Dorothy Parker famously said (though she probably didn’t) that LA is "72 of suburbs in search of a city." It’s a common criticism of this sprawling metropolis, but a 25-second film from 1897 tells a different story.
As KCET notes, the short movie was the first ever made in what would soon become the center of film production worldwide. It shows a city with a bustling downtown, full of walkers, bicyclists, horse-drawn carriages, and trolleys. All easily share the street and sidewalks in a chaotic but practiced type of choreography.
The video is simply entitled "South Spring Street, Los Angeles, Cal," and KCET explains that it was the work of one Frederick Blechynden, who shot it on behalf of the Edison Manufacturing Company. Later, he’d train his camera on more scenic sights along the seaside tracks of Southern Pacific’s Sunset Route, but the first thing he captured was this scene in Downtown LA.
It’s difficult to recognize where on Spring the footage was shot, though it’s likely that some of the buildings in the frame remain on that historic thoroughfare today. Wanting to capture eye-catching footage, Blechynden may have chosen the location precisely for its bustling nature. By recording vehicles moving past the camera, the photographer would have accentuated the ability of this brand new technology to capture the appearance of objects in motion.
And, of course, he also preserved an early image of Downtown LA as a vibrant area, filled with men in suits boldly inventing their own scrambled crosswalks on unmarked and traffic signal-less streets.