For a better experience on MUBI, update your browser.

Bunker Hill (1914-1969): A Lost Neighborhood

by Thrift Store Junkie
Bunker Hill (1914-1969): A Lost Neighborhood by Thrift Store Junkie
When postwar movie directors went looking for a gritty location to shoot their psychological crime thrillers, they found Bunker Hill, a neighborhood of fading Victorians, flophouses, tough bars, stairways, dark alleys and a funny little funicular in downtown Los Angeles. Novelist Raymond Chandler had already been there—where do you think he got the term “mean streets”? But the biggest crime was going on behind the scenes, run by the city’s power elite. And Hollywood just happened to capture it on film.—electricpearl.com A Brief History of Bunker Hill Despite once attracting high-income residents with its fashionable apartment buildings,… Read more

When postwar movie directors went looking for a gritty location to shoot their psychological crime thrillers, they found Bunker Hill, a neighborhood of fading Victorians, flophouses, tough bars, stairways, dark alleys and a funny little funicular in downtown Los Angeles. Novelist Raymond Chandler had already been there—where do you think he got the term “mean streets”? But the biggest crime was going on behind the scenes, run by the city’s power elite. And Hollywood just happened to capture it on film.—electricpearl.com

A Brief History of Bunker Hill

Despite once attracting high-income residents with its fashionable apartment buildings, Bunker Hill had become a working class lodging district by the 1920s. The once thriving leafy hilltop suburb was a symbol of urban decay that discouraged new investments. After the Great Depression, the grand old Victorian mansions were run-down and being used as cheap apartment hotels.

In the 1950s, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency came up with a drastic redevelopment plan for the entire Bunker Hill area and by 1968, every last Victorian home of Bunker Hill Avenue had been demolished.

Today’s Bunker Hill — an amalgam of commercial high rises, arts venues, other mega-projects that cleared the historic neighborhood of all its structures, reconfigured its streets, and altered its topography. Some streets, like Clay Street and Bunker Hill Avenue, no longer exist. Others, like Olive Street, now rest several stories below where they once were. Except for the Angels Flight funicular and the odd leftover retaining wall, few physical traces of the original neighborhood remain.

But while the physicality of Bunker Hill has been erased, the city’s architectural memories survive in libraries, official archives, films, and private collections. That record continues to inform scholarship about urban redevelopment and, through web-based historical research projects like On Bunker Hill, a public understanding of what the city lost when redevelopment claimed the hilltop community.

Angels Flight

Angels Flight Railway is one of Los Angeles’ most enduring landmarks. Constructed and opened in 1901, it carried passengers up and down the steep slope between downtown and the top of Bunker Hill, then a fashionable residential district.

Billed as the “shortest railway in the world,” the funicular has two cars, Olivet and Sinai, connected to the same cable and counterbalancing one another. Taken over by the city in 1962 in connection with the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project, Angels Flight continued to operate until 1969, when the City dismantled the railway and stored the cars and buildings.

In 1996, the City completed its rebuilding of the railway – at a new location a half block south of the original – and then transferred title to the private, nonprofit Angels Flight Railway Foundation. Following an accident in 2001, the Foundation commissioned the design and installation of an entirely new drive and control system.—www.laconservancy.org

Quotes

“Bunker Hill was [John Fante’s] neighborhood. I lived there too before they leveled off the poor and put up high-rises. It was the best place for the poor, the best place for cabbage and fish heads, boiled carrots, the old, the insane, the young who couldn’t fit into the offices down there.”—Charles Bukowski, in a 1978 letter to Ben Pleasants

“There was a ding dong from one of the cars and it started up the slope of Angel’s Flight. A girl screamed. One always did. Beside me, somebody said, ‘I wonder what’s up there. Up there on top?’ ‘Same thing as down here,’ I answered. ‘Couple of bars, a chili parlor, and a whorehouse.’”—Lou Cameron, Angel’s Flight, 1960

“It was an odd part of the city, but I liked it. It was a strictly no-questions-asked area, people minding their own business and letting you mind yours.”—Edward G. Robinson, Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)

“Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.”—Raymond Chandler, The High Window

“The groaning cable car landed me above the tops of brittle palms and loquat trees. Another sign invites another ascent . . . . A long flight of wooden steps. Perhaps, beyond, another sign will tempt a rebellious angel to try his wings . . . Angel’s flight.”—Don Ryan, Angel’s Flight, 1927

“I went up to my room, up the dusty stairs of Bunker Hill, past the soot-covered frame buildings along that dark street, sand and oil and grease choking the futile palm trees standing like dying prisoners, chained to a little plot of ground with black pavement hiding their feet. Dust and old buildings and old people sitting at windows, old people tottering out of doors, old people moving painfully along the dark street.”—John Fante, Ask the Dust, 1939

Bunker Hill is a land that Los Angeles forgot. A Strange place the city moved around, chipped at, went under and through, but hardly ever over.—Art Hewett, reporter for the Herald

Films

During World War II, the studios were forced to cut back on how much they spent on sets. They started going out to the streets. Directors would say if you shot on the streets, suddenly these films became much more real, It was just a visually arresting place.

There was another charm: As it does even today “post-reconstruction,” Bunker Hill was Zelig-like in its adaptability. Filmmakers used it as a stand-in location for other cities–they just had to shoot around the palm trees.—Jim Dawson, writer and historian

A Drive Through Bunker Hill (1948) (not on Mubi)
A Star Is Born (1954)
Act of Violence (1948)
All Jazzed Up (1920) (not on Mubi)
An Eastern Westerner (1920)
And Ten Thousand More (1951)
Angel’s Flight (1965)
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Backfire (1950) (not on Mubi)
The Bigamist (1953)
Bliss (1917) (not on Mubi)
The Boy Who Caught a Crook (1961)
The Brasher Doubloon (1947)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Bumping Into Broadway (1919)
Bunker Hill 1956 (1956)
Bus Stop (1956)
Chicago Calling (1951)
The Company She Keeps (1951)
Crime Wave (1954)
Criss Cross (1949)
Cry Danger (1951)
Cry of the Hunted (1953)
The Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
The Derelict (1957) (not on Mubi)
Dime With a Halo (1963)
Down Three Dark Streets (1954)
Duck Soup (1927) (not on Mubi)
The Exiles (1951)
Finger Man (1955)
For Heaven’s Sake (1926)
Gangster’s Revenge (aka The Day Kelly Came Home and Get Outta Town) (1960)
Girl Shy (1924)
The Glenn Miller Story (1953)
The Girls on F Street(1966)
Haunted Spooks (1920)
He Walked by Night (1948)
High and Dizzy (1920)
Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar)(1948)
Hot Water (1924)
The Impatient Maiden (1932)
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? (1964)
Indestructible Man (1956)
Just Neighbors (1919) (not on Mubi)
Just Nuts (1915) (not on Mubi)
The Killing (1956)
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
The Last Day of Angels Flight (1969)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Look Out Below (1919) (not on Mubi)
M (1951)
Making A Living (1914) (not on Mubi)
The Money Trap (1965)
My Gun Is Quick (1957)
Never Weaken (1921)
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948)
Non-Skid Kid (1922) (not on Mubi)
Not Wanted (1949)
Once a Thief (1950)
The Ring (1952)
The Savage Eye (1960)
The Set-Up (1949)
The Sniper (1952)
Shockproof (1948)
Somewhere in the Night (1946)
Southside 1-1000 (1950)
Sudden Fear (1952)
Target Earth (1954)
Terror Trail (1921) (not on Mubi)
They Came to Rob Las Vegas (1968)
This Rebel Breed (1960)
The Turning Point (1952)
The Unfaithful (1947)
Walk East on Beacon (1952)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
While the City Sleeps (1956)
Woman on the Run (1950)
Work (1915)


Royalty free stock footage. The first two minutes of this footage is the background process plate for Douglas Sirk’s film “Shockproof”, 1949. This is from scene when parole officer Griff Marat (Cornel Wilde) rides with Jenny Marsh (Patricia Knight) from her house to him.

Read less