Photos: Holiday Celebrations of SoCal's Past

Postcard courtesy of the David Boulé Collection.

Los Angeles can hardly be called a winter wonderland, but Southern Californians have long found their own ways to celebrate the holidays, from candy-cane paint jobs on streetcars to postcards extolling the region's suitability for citriculture. Now, as the holiday season once again returns to Southern California, join us for a look through historical images at holiday celebrations of the region's past.

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Metro Transportation Library and Archive
As the official archive for the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Metro Library's collections comprehensively document the county's transportation history. The following photos from the library's photographic archive--much of it accessible online through Flickr--show L.A. streets, streetcars, and buses decorated for the holidays.

A streetcar in East Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

A Los Angeles streetcar painted in a candy cane pattern. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Santa Claus arrives in a bus in the city's Miracle Mile district, circa 1955. Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive. Used under a Creative Commons license.

David Boulé Collection

David Boulé's extensive collection of postcards, souvenirs, orange-themed curios, and other items explores the relationship between the orange and the myth of California. Boulé writes: "California and the orange share a five hundred year history of myth and romanticism. To people in other parts of the country, who dealt with weather and not just climate, it was exotic and magical that someone could experience snow, sunshine, oranges and winter all at the same time."

Postcard courtesy of the David Boulé Collection.

Postcard courtesy of the David Boulé Collection.

Braun Research Library, Autry National Center
Founded by Charles Fletcher Lummis as part of the Southwest Museum, the Braun Research Library's collections—today part of the Autry National Center—document the culture and history of America's indigenous peoples. The library's photographic archives contains approximately 120,000 images, many of them accessible online. The library also maintains a collection of materials related to the life of the "Crusader in Corduroy," including the photograph below of an 1899 Christmas celebration inside Lummis' house in the arroyo, El Alisal.

Christmas Eve 1899 inside El Alisal. Courtesy of the Braun Research Library Collection, Autry National Center, P.33777.

Santa Monica Public Library
Santa Monica is one of the oldest independent communities in Los Angeles County. The Santa Monica Public Library's image archives document more than 135 years of Santa Monica Bay area history through photographs, slides, and printed materials. The City of Santa Monica is the emphasis of the collection, but the neighboring communities of Venice, Malibu, and Pacific Palisades are also represented. Many of the images have been digitized and are publicly accessible through the library's Imagine Santa Monica website.

Santa Monica's Third Street has long been a favorite shopping destination among Southern Californians. Before there was a Third Street Promenade there was the Third Street Mall, shown decorated for the holidays in this 1969 photo. Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives, #B48.

Honnold/Mudd Library, Claremont Colleges
Serving some of Los Angeles County's oldest colleges and universities, the Honnold/Mudd Library's Special Collections contain a wealth of rare and valuable holdings related to Southern California history. Many of the photographs in the library's image archives document student life at the Claremont Colleges, including the historical holiday photos below.

Student carolers at Scripps College. Courtesy of the Claremont Colleges Photo Archive, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Scripps College Christmas party, 1958. Courtesy of the Claremont Colleges Photo Archive, Honnold/Mudd Library.

Harvey Mudd College students celebrate Christmas, circa 1966. Courtesy of the Claremont Colleges Photo Archive, Honnold/Mudd Library.

USC Libraries

The USC Libraries' extensive regional history holdings include several important photographic archives, including the California Historical Society Collection, the Automobile Club of Southern California Collection, the "Dick" Whittington Photography Collection, and the photographic morgue of the Los Angeles Examiner, a daily newspaper that merged with the Herald-Express in 1962. The USC Libraries are also home to the USC University Archives, which document the 131-year history of the University of Southern California. Many of the photographs from these collections, as well as images contributed by partner institutions, are publicly accessible through the USC Digital Library.

Santa Claus participates in a stunt at a speed boat rodeo at L.A.'s Cabrillo Beach on Christmas Eve, 1955. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, USC Libraries.

A Christmas tree towers over the statue of Tommy Trojan in front of Bovard Hall, 1961. Courtesy of the USC University Archives.

Snow may be rare in Southern California's lowlands, but it falls in abundance in the region's mountains. In this 1926 photo, four young Southern Californians build a snowman near Lake Arrowhead. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Collection, USC Libraries.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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