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It's always been an "Arts District"

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2007, at 03:17PM
Mural Lofts Ed Fuentes

In September of 2005 Puelte Homes broke ground on Mura, a 190-unit development in the Arts District. Construction did away with a parking lot on the site, but the lot's history goes much farther back. It was the discovery that this site used to house a printing company that led me to start saying that this has been the Arts District for over one hundred years.

The Los Angeles Lithographic Company and the Western Lithographing Company announced on January 19, 1902 that the two companies would merge and become Western Lithograph Co., their combined operations settling at 2nd and Rose. The firm expanded from that corner to 600 to 610 E 2nd Street on July 16, 1911 to become, as the LA Times wrote, "One of the largest and most complete buildings devoted exclusively to printing, lithographing and bookbinding in the West."

CrateIn December of 1920 Western Lithograph, sometimes known as Western Litho, opened a 103,000 sg ft. three-story loft building described as "the biggest printing plant this side of Chicago." The site added storage and off street parking to it's offices, printing facility and a staffed commercial art department.

In the decades following 1902, Western Litho crafted financial bank notes, magazines, books, art prints, film posters, stationary and product labels. Many of the finished pieces reflect California's cultural and industrial growth and can be seen as artifacts in museum collections around the West. For many, Western Lithograph is one of the major suppliers of a romantic myth with it's citrus labels sending illustrated images of California on wooden crates to the rest of the U.S.

By World War II, the whole block at Hewitt, 2nd, Rose and Stephenson (now Traction) was "on the edge" of Little Tokyo. The printing industry continued to shift and in 1953, Western Litho was purchased by Minnesota based advertising and calendar specialists, Brown & Bigelow.

Photographer Tom Kelley, Sr., was called by a Western Litho salesman to purchase any "extra shots" to use in one of the many calendars they produced. Kelley had something in his archive that he had taken a year earlier, a favor done for an aspiring actress. He sent over a 8X10 transparency of a young Marilyn Monroe, nude, on a red velvet back drop.

WesternLithoLike many industries located in what was then called the warehouse district, the company later relocated to larger facilities leaving behind empty spaces that started to see life in the 60s with "art happenings." A few years later artists began to settle in the area.

This all came to mind when I found this lithographed ad for Western Lithography Company in a 1909 Los Angeles City Directory last weekend. I trust you can picture the Marilyn Monroe photo on your own.

Photos: EF

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