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Why Doesn't Hope Go Through? LA's State Normal School and Its Impact on Today's Streets

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, March 28, 2011, at 03:27PM
Normal School California Historical Society / USC Digital Archives

Photograph of the State Normal School at 5th and Grand, circa 1900.

Los Angeles' Central Library is uniquely situated in Downtown's street grid, stretching two blocks from Flower Street to Grand Avenue. The building bisects Hope Street, the only one of Downtown's north-south corridors to be cut off midway through the central city.

So how did this arrangement come to be? It's a story that dates back to 1881 and the creation of California's second State Normal School, the institution that would eventually go on to become UCLA.

Once the state assembly approved the school's creation in 1881, Angelenos came together to raise $8,000 to purchase a site "three-quarters of a mile from the business portion of the city." The grounds, covering nearly five acres at 5th and Grand, were "on an eminence about two hundred feet above the level of the city," wrote the L.A. Times, and offered "a birds-eye view of the entire city, and for miles around beautiful orange groves [that] loom up in all their semi-tropic grandeur."

The building's cornerstone was laid on December 17, 1881, and it was officially dedicated the following fall on September 9, 1882.

The Branch Normal School was established for the teaching of teachers. Among the requirements for entry was that the incoming student sign the following: "I hereby declare that my purpose in entering the school is to fit myself for teaching, and that I intend to teach in the public schools of California."

Tuition was free, and boarding could be arranged for $20 to $25 per month.

The city soon grew across those orange groves and around the school site, but the campus site left 5th Street and Hope Street without connections. The school grew as well, and on January 25, 1912, its trustees picked a 24-acre site on Vermont Avenue as the place to build a new $500,000 campus.

That August, the City Council resolved to purchase the school's Downtown site for $600,000, but it wasn't until October 22 that all challenges were resolved and the Mayor signed the $10,000 check that constituted the city's first payment.

Meanwhile, growing business interests around the site renewed their call for 5th Street to be widened across the site and connected to the west. Early schemes called for a tunnel under "Normal Hill," but later plans instead called for the hill to be razed and the site sold off for business purposes.

The City Council approved the widening for a sixty-foot street on May 3, 1921, a few weeks after the 51-member City Planning Commission had failed to reach a majority on either that plan or an 80-foot cut.

On November 8, 1921, Normal Hill was chosen as the site of the city's new public library. City Council donated the site to the library board just over a week later. It took another year for the transfer to actually go through, delaying early plans to have the library open in 1924.

5th Street was opened in the summer of 1923, and the Central Library opened its doors in July of 1926.

As for the Normal School, on June 11, 1919, the regents of the University of California voted to form a Southern California branch of the Berkeley school, to be located on the site of the Normal School campus on Vermont.

In 1929 the university purchased its present-day land in Westwood, and the L.A. Board of Education bought the Vermont site to create the junior college today known as Los Angeles City College.


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