AKA: Baker Block, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - commercial buildings

Designers: Buchanan and Herbert, Architects (firm); S. H. Buchanan (architect); Charles E. Herbert (architect)

Dates: constructed 1878, demolished 1942

3 stories

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342 North Main Street
Civic Center, Los Angeles, CA USA 90012-2830

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According to the 1883 Los Angeles City Directory (p. 29), the Baker Block was located on the "east side of Main street, bet. Arcadia and Commercial St."

Overview

The Los Angeles architectural tandem of Buchanan and Herbert designed the large-scale commerical office block, the Baker Building, for Colonel Robert S. Baker, a prominent businessman in the still small city of Los Angeles, CA.

Building History

The three-story Baker Building took up a large portion of the southeast corner of North Main Street and Arcadia Street, and was a prominent commercial fixture in early Los Angeles's commercial business district that neighbored the Pico House Hotel (1870), one block to the north. Offices occupied the upper two floors while shops lined the first. An awning wrapped around the front facade, sheltering shoppers from the strong sun and rare rain shower.

Rhode Island-born businessman Robert S. Baker (1825-1894) commissioned the grand building, considered to be one of the finest commercial addresses in Los Angeles of the 1870s and 1880s. Baker was on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Savings Bank c. 1875, serving with J.S. Slauson, J. Bixby, J.M. Griffith, H.B. Tichenor, and George S. Dodge.

Design work was underway on the building in 1877 by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Buchanan and Herbert. An advertisement appeared in the San Francisco newspaper, the Daily Alta California, on both 09/28 and 10/02 of 1877 seeking "plans and specification of the cast iron work of Baker's Block at Los Angeles." (See "Notice to Iron Founders," Daily Alta California, vol. 29, no, 10038, 10/02/1877, p. 4.) Los Angeles, at this time, may not have had the iron working expertise to produce cast-iron elements for the building; the architects found it necessary to advertise in San Francisco to attract contractors who could complete the work. The San Francisco office at which information was available to potential iron contractors was that of Christy and Wise, wool commission merchants, at 607 Front Street.

An article in the Los Angeles Herald of 03/1878 indicated that spaces in the building were renting briskly: "The statement which appeared in the public prints to the effect that all the store rooms in the Baker Block had been already rented is a mistake. Many applications are received for these store rooms, but they have not yet been acted on in many cases." (See "Local Brevities," Los Angeles Herald, vol. 9, no. 98, 03/22/1878, p. 3.) Advertisements for lawyers with offices in the Baker Block began to appear in the Herald by 10/1878.

Goodwill Industries bought the property in 1919, and held it until 1941, when the City of Los Angeles obtained the property to complete a road extension project.

Building Notes

The Second Empire Style Baker Block was notable for its three towers, particularly its central belltower. The Western Union Telegraph office was located in the Baker Block, c. 09/1882. The Lacy Manufacturing Company (a steel products company) occupied Office #4 in the building, 03/1897, as did the L. Booth and Sons Machinery Company. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) Photo Database record noted that the Baker Block had been built in 1875, erected on the site of the Abel Stearns House.

In 1883, the Los Angeles Club occupied Rooms #1, 2, 3, and 5 of the Baker Block. (See Los Angeles, California, City Directory, 1883, p. 126.)

In 1886, the Los Angeles Produce Exchange occupied Room #1 of the Baker Block. (See Los Angeles, California, City Directory, 1886, p. 137.)

Demolition

The Baker Block was razed in 1942. Historian Brian Hsu has said: "...The faded landmark was slated to give way to one of the most mundane projects in the 1930 Civic Center plan: a two-block extension of Aliso Street from Los Angeles Street to Broadway. ...The Metropolitan Garden Association launched an effort to move the Baker Block to another location and reopen it as a public recreation center. Furthermore, a group of City Councilmen led by Arthur E. Briggs organized a fundraising initiative to convert the building into a city history museum. (See Urban Diachrony.com, "The Baker Block, southeast corner of Main and Arcadia Streets, c.1938-2011," accessed 02/15/2017.)

PCAD id: 327