Is it the Miracle Mile or the Tragic Mile?
When I was young, my family and I loved to drive slowly down the famed Miracle Mile, which was Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea, and just stare at the buildings. The Miracle Mile was special. In the early 1920s, Wilshire Boulevard, west of Western Avenue, was an unpaved farm road extending through dairy farms and bean fields. If you’re wondering if I recall the unpaved road and bean fields, I am sorry to say it was before my time. Los Angeles developer A.W. Ross saw potential for the area, and developed Wilshire Boulevard (the Miracle Mile) as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Ross wanted to attract and serve automobile traffic rather than pedestrian shoppers. He applied this design both to the street itself and to the buildings lining it. Mr. Ross gave Wilshire Boulevard various firsts: dedicated left turn lanes, the first traffic lights in the United States, and the requirement that merchants along his Miracle Mile provide automobile parking lots—all to aid traffic flow.
Major retailers such as Desmonds, Silverwoods, May Company, Coulters, Mullen and Bluett, and Seibu eventually spread across Wilshire Boulevard from Fairfax and La Brea. Ross ordered that all building facades along Wilshire be engineered so as to be best seen through a windshield. This meant larger, bolder, and simpler signage; longer buildings in a large scale, oriented toward the boulevard; and architectural ornament and massing perceptible at 30mph (50kmh) instead of at walking speed. These simplified building forms were driven by practical requirements, but contributed to the stylistic language of art deco and streamline modern. Ross’ moves were unprecedented, a huge commercial success, and proven historically influential. Ross had invented the car-oriented urban form, what Reyner Banham call “The Linear Downtown” model later adopted across the United States. The moves also contributed to Los Angeles’ reputation as a city dominated by the car. Next time you cruise down the Miracle Mile, be sure to take note of the bust of A.W. Ross at 5800 Wilshire Boulevard, with the inscription “A.W. Ross, Founder and Developer of the Miracle Mile. Vision to see, wisdom to know, courage to do.”
I hope I have not bored you. I had to provide this historical background to make my point. If A.W. Ross were alive today, he would be railing against the City of Los Angeles for allowing Miracle mile to become a mile filled with pot holes and gigantic racks in the blacktop. If you drive the Miracle Mile, which I call the Tragic Mile, rest assured you will have to be prepared for major car realignment. And if you drive it on a regular basis, you are placing your tires at risk. Some of the most fashionable and historical buildings are located on the Tragic Mile. You don’t have time to see what is being displayed at the Peterson Museum or the Los Angeles County Museum. You are dodging those potholes and gigantic cracks. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person who has noticed the destruction of Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. There are streets in Los Angeles neighborhoods being repaved every day, why not repave Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile? My father, through his newspaper Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express, wrote editorial after editorial for the Olympics in 1932, and Los Angeles hosted them. He also wrote editorial after editorial for safe buildings in Los Angeles, and the city acted upon those editorial. The city will act when someone from Los Angeles Times writes an editorial about the tragic mile. I sincerely hope this column will inspire people to write the mayor, the city council and Congressman Henry Waxman, whose district the Miracle Mile lies in, and demand that the roads be repaved. A.W Ross inspired cities around the United States to develop a Miracle Mile. Those cities are Tucson, Arizona; Coral Gables, Florida; Elmira, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Fontana and Stockton, California. Until the City of Los Angeles decides to begin repaving and eliminating those potholes and gigantic cracks, I am going to call the Miracle Mile, the Tragic Mile.