Advertisement
Filters
Map
List
A Broadway Rose streetlight set against the iconic U.S. Bank Tower.
(Tom Bertolotti)

This guide to L.A.’s historic streetlights will illuminate your view of the city

Did you know that there are more than 223,000 streetlights in Los Angeles? And that those 223,000 lamps come in more than 400 designs? And that some of those designs are over 100 years old?

You might not have noticed them. And yet, believe it or not, Los Angeles has the most diverse streetlight ecosystem in the entire United States. We’ve got lamps that look like ancient temple columns. We’ve got Gothic-inspired lanterns hidden in the hills. We’ve got lamps with dragons on them. We’ve even got street lamps decorated with topless women.

Planning your weekend?

Stay up to date on the best things to do, see and eat in L.A.

Ever since a group of businessmen banded together in 1905 to install our first ornamental lampposts along Broadway, eye-catching streetlights have been part of L.A.’s urban identity. This isn’t just because our balmy weather allowed them to last longer than their eastern counterparts. In 1909, urban planner Charles Mulford Robinson famously called our lamps “the handsomest in the United States.” An exaggeration? I think not. In a relatively young city defined by its free-wheeling spirit of “anything goes,” streetlamps embodied bold, progressive values purported to uplift L.A. residents. (You can trace this sentiment all the way back to the 19th century, when The Times started calling for electric lights in Los Angeles — it was one of the biggest news stories of 1882.)

One of the coolest things about streetlights is that their messages are always changing. That’s still true today. In commercial districts, streetlights imparted stature and civic ambition. In residential areas, they advertised the virtues of homeownership. Streetlights tell us a lot about our tastes but also what Angelenos cared about: nostalgia, safety, neighborhood pride. Even areas with no streetlights spark questions about what it took to be “seen.”

Advertisement

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you’ve never been on a streetlight safari. You’re not alone. While architectural tours are common — and many of us can rattle off the names of our skyscrapers and historic homes — the streetlights standing outside of them tend to get overlooked. And yet there’s a lot we can learn from these objects, whether they’re tall or short, old or new, simple or heavily ornamented. Are they meant to be seen from the sidewalk or a car window? Do they channel feelings of security or civic ambition? Streetlights both shape and reflect the ways we live, move around and think about public space.

In the back of my book, “Electric Moons: A Social History of Street Lighting in Los Angeles,” I include a field guide to 40 different streetlights located throughout L.A. County. Below, you’ll find a small smattering to get you started — all are located in the city of Los Angeles and are maintained by the Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting (LABSL). A very special thanks to Glen Norman and Jeffrey Ziliotto for assistance with the lamp locations.

Seen ’em all and hungry for more? Got a favorite lamp in town that you want me to know about? DM me on Instagram at @streetlampilluminati. And to report a streetlight out, let the LABSL know by filling out this form.

Showing  Places
A street lamp on Broadway in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Broadway Rose

Downtown L.A. Streetlight
Defined by the elegant ribbons of roses climbing up their cast-iron shafts, the Broadway Roses were installed in 1919 along Broadway from Aliso Street to Pico Boulevard. When they switched on for the first time (sharing the road with the ornate, now-extinct Broadway Specials), the crowds went wild.

“This is one of the most elaborate jobs of ornamental electroliers ever made on the coast,” The Times reported, “and is a 100 percent home product.” Thanks to popular demand, more Roses hit downtown streets in 1921 and 1924.

In 1948, however, as L.A. became more of a driving city, the shafts and luminaires of the original string of Broadway Roses were replaced with simpler, more functional overhead designs, leaving only the florid bases intact. Today there are only a handful of complete models remaining in Los Angeles. You can also see a few of them in Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” at the south entrance of LACMA.

Find them: 6th Street between Olive and Flower streets, and a lone outlier on Grand Avenue, north of West 6th Street
Route Details
A street lamp on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Wilshire Lantern

Westlake Streetlight
It’s easy to spot the Wilshire Lantern, with its giant lightbox that’s so large a person could fit inside it. They first hit Wilshire Boulevard in 1928, the crown jewels of an ambitious street improvement project in the city of Los Angeles, shortly after Beverly Hills unveiled fancy streetlights on its own stretch of Wilshire (none of which survive today). Originally, the Wilshire Lanterns extended from MacArthur Park to Fairfax.

In 1933, when Wilshire Boulevard was extended eastward through MacArthur Park, more Lanterns were installed to light the way — today, that “eastern addition” is all that survives. Fun fact: Each Wilshire Lantern weighs 1,200 pounds and exhibits a medley of eclectic motifs, such as Celtic knotwork, Egyptian papyrus leaves or late Victorian exotica. Topless sphinx-like vixens grow, like flower nymphs, out of stylized acanthus plants along the edges of the light box.

Find them: Wilshire Boulevard between Park View and Figueroa Street
Route Details
A double-headed street lamp on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Olympic Special

East Hollywood Streetlight
There’s no lamp quite like the Olympic Special. The arms are buttressed by stylized Chinese dragons. The finials are shaped as bountiful bowls of California fruit. The poles look like Gardens of Eden, filled with pears, grapes, strawberries, tulips and fleur-de-lis. And there are still hundreds left.

According to legend, they were commissioned for the 1932 Olympic Games, when 10th Street was officially renamed Olympic Boulevard in honor of L.A.’s first time hosting the global sporting event. In reality, these peculiar lamps didn’t hit the streets until 1938, after a major road-widening project. The original Olympic Specials had graceful teardrop-shaped luminaires hanging over the road — you can still see them from Century Park West to Beverly Glen Boulevard. Since then, some have been replaced with faithful replicas; others have ugly cobrahead shapes, which do no favors for the lamp’s graceful silhouette.

Find them: The single-light versions run along Olympic Boulevard from Lorena Street in Boyle Heights to Pontius Avenue in West L.A. (with some breaks). There are only three double-light versions left: Olympic Boulevard and Flower Street, Los Angeles Street between First and Temple Streets, and in Sheila Klein’s public sculpture, “Vermonica” (marked on this map).
Route Details
A street lamp in Holmby Hills in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

Holmby Hills Lantern

Beverly Crest Streetlight
Designed by Ohio-based manufacturer Union Metal, the Holmby Hills lantern feels decidedly Old World — you could imagine yourself strolling along a bridge or a cobblestone alleyway in a quaint European town. They reminded artist Chris Burden of “fairy lanterns” — in fact, he liked them so much that he built an entire sculpture out of them, “Holmby Hills Light Folly” (2012), a few years after he completed “Urban Light” (2008). But there’s more to this lamp than just a pretty lantern — look down and you’ll notice the bands of Greek keys and sprouting lotus patterns around the base. Luckily for us, dozens of these hanging lanterns, installed in the late 1920s, are still standing. Just take a more roundabout route on your next trip to the Playboy Mansion and lose yourself in the hills.

Find them: Residential streets east of Beverly Glen from Club View Drive to Greendale Drive. Some can be found on Beverly Glen itself from Sunset Boulevard to Greendale.
Route Details
Advertisement
A 1960s street lamp in Century City in Los Angeles.
(Glen Norman)

Century City Special

Century City Streetlight
Engineers spent eight months designing the distinctive streetlamps of Century City, the ambitious 180-acre “city of the future” constructed atop the former 20th Century Fox studio lot just west of Beverly Hills. Unveiled in 1964, the 25-foot lamps are studies in jet-age minimalist aesthetics — each one is a single, soaring, tapered pole from which dangles a voluminous plastic sphere. Placed on both sides of the streets at 100-foot intervals, the arrangement added uniformity, character and modernist purity to the highly publicized mixed-use development. Fun fact: These poles are made of 100% anodized aluminum — a perfect product placement for aluminum giant Alcoa, a major player in the development.

Find them: Avenue of the Stars from Santa Monica Boulevard to Pico Boulevard, Constellation Boulevard from Century Park West to Century Park East (at the intersections), Empyrean Way from Avenue of the Stars to Century Park East, Galaxy Way from Century Park West to Century Park East, and around Fox Plaza (aka Nakatomi Tower in “Die Hard”), shown on this map.
Route Details
A street lamp in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles with double globes.
(Tom Bertolotti)

Little Tokyo Double

Downtown L.A. Streetlight
The Little Tokyo Double is living proof that less can be more when it comes to street lighting. The pole itself is spare and simple, but the addition of two oversized, ball-shaped globes gives the lamp a feeling of weightlessness, while the horizontal arms across the top echo the gates of Shinto shrines. These lamps were originally lit using a special frosted, metal halide bulb, which provided a whiter light than its mercury vapor-powered cousin. Yet the halides unwittingly made this lamp a challenge to repair. Metal halide, turns out, is a grow light; if one drop of sweat or rain gets into the globe, bacteria will blossom. For this reason, many old-timers remember a pinkish glow in the older lights, a problem that was eliminated by the LED conversions of the 2010s.

Find them: 1st Street from Central Avenue to Judge John Aiso Street, 2nd Street from Central Avenue to Alameda Street, 3rd Street from Central Avenue to Los Angeles Street, Central Avenue from 1st Street to 3rd Street (marked on this map).
Route Details
A Gothic-style street lamp on Alta Loma Terrace in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Alta Loma Lantern

Hollywood Hills Streetlight
Have you ever been to Alta Loma Terrace? Shrouded in bougainvillea and Japanese bamboo, and tucked behind a series of narrow staircases and winding footpaths, the pedestrian-only street lies just behind the Hollywood Bowl. The diminutive, Gothic-inspired lanterns that light the way are some of the most mysterious lamps in Los Angeles. No one knows who designed them. There’s no manufacturer’s mark. Resting on four spiraling scrolls, these lights are dramatic and eerie. On a gloomy day, they could pass for props in a Tim Burton film. Experts suspect that they might have been fabricated in the Bureau of Street Lighting’s very own welding shop in the 1920s or ’30s. As far as we know, only six of them were ever produced.

Find them: Alta Loma Terrace, off of Highland Avenue
Route Details
A three-headed street lamp in Van Nuys in Los Angeles.
(Glen Norman)

The Van Nuys Special

Van Nuys Streetlight
During the 1960s, Van Nuys Boulevard became the national “cruising capital,” attracting hot-rodders and low-riders from well beyond the San Fernando Valley. And, as we all know, any road that attracted so much attention needed customized streetlights to match. After a long and expensive process, these controversial pitchfork-shaped designs were unveiled in 1972, but the 1,000-watt mercury vapor luminaires shone so brightly that they often shorted out. The following year, when Los Angeles faced an energy crisis, the energy-guzzling Van Nuys Specials became liabilities. “Personal value systems are changing,” wrote John Pastier, the architecture critic for The Times, in 1973. “Van Nuys Boulevard remained a lonely bright spot (or if you wish, a single glaring example), rather than becoming a prototype for other city streets.”

Find them: Van Nuys Boulevard from Sherman Way to Burbank Boulevard (marked on this map); Victory Boulevard from Cedros Avenue to Tyrone Avenue
Route Details
Advertisement
A street lamp in Windsor Square in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Windsor Square Special

Windsor Square Streetlight
When Windsor Square was developed during the 1910s, it was touted as a “residential masterpiece” with all the modern amenities: concrete streets, tree-lined parkways, underground utilities and, yes, beautiful streetlights that sported three cylindrical glass lanterns and embossed crests with the letters “W/S” on their base. At this time, electric light was cutting-edge — experts speculate the conduit arrangement was originally designed for gas lamps. The Windsor Square lamps were such a big deal that they appeared in all the advertisements and became symbols of the neighborhood’s prestige. By 1926 (for unknown reasons — probably vandalism and breakage), the lanterns were replaced with a standard acorn-shaped light, which still looks pretty good today.

Find them: Lucerne, Plymouth, Windsor and Lorraine boulevards between West 3rd Street and Wilshire Boulevard
Route Details
An arched street lamp in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The L.A. Crook

Beverly Crest Streetlight
There aren’t many streetlights named after a liturgical device — the crozier, or hooked staff, was wielded by medieval bishops to broadcast their role as shepherd of the faith. While the most famous lamps of this type come from New York City — the ornate, 1890s-era Bishop’s Crooks — these smaller and sparer models were manufactured in Ohio and found their way to Beverly Hills in the early 1930s. As far as we know, Benedict Canyon Drive is the only place that these lamps were installed. Rosettes and ribbons accent the base, while a single stylized tendril beneath its neck adds both elegance and support. While the original cages holding the luminaires have fallen off over the years, the Crooks continue to light up this winding, sidewalk-less road.

Find them: Benedict Canyon Drive between De Camp Avenue and Clear View Drive
Route Details
A Southwest 1806 street lamp with double globes in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Southwest 1806

Exposition Park Streetlight
Fancy streetlights once lined the boulevards and avenues of South Los Angeles, but few have survived the modernizing onslaught of the 1960s and ’70s. Sometimes, amid fears of crime and civil unrest in poorer, Black communities, the old lamps were replaced by taller, higher-intensity models. Sometimes the uprooted historic lamps were even shipped to other cities (I’ve seen these models lighting up Aspen, Colo.). These cast-iron beauties were produced by the Long Beach-based Southwest Foundry, one of the more mysterious streetlight manufacturers of the early 20th century. For confirmation, notice the diamond shapes in various configurations around the bases and on the torches — visual trademarks of the company.

Find them: Flower Street between West 37th and West 38th Streets. There are also some replicas on Flower between Washington Boulevard and West 37th Street.
Route Details
A Marbelite S-270 street lamp in Los Angeles.
(Tom Bertolotti)

The Marbelite S-270

San Pedro Streetlight
San Pedro used to be a street lighter’s playground, glittering with eye-catching lamps. Sadly, very few of them are still there. However, if you take a stroll down Gaffey Street, you’ll notice a concrete model called the Marbelite S-270, built by a L.A.-based manufacturer of concrete poles. (There are thousands of Marbelites still standing in L.A.) Although it isn’t the fanciest streetlight, the rings of acanthus leaves along its base give it a little bit of 1930s glamour, reminding us that these lamps — which once illuminated areas as far-flung as North Hollywood, Venice and West Adams — provide a little Old World charm to an increasingly automotive streetscape.

Find them: Gaffey Street from 32nd Street to Shepard Street; Wilmington Town Square Park at Avalon Boulevard and I Street
Route Details
Advertisement
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news