Travel: My Father’s Color Images of Southern California in the 1940′s

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Even though I’ve lived in a real place called “California” for half my life, the California of my imagination continues to have a strong hold. I remember as a boy in the 1950’s watching televised coverage of the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl Parade from sunny California, while the temperature outside our Minnesota farmhouse was a frigid 10 degrees below zero. And then there were the colored slides my father would show of life in California where he and my mother lived in the early 1940’s. In my childhood imagination it was an exotic place, warm and alluring. Not surprisingly, I came out to investigate as soon as I finished college, and to live, a few years later.

Those colored slide images fascinate me still.  They show a life long gone, and a place just barely recognizable. In the early forties, California had no freeways, and only eight million inhabitants. An yet, it was not a time of innocence. World War II loomed, and then transformed California forever. Spanish architecture, movie studios, cars, oranges and beaches figure prominently in the California of our imagination and in these photos. These images were shot by my father, Ed Alinder, on 35 mm Kodachrome film in Southern California in 1940-44, and on a visit in 1947. Many more photos, after the jump.

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Photos–Top: Downtown Los Angeles. The L.A. area had an extensive streetcar network before it was ripped out in the 1950′s. Above: Venice beach in 1947, gymnasts and volleyball players outnumber body builders. (Click on any photo to see an enlarged version)

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My parents, Marian and Ed Alinder. They married in 1941, and both working at Lockheed Aircraft, were able to buy a small house in Pasadena. This photo, most likely, was taken by my father's brother, Gil Alinder.

The harbor at Santa Catalina Island. "Twenty-six miles across the sea..."

Mediterranean revival, sometimes called “Spanish colonial” architecture is important to our image of California. Later note: I’ve since learned that this is the Pasadena City Hall.

My aunt and uncle, Alice and Gil Alinder, bought this North Hollywood ranch house new in the early 1940's. My parent's Ford convertible is parked in the driveway.

Republic Pictures, a prominent movie studio of the era.

Orange groves were still a part of the landscape, and nearly everyone had an orange tree in their back yard. It seems I developed a taste, for fresh, local and seasonal produce at an early age.

L. A. street scene, c. 1944. A banner hanging over the street reads "7th War Loan Tokyo Next"

Pasadena Playhouse. Hollywood stars-in-the-making perform here. Despite financial difficulties, the Playhouse endures to this day.

Lockheed Aircraft. This photo likely was taken in 1947, since photographing defense facilities during WW II was a no no.

Movie studio back lot. Later note: One of our readers (see below) identifies this as Universal Studio's original western main street.

My mother got a round-trip ride to Minnesota with the folks who owned this car lot. Hudson was a popular U.S. car make into the mid 1950's.

A great uncle and a cousin ran this multi-purpose store, which sold paint, and grapes and fruit trees and poultry and rabbit feed, among other things!

By 1947, the great post-war housing boom was underway. Today, California is home to, not 8 million, but more than 35 million people.

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33 responses

    • That’s a story in itself. Like so many people, my parents were drawn to California because there were jobs there. My parents both worked in defense industries, but at the end of World War II, my father was drafted into the navy and did his training near Chicago. So they decided that it would be best if my mother and I went to live with her parents in Minneapolis. And there they stayed until 1948 when my father began farming the farm which had been in my maternal grandmother’s family for three generations. That’s where I grew up. And the rest is history…

  1. Nice post! Pictures from olden days often intrigue me.
    The first one shows the UA building with what appears to be a cinema at ground level, although I may be mistaken. I was trying to read what the movie title was. Although you say Republic Pictures were the big players in town. ;)

    The Famous Dept. Store is in a couple of the pictures. They must have been a prominent business during that era. I wonder what made them so “famous”? ☺

  2. These photos are great! I was born in 1949, and my family doesn’t have color photos; they are all B&W, so I wasn’t aware color was available back then. I just bought a book for my 88 year old aunt on SF in the 40′s since she used to live here. It looks a lot like the first photo. My local retro gas station has a baby blue Hudson from 1948, I believe. I sent that to my aunt as well, since growing up in Michigan we all knew the Hudson stores who owned the Hudson car company as well. The 40′s were a great time of change in America.

    • my dad worked @ Republic Studios in the 40′s as a set painter & knew all the cowboy stars of that era. I work ed on the Red Ryder films w/R.Blake

  3. Regarding the last image, of the housing development going up – I believe it is 3500 Oak street in Burbank. I used Google Earth to visit the address, and turned up this image looking in roughly the same direction. The remodel doesn’t disguise the original line of the roof very well…

    http://stereographic.net/3500_oak.jpg

  4. My Mom and Dad lived in Lakewood – bought a new home for $9,000 in 1951. Dad worked at nearby Douglas Aircraft where he would stay for the next 38 years…Mom worked in downtown LA @ Haggerty’s. My brother and I are 2nd generation McDonnell Douglas/Boeing employees and feel blessed to be native Californians!

  5. I don’t think I have ever seen a color photo of the downtown street cars!

    Wow. REALLY makes you realize what we lost when they dismantled those!

  6. Even though I wasn’t born until the 1970′s, I can still remember the orange groves of the San Fernando Valley. In the Venice Beach picture, the brick building still stands and the corner of it is a pizza place that I went to all the time. I have pictures of me when I was younger standing on the steps of the Pasadena Playhouse. Thank you so much for bringing back part of my childhood (and for making me homesick). ;-D

  7. I arrived in Los Angeles in 1953 as a teenager from Ottawa, Canada and remember clearly the downtown which at that time was the center of all business activity. I wound up working in the Textile industry whose center was located near Ninth and Broadway where the picture of the United Artist Theater and the Eastern Columbia Building was taken. Famous Dept store later became the U.S. Post Office on the corner of Ninth and Broadway with garment manufacturers on its upper floors.

    The picture showing Republic Studios is indeed on the location of the CBS Studios on Radford today but before that , at one time, there was a sign there that said “Gene Autry Studios” or something to that effect. I believe Autry (the famous western singing cowboy of the 40′s and 50′s) owned Republic Studios.

    • I’m just fascinated by the history of places, and I especially find old, color photos to be compelling. We kind of assume that the past happened in black and white, so to see it in color adds another layer.

  8. These are fun to look at. My Aunt Nora and Uncle Gordon Ewing owned a grocery store in North Hollywood and lived in a little bungalow like the one pictured here but I forget the name of the street. I visited NH from Pennsylvania for the first time last year and saw her home. I know that Charlton Heston lived in the house next door to them for awhile–with another relative of mine. I’ll have to ask my 91-year-old Dad, who now lives in Throusand Oaks, the name of the street. He stayed with them for awhile when he was a soldier stationed in California.

  9. I really enjoy these old pics. As an American (although, I’ve only passed through California) But, as an American growing up in the sixties and seventies there were two places that were always “the place” to be. New York City for cop shows and L.A. for movie stars. :-) Thanks for sharing.

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