Hugo Zacchini, the first human cannonball.

2. Color-Your-Own Tarot Kabbalah School (1922)

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In 1922, occultist, writer and teacher Paul Foster Case founded the nonprofit Builders of the Adytum on Figueroa Avenue in Highland Park. Originally, Builders of the Adytum was an old-fashioned correspondence school that mailed its students “life lessons” based on the Qabalah. BOTA still publishes a collection of 22 black-and-white tarot cards you’re supposed to color yourself while learning about an ancient form of mysticism that continues to inform religious life today.

3. Premier Hollywood Premiere (1922)

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Before he dreamt up the Chinese Theatre or El Capitan, legendary entertainment impresario Sid Grauman built the Egyptian Theatre, two years before the 1924 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb ignited a worldwide design craze inspired by King Tut’s treasures. The lavish, artfully decorated theater was the site of the first Hollywood film premiere, screening Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks in 1922. Today, it’s home to the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit that’s been operating the Egyptian since 1998, when it wrapped a $12.9 million renovation of the sprawling movie house.

4. Mayan Revival-Style Roadside Attraction on Route 66 (1924)

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Born in 1884, architect Robert Stacy-Judd worked during the Art Deco era, evoking Mayan and Aztec architecture in a style dubbed Mayan Revival. Stacy-Judd drafted plans for commercial buildings in his native England before designing the Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, his first commissioned work in the United States. Built as a hotel in 1924, the elaborate structure is located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains on Historic Route 66. Today, the rambling, ornate single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel rents rooms by the week, and is home to the nostalgia-inducing Elephant Bar and Restaurant.

5. Groucho Marx Was Here (1926)

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The Orpheum Theatre opened in 1926 in Downtown’s Broadway Theater District, then home to the largest number of movie palaces in the United States. Named after the Greek god Orpheus, the theater was the fourth and last built by the Orpheum vaudeville circuit. Early productions featured a young Judy Garland as well as the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire, Duke Ellington and many other stars of stage, screen and song. Theater architect G. Albert Lansburgh designed the Orpheum’s Beaux Arts facade, and inside, there’s still a 1928 Mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of three remaining pipe organs in Southern California venues. Owner Steve Needleman recently spent more than $3 million to renovate the space, investing another $4 million to build 37 lofts above the theater.

6. Haberdashery Penthouse With a View (1928)

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The Oviatt is an Art Deco highrise stands adjacent to downtown jewelry wholesalers, warehouses and Pershing Square, seemingly untouched by the decades. The son of a blacksmith, James Oviatt worked as a window dresser before opening a small haberdashery in 1912 with business partner Frank Baird Alexander. Soon, Alexander & Oviatt began catering to the needs of silver–screen icons like Douglas Fairbanks and John Barrymore. While on a luxury buying trip to France in 1925, Oviatt visited the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, where the term “Art Deco” was born; he was inspired to build a bigger store in the trendy new style. Architect Ferdinand Chanut and glassmaker Gaetan Jeannin designed the building’s 12-ton illuminated glass ceiling and awning, while René Lalique was behind many of the building’s design elements.

7. Jewish Reform Temple to the Stars (1929)

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Built in 1929, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple was designed by A.M. Edelman, son of the congregation’s first rabbi, Abraham Edelman. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, the temple was the go-to place of worship for scores of movie-industry professionals who wanted to assimilate into American culture without sacrificing their Jewish identity. The building’s enormous Byzantine revival-style dome was funded by Hollywood producer Irving Thalberg, while Louis B. Mayer donated funds for the temple’s art glass windows. Carl Laemmle donated spice box chandeliers, and the temple’s biblical murals were commissioned by Jack, Harry and Albert Warner, aka the Warner Bros.

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