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The Humble Escalator: Downtown's First "Moving Stairway" Installed in 1908

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, October 17, 2011, at 09:39PM
4th and Hill Escalator Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Dusk view of the sights from the long escalator that rises out of the Pershing Square subway station to Lower Angels Knoll at 4th and Hill.

Since May, my daily commute has taken me up and down the long escalator that leads from the Pershing Square subway station to Lower Angels Knoll. The view on the ride up, with the glass towers of California Plaza framed against our typically-clear sky, has made the stretch a clear winner in my favorite escalator category.

Today, though, I got to wondering: What was Downtown's first escalator?

As it turns out, Downtown's first escalator—also the first in California—was in the massive Hamburger Department Store at 8th and Broadway, which opened its doors to the public on August 10, 1908.

The store was enormous, with fifteen acres of floor space on its six floors. Just about anything imaginable was on offer somewhere inside—a 1905 story announcing the building plans noted that the Hamburgers intended to offer "everything used by man and a great many by beast." The store featured a large restaurant, a roof garden and even the public library.

The escalator, or "moving stairway," was touted as capable of moving 10,000 people from the first floor to the second each hour. "Many delightful feminine comments were made on the novel trip," the L.A. Times noted in a story about a training for the store's 1,100 sales people. "The girls were having an experience equal to Coney Island, and there wasn't a particle of danger."

Those original escalators are long gone, of course, but the inclines were still an important part of the store design until the May Company closed its doors in the early 1980s.

Today the building, known as the Broadway Trade Center, houses a swap meet on the ground floor and garment uses upstairs.


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