Temple Square: The Lost Heart of Commercial Los Angeles | KCET
Temple Square: The Lost Heart of Commercial Los Angeles
For decades the triangle-shaped intersection pictured above was the commercial heart of Los Angeles. Professionals of all stripes -- lawyers, bankers, photographers, hatters -- jockeyed for offices overlooking the yawning, open space where Main, Spring, and Temple streets converged.
One man, Jonathan Temple, controlled so much of that frontage that the junction became informally known as Temple Square. Temple -- a Massachusetts-born merchant who moved to Mexican California in 1827, converted to Catholicism, and took the Spanish name Juan -- had opened the city's first general store on the intersection's northwest corner shortly after his arrival. Across the street, wedged between Main and Spring, was the Temple Block, an agglomeration of buildings that began in 1858 as a two-story adobe structure and evolved into one of the city's most prestigious business addresses.
Temple Square became an incubator of urban innovation. Eager to enhance his property's street appeal, in 1860 Temple installed what might have been the city's first paved sidewalks, built of a brick base, topped with asphalt, and then sprinkled with sand. The experimental pavement proved sticky in the summer months, but for most of the year it provided welcome relief from streets choked with mud and horse manure. Temple didn't stop at sidewalks to aid his customers' comfort; in 1861 he planted some of the city's first street trees (Peruvian peppers) outside his general store.
In 1871, a three-story Italianate structure replaced Temple's old adobe building, with retailers occupying the ground floor of the New Temple Block and professional offices the stories above. Across the street was another commercial complex, the Downey Block. Three years later, Los Angeles' first streetcar line opened for business with Temple Square as its northern terminus, and in 1884 merchant Harris Newmark installed an ornate, seven-foot fountain in the square to quench the thirst of what was still a bustling business district.
But most the city's commercial activity eventually moved south. Financial firms huddled around Spring Street, while retailers made Broadway the city's premier shopping corridor. Temple Square survived until the mid-1920s, when the construction of L.A.'s new Civic Center erased the three-way intersection from the city's street grid. The Temple Block crumbled, Spring Street straightened itself out to become parallel with Main, and the city's old commercial heart beat no more.