Los Angeles is inextricably bound to the advent of electricity in American cities—it might technically be the city of angels, but it’s really the city of lights. And lucky for us, the transformation of LA from a dark backwater to radiant city of lights was widely documented.
At Huntington Library's sprawling Edison Archives, 70,000 photos of LA’s so-called “electrical age” tell the story of how electricity—aka "white gold"—made the city what it is. And thanks to a new digital exhibit called Form and Landscape (part of the ongoing Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA program), a group of historians and curators have parsed the most fascinating for us. The curators explain:
Boosters spoke fervently about the opportunity a regular supply of electricity created and the benefit it would provide a mass of people for whom ready access to white gold meant extended hours of productive labor, enhanced quality of their leisure hours, and greater safety while traveling in and about the company’s service area by foot, by mass transit, or by automobile. It is a story of private enterprise elevating individual and collective wellbeing and in doing so contributing toward the public good by taking the smoke out of manufacturing; by making the labor of workers, both wage-earners and domestic, more efficient; by increasing safety and deterring crime; by improving health.
From a nuclear power plant worker fashion show to the installation of the city's first street lights, check the images out below—or head over to Form and Landscape exhibit site for the entire collection.
1927: The construction of Shaver Lake Dam in Big Creek, by G. Haven Bishop.
Undated: An Edison snow surveyor prepares to force a hollow tube into the snow.
1936: Booth at restaurant Men's Display at Biltmore Hotel, by G. Haven Bishop.
1959: The automated menu at Scrivner's Drive-In, by Joseph Fadler.
1956: An ad from the Electric Clothes Drying Promotional Campaign, also by Joseph Fadler.
1957: The Drake Transmission Lines, which shuttled electricity to Los Angeles, shot by Joseph Fadler.
1970: An electrical workers fashion show, shot by Joseph Fadler.
1958: The Mammoth Pool Dam, where work went on around the clock in the late 1950s. Photo by Joseph Fadler.
Undated: The neon glow of a restaurant, by Doug White.
1960: A man surveys land, by Joseph Fadler.
1906: The creeping lights of LA, as seen from Mount Wilson, shot by G. Haven Bishop.
1965: Clifton's Cafeteria by Art Adams.
1960: A display meant to introduce buyers to the "effects of lighting on office efficiency," shot by Joseph Fadler.
1954: The iconic—and neon—golden arches of McDonald's. Shot by Joseph Fadler.
Undated: Commercial Lighting, by Doug White.
1964: New Luxury Home, by Joseph Fadler.
1967: Streetlights in storage, by Art Adams.
All images © The Huntington.