Sepia Tones: Look Back at the 1930s Heyday of Hollywood’s Kitschy Crossroads of the World

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Charles Crawford owned the land before his death; shortly after he died in 1931, his widow decided to build “a calm, dignified fantasy land of multi-national buildings,” as Hadley Meares wrote at KCET in 2013, and commissioned architect Robert V. Derrah, who’d designed the Coca-Cola plant near Twelfth and Central, to create an outdoor shopping center with buildings in a variety of architectural styles from around the world. Buildings included a lighthouse, a ship, and the famous sign tower with spinning globe. (The “murder bungalow” was demolished to make way for the new construction.)

For a while after it opened in 1936, things were on the rise at the Crossroads. As photos from the first few years show, there were plenty of storefronts rented out. A 1938 National Real Estate Journal article (via the Crossroads’ website) noted that 42 of the 57 shops were said to be leased out, but “as only a high class clientele is sought who will operate distinctive shops many seeking leases have been turned away.”

Image via Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

But things headed downhill with World War II and Ella’s death in 1953; by 1965, the property had gone through several owners, none of whom could successfully kickstart the place, reclaim its once-high-class rep, or even rebrand it as something other than a gimmicky joke. (“In 1967 it was reported that motorcycles were being sold in front of the once high class mall,” writes Meares. Motorcycles! The horror.) It did become popular with those most degenerate of tenants: musicians and artists. In the 1970s, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young both recorded there, and legendary guitarist Bonnie Raitt rehearsed in the complex. In 1974, art director Kosh moved in and, while working there, created timeless covers for Linda Ronstadt, ELO, the Pointer Sisters, and the Eagles.

In 1977, developer Mort La Kretz bought the property and he still owns it today; just over a week ago, plans were revealed for a huge, mixed-use makeover of the site that includes the preservation of the Crossroads of the World’s kitschy-cool buildings (the complex is now an LA Historic-Cultural Monument) and the construction of eight new buildings, including lots of new retail and office space, plus towers for condos, apartments, and a hotel that’ll reach up to 32 stories.

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