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Hand-Colored Lantern Slides of Old Los Angeles

Long before Technicolor or Kodachrome, audiences gathered in darkened spaces and saw Los Angeles in vibrant, even surreal, color. As a lecturer narrated, the City of Angels flickered before them, each image dissolving into the next: a verdant park planted with palms and banana trees; a red sandstone courthouse; a prismatic sunset over Venice Beach. It was a trick accomplished with limelight, lenses, and hand-tinted glass slides, but to a 19th-century audience it might as well have been magic – and indeed the projector responsible for these proto-cinematic effects came to be known as the magic lantern.

In theaters and lecture halls across the country – even in tents on the prairie – the magic lantern entertained Americans in a way that prefigured the motion picture of the 20th century. It often served educational or promotional ends, too. In the 1870s, at least one magic lantern lecturer, Stephen James Sedgwick, transported Eastern and Midwestern audiences along the route of the new transcontinental railroad, dazzling them with images of exotic Western places (like Los Angeles) newly accessible to tourism. Later, in California, Charles Lummis’ Landmarks Club projected slides of the state’s crumbling Spanish missions to build public support for their preservation. And in Los Angeles, an English photographer named Frederick Hamer Maude delivered popular magic lantern lectures about the American Southwest fom the 1890s through the first half of the 20th century. Maude amassed a huge collection of hand-colored lantern slides – now part of the Braun Research Library Collection at the Autry Museum of the American West, along with his hand-written lecture notes – from which the following images are drawn.

Broadway
Downtown Los Angeles in 1895 – Broadway between 2nd and 3rd.
Pershing Square
Pershing Square in 1896, when it was known as Central Park.
Venice Beach
Sunset over Venice Beach.

 

Plaza Church
Los Angeles' historic Spanish plaza in 1894.
Los Angeles County Courthouse
Los Angeles County Courthouse in 1894.
Chinatown
A colorful dragon proceeding down the streets of Los Angeles' Chinatown.

 

adobe_house_ls_12983.jpg
An adobe house at 9th and Mateo, circa 1900, in what's now L.A.'s downtown arts district.
first_trolley_ls_12357.jpg
L.A.'s first trolley.
West Hollywood
West Hollywood in 1892.
The Santa Fe's La Grande rail depot
The Santa Fe's La Grande rail depot in 1896.
Hollywood Reservoir
The Hollywood Reservoir, circa 1920s.
Sunset Over Silver Lake
Sunset Over Silver Lake.

 

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