Los Angeles From the Air, 1887 vs. 2013

Floating some 9,000 feet above the city in a hot-air balloon in 1887, Edwin H. Husher took what may be the first aerial photo of Los Angeles. (I tell the full story behind this historic image and its creation over at Los Angeles Magazine.)

After seeing the photo, The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal had a great idea: why not overlay the aerial image onto a present-day map of the city? My Photoshop skills were not quite up to the task, but I was able to simulate the same view today using Google Earth. Sharp eyes will notice that the perspective is not exactly the same—with altitude, location, and tilt, there were simply too many variables—but it is fun to compare how the city looked in 1887, when roughly 20,000 people called it home, to the metropolis of nearly 4 million people today.

The Los Angeles River suffers the most dramatic change. In the earlier image, the river’s wide, sandy wash dominates the landscape. By 2013, the river has been reduced to a concrete flood channel, fading into the surrounding industrial development.

Los Angeles from a balloon, 1887. Courtesy of the Photo Collection - Los Angeles Public Library.

Los Angeles from a balloon, 1887. Courtesy of the Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.

Roughly the same view in 2013. Imagery courtesy of Google Earth.

Roughly the same view in 2013. Satellite imagery courtesy of Google Earth.

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4 thoughts on “Los Angeles From the Air, 1887 vs. 2013

  1. It was in that same year that the first woman (Janette Van Tassel) to make a parachute jump from a hot air balloon several thousand feet above Los Angeles for a July 4th celebration. Soon a generation of women aeronauts embarked on their careers as parachute jumpers. “Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West” brings to light the pantheon of aerial achievement in California in the true pioneering period.

  2. Byron Chudnow says:

    For an easier orientation, I believe that EAST would be at the top of the picture, and NORTH would be to the left. The Los Angeles River, the thin black line in the lower photograph, runs in a vaguely northwest to southeast direction toward Long Beach. The entrance to City Hall (tower in center) faces WEST. In lower center can be seen the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson Theater and the Frank Gehry Disney Concert Hall.

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