George Mann’s newly discovered set of breath-taking colour photographs bring back to life a slice of Los Angeles history that has all but been destroyed.
Bunker Hill had thrived in the 1870s as one of L.A.’s most distinguished neighbourhoods. With its grand Victorian homes and upper-class charm, it was home to the city’s finest families. By the early 20th century, the rich inhabitants of Bunker Hill had moved on and the neighbourhood began to deteriorate. And yet, Bunker Hill remained an icon of American art and film: many cinema directors – especially of the film noir genre – used the derelict houses as a dramatic set for their films.
In the 1950s, Bunker Hill was considered a carbuncle and Los Angeles city planners decided that the best solution for this social problem would be to demolish the area and have it redeveloped in an ambitious urban renewal project. And so it was that bulldozers tore apart this once grand L.A. neighbourhood and skyscrapers and plazas began to fill the void that was left behind.
Some visitors have described modern-day Bunker Hill as a bit of a ghost town. It is this ghost that George Mann brings back to life with his charming photographs of Bunker Hill, taken in 1958 and 1962, when reconstruction plans were well underway. The colour images were originally intended for display in the 3D “stereopticon” machines George Mann had designed for distribution in bars and restaurants. He added them to his collection of places of interest such as Calico Ghost Town, Catalina Island, Descanso Gardens, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Pacific Ocean Park, Watts Towers or Palm Springs .
In his photographs of the lost Bunker Hill, George Mann captures forlorn buildings in need of new coats of paint, old residents stroking their cats on back porches, mint-green automobiles, abandoned newspapers and vacant lots in glaring afternoon sunlight.
A post-1980s redevelopment programme would have possibly found ways to incorporate the history of Bunker Hill, but in the 1950s and 60s, urban renewal was carried out without preserving any of the characteristic buildings of the neighbourhood.