Six Notable & Unusual Maps of Southern California

Detail of a circa 1932 wood engraving by Paul Landacre. Courtesy of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA. Photo credit: Jennifer Bastian.

Maps are rarely straightforward representations of the world. Since Edward O.C. Ord drew Los Angeles' first official map in 1849, mapmakers have projected their visions for the city onto their creations, shaping L.A.'s image and self-perception through maps ranging from putatively informational to fanciful and whimsical.

Maps have even shaped the city itself. Ord the surveyor imposed Cartesian order--and American land-use policies--on the formerly Mexican city by sketching an orthogonal grid of rectangular property tracts in the unsettled area southeast of the Plaza. In the ensuing years, city growth etched Ord's lines onto the landscape as the streets and city blocks of downtown L.A.

Similarly, transportation planners have long communicated their oft-competing visions for regional transportation through maps; the Harbor, Hollywood, and Santa Monica Freeways all began as a cartographer's line, sharing the page with proposed but never-built roads like the Beverly Hills Freeway. The maps appeared to present a rational solution to the city's traffic congestion woes, but they neither captured nor foresaw consequences like divided neighborhoods, air pollution, and further fragmentation of the metropolis.

This week, we asked the members of L.A. as Subject to search through their collections for one notable map that informs our understanding of Southern California. Their contributions below represent only a sampling of the map collections preserved in our region's archives.

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Zanja Madre, 1868

Highlights from the Los Angeles Public Library's extensive maps collection are on display now through November 4 as part of "As the City Grew," an exhibition at the Central Library. Map librarian Glen Creason, author of "Los Angeles in Maps," submitted this 1868 map by William Moore of the Zanja Madre.

In the days before L.A. tapped its aquifers and, later, distant watersheds to quench its thirst, the Los Angeles River was the city's primary source of water. The open-air Zanja Madre, or mother ditch, diverted water from the river near its confluence with the Arroyo Seco and carried it downstream to the settlement of Los Angeles and its surrounding farms.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Santa Monica, 1875

Many cities began as maps. Governor Felipe de Neve sketched a plan for El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles months before the first pobladores arrived in 1781. Likewise, J. E. Jackson drew this map of Santa Monica in 1875—the same year, librarian Cynni Murphy of the Santa Monica Public Library notes, that the town's first lots were sold.

Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library.

Courtesy of the Santa Monica Public Library.

Topographical Map of Sawtelle, 1925

Humans are not the only actors in L.A.'s history; impersonal forces like climate and topography play a role, too. The 1925 topographic map below is from the California Geographical Survey, an online resource created by geographer William A. Bowen and hosted by the Department of Geography and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at California State University Northridge. Bowen writes of the map's source collection:

This collection of historical topographic maps was first created during the 1920s and 1930s, two decades that witnessed the explosive growth of population and automobiles throughout Southern California. It documents in rare detail the basic geography of the land and the new twentieth-century metropolis that was forming on the Pacific Shore.

1925 topographic map of Sawtelle and neighboring areas. Courtesy of the California Geographical Survey, CSUN.

1925 topographic map of Sawtelle and neighboring areas. Courtesy of the California Geographical Survey, CSUN.

Wood-Engraved Star Map, Circa 1932

Star maps have guided tourists to the homes of the stars for almost as long as Hollywood has been the movie capital of the world. This unique take on the star map, a circa 1932 wood engraving by artist Paul Landacre, is preserved at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. Manuscripts and Archives Librarian Rebecca Fenning notes that the library also houses the original woodblock that created this print.

Photo by Jennifer Bastian. Courtesy of the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, UCLA.

Dimout Zones, 1942

Navigating the curves of Mulholland Drive can be challenging enough in daylight. But during World War II, the U.S. War Department imposed dimout regulations on many roads--including Mulholland--that were visible from the ocean, requiring motorists to drive with their headlights off at night. This 1942 map from the Automobile Club of Southern California archives shows where dimout regulations would be enforced, explains Auto Club historian Matthew W. Roth:

In the fall of 1942, Auto Club cartographers and U.S. Department of War officials surveyed the coast of Southern California to define the "dimout zone," where motorists were required to turn off their headlights. Designed to thwart enemy vessels off the coast, the dimout would make it more difficult to navigate using onshore landmarks and would eliminate the backlighting of potential targets. Using the Auto Club's standard map of Metropolitan Los Angeles, the survey team marked those roads and highways where the dimout would be enforced. The blue and yellow markings indicate the direction from which the particular road would be visible from the water.

Courtesy of the Auto Club Archives.

Courtesy of the Auto Club Archives.

Master Plan of Freeways, 1957

While some mid-century transportation planners focused on replacing the region's aging rail transit network, others envisioned an expanded system of roadways that would accommodate L.A.'s booming population of automobile drivers. While many of the highways they proposed were eventually set in concrete, L.A.'s web of freeways represents only a fraction of what planners proposed to satisfy the county's traffic needs. The map below, from a 1957 report by the Citizens Traffic and Transportation Committee for the Extended Los Angeles Area, shows many freeways and parkways that never became more than lines on paper.

Digital Resources Librarian Kenn Bicknell of the Metro Library explains:

People forget so many of the planned freeways that fell off the drawing board due to either lack of funding or community NIMBYism. The Beverly Hills Freeway, the Whitnall Freeway, the Alessandro Freeway--we have many studies and reports in our collection that document the love affair with freeway and parkway planning, going back to the 1940s.

Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library & Archive.

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 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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