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Broadway Was the Place to Be in Downtown's New Year's Past

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, December 29, 2009, at 12:29PM
People on Broadway Street celebrating New Year's Eve, 1940 Los Angeles Daily News / UCLA Digital Collections

People celebrate New Year's Eve on Broadway on December 31, 1940.

On December 31, 1940, an estimated 500,000 people packed Broadway between 3rd and 8th to celebrate the start of a new year. Warnings against the throwing of confetti were disregarded, but the celebrants were on the whole well-behaved.

It's unclear exactly what year that tradition died out, but mentions of Broadway festivities had vanished from the L.A. Times by the early 1950s.

The tradition may have begun as Los Angeles prepared to ring in 1924. The City Council made an exception to laws forbidding dancing after midnight and Chief of Police August Vollmer banned autos from Broadway between 1st and 9th, and 6th between Hill and Main from 9:30pm to 1am. "Revelers may safely wander all over the streets," wrote the L.A. Times, "so long as they keep off the streetcar tracks, for the cars will be permitted to run as usual."

Angelenos took to the idea. An article from New Year's Day 1931 told of impromptu parades, while a piece on the celebration bidding farewell to 1937 called it a "rootin' tootin' manifestation of western fun and abandon."

The outbreak of war silenced Broadway just one year after the half-million strong crowd, but the celebration was back by December 31, 1943.

By the start of the 1950s, though, the paper no longer carried news of a Broadway celebration. In a June 6, 1960, column, Gene Sherman reminisced about the celebrations. "Seventh and Broadway was very exciting on New Year's Eve. A West Coast edition of Times Square. They'd board up the department store windows against congregants."

Anyone wandering Broadway on New Year's Eve this year will again find boarded up windows -- or at least their modern-day equivalent, the roll-down door -- but congregants will be few and far between.

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