Bunker Hill: Time Travel to Downtown's Early Days | NBC Southern California

Bunker Hill: Time Travel to Downtown's Early Days

Mansions, then skyscrapers, dotted this downtown nook.

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    Art Deco Society of Los Angeles/American Cinematheque
    Look back at the early days of Bunker Hill on Sunday, March 15 at The Egyptian Theatre.

    April Fools' Day is on fast approach, which means that people who like to fun their friends -- "fun" as in rib or josh or leg-pull — are looking for that ideal joke.

    And if you were to tell an out-of-towner, while driving up Grand Avenue, or Olive Street, that the immediate area once flowered with ornate Victorian mansions and not mega skyscrapers, your visitor would have a hard time buying it, if they weren't up-to-date on LA's fabled Bunker Hill.

    It's no joke, though. Few neighborhoods anywhere go through such dramatic, top-to-bedrock transformations in such short windows of time, but Bunker Hill seemed to live a millennium in a century.

    That transformation, and the politics and personal tales and architectural brouhahas that went with it, will be considered at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday afternoon, March 15. "Bunker Hill Revisited," an hourlong lookback at the storied slice of downtown, will screen, and architectural historian Nathan Marsak will chat about the powerful plates that shifted for the neighborhood, and are still shifting.

    Is it true that Bunker Hill was a "hotbed for sin and vice" several decades back? Well, there are tales, some tall as the buildings that occupy the footprints once held by sizable estates. But, for sure, much of LA's homegrown genre — that would be noir, you betcha — found its rough-and-tumble roots atop one of the highest places in downtown.

    Angel's Flight is one of the picturesque artifacts of that age, and the famous funicular railway stars in an eponymous film that'll also screen alongside the Bunker Hill documentary. But "Angel's Flight," which turns 50 this year, is a fictional work filled with straight-talking characters, tough types who went to the Noir-Approved Academy of Take No Guff.

    Many Angelenos work in an office in Bunker Hill; they're plentiful. And SoCalers regularly call upon the museums and restaurants. If you've been Bunkering but aren't up on the fast reformation of this part of downtown, best brush up.

    You have to impress your out-of-towners, after all, and be ready to quiz them. So true or false: Just a century ago, this corner of LA was dotted with Victorian houses and not sky-high buildings. (Answer: true.)

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