What started as a run-of-the-mill Natural Resources Conservation Service dig for soil samples in the City Hall lawn has ended up unearthing a brick layer dating back to Los Angeles's earliest days, when First, Temple, Spring, and Main formed a triangle and the building on the site held, among other things, a dentist's office where one could have a tooth "painlessly" ripped out for 50 cents. (Meanwhile, in Chinatown, developers have recently uncovered some of LA's original aqueduct.) The soil survey was only intended to yield samples, but the digging scientists noticed they were seeing whole bricks, level with each other horizontally, and forming a sort of layer at the bottom of the pit they'd been digging, says the USDA's blog. They looked at old photos, consulted with historians, and came to the conclusion that the bricks were a subfloor of the 1800s Lichtenberger Building, which once stood at the corner of First and Main Streets. (But did they find any teeth??)
"The big block that City Hall now sits on, including the park, was formerly chockablock with groceries, haberdasheries, etc.," Brent Dickerson, historian and author of books about Los Angeles history and other subjects, told the USDA. "The buildings were usually raised above ground level, so that water from the street wouldn't flow in, and the sub-structural floor wouldn't need to be very deep to be below the ground floor."
The Lichtenberger, at what was 145 and 147 Main Street, according to the LA Public Library's photo collection, was demolished in 1926 to make way for a the new City Hall; it was at the same time that the streets were reshaped into their current rectangular orientation. LA historian Nathan Masters tells the USDA, "[C]onstruction of L.A.'s new Civic Center erased entire city blocks of old brick buildings and other historic structures from the map. The Temple Block crumbled, Spring Street straightened itself out to become parallel with Main, and the city's old commercial heart beat no more."
LA County has been mapped, soil-wise, piece by piece over the last 60 years, but Downtown "remained elusive until now."
· Los Angeles Soil Survey Unearths Cradle of the City [USDA Blog]
· Unearthed Piece of 1800s Aqueduct Stops Blossom Plaza Work [Curbed LA]