08 January 2012

Subversive Bicycle Photos - Los Angeles

Los Angeles. 1900. Spring St. near 8th.
The latest installment in our Subversive Bicycle Photos series is from a city that enjoyed a modal share for bicycles of 20% at the turn of the last century and built impressive protected bicycle infrastructure like this 10 km, elevated cycle track back in 1900.

Alas, the bicycle disappeared from this area that was described like this in an 1897 newspaper article: "There is no part of the world where cycling is in greater favor than in Southern California, and nowhere on the American continent are conditions so favorable the year round for wheeling."

Thanks to our reader, Rick, we found some subversive photographs showing the bicycle as an accepted and respected part of life in Los Angeles in the Los Angeles Public Library archives.

As ever with these subversive photos, do not let them get out. If society at large were to learn that the bicycle used to be an integral part of life for Citizens Cyclists and not just some recent sub-cultural activity for middle-class white men, who knows what might happen. People might realise that riding a bicycle used to be normal and could quite possibly become normal again. Who know what resistance might appear. At the moment it's just this, but it could get worse. We all know what happened when the car industry went after another competitive transport form.

Burbank. 1908.

First Street looking east from Yale Avenue in Claremont in 1915.

Los Angeles. Ca. 1890. 632 South Broadway.

Balboa. Newport Beach. 1940s. Photographer: Herman Schultheis.

Los Angeles Bicycle Police Squad. 1904. Broadway past 6th St.

Los Angeles. 1905. Rambler Bicycles at 207-209 West 5th Street near Spring.

Los Angeles. 1902. Commercial High School participate in the Fiesta Floral Parade with a bicycle float.

Los Angeles. 1915. Hill and 4th.

Los Angeles. Ca. 1904. Main and 9th. Bicycle Parade heading for Griffith Park.

Long Beach. Ca. 1895. Pine Avenue.

Los Angeles. Ca. 1930s. Variety Arts Theater.

Los Angeles. 1899. Spring Street.

From left:
- Portrait of Japanese boy with bicycle and notebook ca 1900.
- Grace Toya with bicycle at the Tule Lake internment camp 1945.
- Los Angeles Bicycle Club 1890s.

Los Angeles High School's Kodak and Bicycle Club ca 1900.

From top left:
- Los Angeles ca. 1930s.
- LA Rooftop Stunt 1930s.
- Ditto.
- Los Angeles "Old Settlers Parade" 1937. Photographer: George J. Cooper

Leela McAdam nee McCabe - winner of the best decorated bicycle for the 1900 Fourth of July parade in Lompoc stands outside her home at 137 South J Street.

Oh, and tell your local bike polo playing hipster that he/she is soooo old school. Bike Polo in Los Angeles, 1930s.

Might be fun to see photographs taken these days from the same locations. Let us know if you take them.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Archives.


Anonymous said...

Not a "bike lane" in sight. Streets are for people and they didn't want to be segregated in some glorified gutter or grovel for validation from a bunch of self-appointed "advocates". What would be subversive would be to claim the streets for people, act with decency, get all vehicles on city streets moving at safe speeds and following a common set of rules, and get on with making life pleasant and interesting. THE WAY IT WAS IN THESE PHOTOS. Oops, the special interests, advocates, consultants would never allow this. Carry on with your with your propaganda and commerce.

Ben said...

Its great to see so many photos of cyclists and cycles in their heyday. It doesn't look like it was considered subversive in those days. Maybe we are even coming to a new heyday of cycling.

Tamara said...

I live in LA and know many of the areas from these pics. In particular the California Cycleway was along a stretch of the 110 Freeway. I can completely picture it there. It's a mostly flat freeway, quite windy and goes through the Arroyo Seco area. There is a bike path there now which is along side the freeway and a water overflow wash type area. http://maps.google.com/maps?q=arroyo+seco+bike+path&ll=34.102317,-118.187356&spn=0.018585,0.042272&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&hnear=Arroyo+Seco+Bike+Path,+Los+Angeles,+California&gl=us&t=m&vpsrc=6&z=15&iwloc=A&lci=bike

kfg said...

It is my understanding that the Pasadena Cycleway didn't fail to be completed through any lack of financial viability, but rather that the rail company buried it in lawyers.

The railway charged a fare to carry bicycles over the same route.

Anon - Ferraraize!

kfg said...

P.S. I think that it's worth noting that in all of these photographs there is not to be found a single "Dutch Bike."

There is, however, at least one hipster posenger skitching a ride.

shuichi said...

There are many subversive bike photos, right? I noticed an old Japanese bike among them.

I sometimes see an old type bike near my apartment in Kyoto. Some bikes are now lively used at a company although they are not popular.

I am not able to find an old and subversive photo in Japan.
I just found such an old bike here, http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/redheron/sub4.htm
It reads DL-1 was originally invented as a military use, then it lead other bikes in the world as a real Road Star...

kfg said...

shuichi: Perhaps you cannot find subversive pictures simply because bicycles are not subversive in Japan.

Japan has certainly made some of the loveliest traditional roadsters though. I wish they had made it over here to the states.


Anonymous said...

As for bike lanes or not, I believe they're necessary as long as we're talking wide streets with heavy car traffic, no matter at what speed. Much as I'd love to see less car traffic, I can't see it happen anytime soon. But it sure is nice to share the streets where possible.

The L.A. bike photos must be the subversiest EVER!

Mikael said...

No bike lanes because there were no cars. Once cars started to dominate is when many places started to build cycle tracks. 1915 in Copenhagen was the first.

Mike said...

One good idea that I think deserves ressurection... During WW2, the Lockheed Vega Aircraft factory in Burbank sold bikes to those employees that lived within 4 miles of the factory, and promised to buy them back when the employees didn't need them anymore. The managed to sell over 2,000 bikes and greatly increase bike commuting to the plant.


Erik Griswold said...

I too long for the days before:
Anti-Lock Brakes
Power Steering
Fuel-injected engines (with automatic choke)
Bucket seats
Seat belts
Air Conditioning
Hi quality vehicle audio (and video!) systems
Steel rims
Wide treads
Automatic transmissions


were all standard in even the most barebones car models. Motorists used to have to think about accelerating, braking and cornering and the stresses they and their car would survive. They could not maneuver and swerve at the speeds they do today.

Go drive a Model T (or contemporary vehicle) someday and then compare.

kfg said...

"Power Steering"

There was once a sweet young thing dropping hints that she could love me for my FIAT 124 Spider; so I handed her the keys.

She didn't have the strength to unpark it.


On the other hand, these are the super carburetor you've heard so much about. I have nothing agin 'em, at least so long as they aren't made by SPICA.

"Bucket seats"

The Mercer Raceabout had those.

"Go drive a Model T"

The T was an ATV. The sportier cars of the time actually drove quite well, even if their starting instructions began:

1. Drain the oil from the engine.
2. Heat the oil on a stove.

There was a certain romance in pouring your own babbit though.

Davistrain said...

Once Henry Ford got his assembly lines up and running, it was time to sell your street railway and bicycle stocks. Then GM introduced in-house financing (GMAC), annual model changes and the "trade in/trade up" marketing strategy. Technical improvements as enumerated by Mr. Griswold have made the car easier and easier to operate, while transit (streetcar or bus) requires patience and sometimes a willingness to be "packed in like sardines". As far as bicycles are concerned, for many years it was said that "Handing a teenager a driver's license shuts down that part of the brain devoted to bike riding." Especially in Southern California, old cars could be purchased for what we would now call "chump change", and kept going with junkyard parts back in the pre-SmogChek days.

Anonymous said...

For more on the history of bicycling in early Los Angeles, check out: this post from LA as Subject, a network of 230+ archives, libraries and museums in Southern California.

Bike Lane Living said...

Too bad the city didn't view bicycles as an important method of transportation in the beginning of the century and create an infrastructure that could support both bikes AND cars. Love these subversive photos!

kfg said...

BLL, at the beginning of the century they did. They called them "Paved Roads," the pavement being installed for the benefit of . . . the cyclists.

Used Cars Los Angeles said...

I live in L.A currently and think something needs to be done in order to make it easier for folks to ride their bikes. Many roads seem in the city here in Weho seem to be lacking biking lanes which can cause for many close calls on the road.