Redevelopment along the Cornfield Yards in 1954

April 26, 2009 § 11 Comments

1954 Ann Redevelopment Project

1954 Ann Redevelopment Project

A big thanks to Edgar Garcia of the city of Los Angeles Planning Department’s historic preservation team for this very-late-breaking exclusive story. Though the news is 55 years old – and a bit of stretch to claim that it really belongs here (it’s more a story of near-river redevelopment than a river story,) Creek Freak found it interesting and decided to pass it along.

There are implications for today – especially for the city’s Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan which proposes undoing quite a bit of what seemed like a good idea many years ago. It’s also scary in its casual cold language about removing homes and displacing people; making more clear why “urban renewal” and even “redevelopment” have such a bad reputations among most under-served communities today. It’s a cautionary note for those of us who would use redevelopment tools to improve our city – we need to be careful to consider the impacts of our actions, and how our actions will appear in the future. Hopefully plans being made and implemented today won’t appear as shortsighted as this past example does to me today.

This is the existing Ann Street neighborhood (1954)

What the Ann Street neighborhood looked like in 1954

In the 1954 publication Accomplishments: City Planning Commission, one of the accomplishments touted is the approval of the Ann Redevelopment Plan, signed into law on September 3, 1954, by Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson. The Ann Redevelopment Plan is named as such after Ann Street, which runs perpendicular to Spring Street and Main Street, from the Cornfields (now Los Angeles State Historic Park) to William Mead Homes. The 33-acre plan area is bounded by North Spring, Mesnager, North Main, Llewellyn, and Rondout Streets. The Ann plan was the first redevelopment plan approved in the state of California.

The document describes the “Conditions Within Project Area” as follows:
– “66% of the 102 residential structures are substandard, many of which are unfit for human occupancy.”
– “Crime, juvenile delinquency, and disease rates are considerably above the city-wide average.”
It further concludes that “[t]he existing residential structures… should be eliminated at the earliest possible moment in the interest of public welfare.”

The maps tell the story better than my words do. The existing map shows plenty of housing… the redevelopment map shows consolidation into what today might be derisively called “super-blocks.”

It always seemed odd to me that William Mead Homes (a ~500-unit public housing project owned by the Los Angeles city Housing Authority) is an isolated island of housing surrounded on all sides by industrial development. Well… William Mead Homes weren’t alone until the city took out the adjacent housing via the Ann Redevelopment Plan. The maps also show that there were plenty more adjacent commercial establishments than today’s single liquor store.

A couple other interesting things show up on these maps:
– On the upper left of the existing land use map, between Mesnager and Sotello, there is an unlabeled pair of dotted lines that, I think, indicate the location of the pedestrian bridge that extended across the Cornfield Yards from Spring Street to Broadway. (Bridge photo here.) It looks like the bridge connected with a fair amount of housing – perhaps where railroad workers lived who commuted on foot to jobs at the Cornfield Yards and/or on North Broadway?
– Both maps show the City of L.A. animal shelter (at the intersection of Ann and Naud.) This is the shelter that gave the name “dogtown” to the area, and to the gang located there. The animal shelter (now the North Central Care Center) was relocated to Lincoln Heights, but the name dogtown can still be found graffitied on walls in the vicinity of where the dog pound used to be.

To make things conducive to industrial development, the Ann Redevelopment Plan calls for “[r]elocation of present residents,” “[r]emoval of all existing residential structures,” and “vacating unnecessary streets and widening others to suitable widths.” Sadly, banishing housing and vacating and widening streets is exactly the opposite of what the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP) plans today. The CASP wisely proposes to add housing back into the area (mainly mixed-use – which, as the map shows was there before – some directly across from the Cornfields), to narrow streets and to dedicate small-scale new steets to create a walkable grid. Perhaps the historical grid can be restored – maybe start with the now-vanished Shieffelin and Beale Streets? Were those 1950’s street closures revocable?

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§ 11 Responses to Redevelopment along the Cornfield Yards in 1954

  • I knew there used to be an animal shelter there! For my birthday waaaaay back in like 1978 ’79 we adopted a husky mix from that Ann Street facility.

  • The Los Angeles Public Library has some photographs of the buildings torn down for the Ann St. Project. Ironically, some of them look like the kind of “mixed use development” that seems so desirable today. These were taken by Leonard Nadel in 1952 for the CRA.

  • Joe Linton says:

    @Laurie – thanks for sharing those pictures. Wow! It looks like a nice neighborhood!

  • Georgia says:

    Am familiar with redevelopment planning and theory, but still, the images surprised me. The blatant erasure of the neighborhood. The red hatch is fully opaque that it prevents the viewer from seeing the existing neighborhood.

    Interesting that you chose to show the proposed plan image before showing the existing landscape image.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Claire Bowin says:

    Joe-

    Thanks for sharing this bit of history! I’ll be sure to include it in the next draft of the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan. Thanks too to Laurie for sharing the historic photos from the Library’s collection.

  • Sarm says:

    Dear Joe,

    Before the Ann St. Animal Shelter came into beign, the city’s original dog pound was located just a few blocks away, adjacent to the North Spring Street bridge, on the other side of where the “farmlab” is. It was this dog pound that lent the area the name “Dogtown.” The area has been known informally as “Dogtown” for over one hundred years now. Los Angeles gangs tend to take their names from place names/ geographic locations. The dogtown gang took its name from the neighborhood, which took it in reference to the city dog pound in their neighborhood. All of this was BEFORE THE ANN ST. ANIMAL SHELTER existed.

    There’s a round compass-like plaque in the cornfield park that names the surrounding neighborhoods, naming them. Somehow, the crack-historians that built the park forgot to name the very neighborhood they’re in. Morons.

    • Joe Linton says:

      Interesting. I didn’t realize that the earlier dog pound was there on North Main. Do you have any articles or photos about the old animal shelter?

      I’d request that you be careful about calling folks “morons.” The current L.A. State Historic Park is a temporary “interim public use” park. The historians are still coming up with the plans for the final park, and maybe they can incorporate more of the stories of the adjacent neighborhood as we make them more aware of these stories.

  • Sarm says:

    I forget how difficult it is to impart tone in short emails without the use of emoticons, but I meant it as an eye-winking gentle-ribbing sort of admonition, and not as the pointed put-down that is evident now that I’m re-reading it. I take it back. Apologies to all!

    About ten years ago I corresponded with the author of this piece:

    http://www.intranet.csupomona.edu/~reshaffer/dogsx.htm

    In that article Professor Shaffer, History Professor at Cal Poly Pomona, quotes a newspaper article wherein a woman laments the sight of the penned dogs as she travels across the Downey Avenue Bridge (now Spring Street). The article quotes letters to the L.A. Times referencing the dog pound (“above” the bridge…where the “farmlab” is now, instead of the other side?).

    I’ve lost those emails, but I seem to remember Professor Shaffer saying the pound moved once before settling and becoming what came to be known as the Ann Street Animal shelter.

    I once asked William Deverell, our prominent local historian, about Dogtown, and it was he who told me the area has been “known as ‘Dogtown’ for a hundred years.” Which makes sense considering those Letters to the Editor of the L.A. Times date from the late 1880’s.

    Tidbits:
    The letters and articles reference the “East Side” which definitively indicated the east side of the river, so there you go.

    When the cornfield was an actual cornfield a few years ago, a young lady, I forget her name, who had written analytical book about Graffiti, held a story-telling session with a man named “Rafas.” She indicated that she found dogtown graffiti dating to the 1930s in or around the bridge.

    I have no pictures but I found these online:

    http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/chs-m173.html?x=1251017073192

    http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/search/controller/view/chs-m28.html?x=1251017073192

    • Joe Linton says:

      Thanks for clarifying, and for the links, stories and photos. I’ve never seen that first photo before – interesting just how wide the riverbed was.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      that would have been across the river from the “world’s largest” pigeon farm that was poised on the left bank of the LA River, next to the Arroyo Seco, and a short distance from the old alligator and ostrich farm up where Lincoln Park is today, located on the old Arroyo de las Pasas.

  • Dogtowner says:

    Sarm is correct, the “dogtown” name for the area between the old cornfield and Lincoln Heights straddling the L.A. river was indeed already in use way before they even built the first dog pound by the Spring (Downey) Street bridge. Dogtown was already a name quoted in newspapers as far back as the 1890s. The area as I was told, was baptized with the name because that area along the L.A. river, and all along the railyards, was always filled with roaming dogs that would gather around there, because when the freight trains that carried food goods would stop at the then wandering L.A. river and would dispose of their spoiled goods, creating a feast for dogs; hence the name. please excuse my bad grammar.

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