NEH Awards $300,000 Grant to Digitize Historic L.A. Photos

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded the USC Libraries $300,000 to digitize previously hidden images of 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles. At the conclusion of the two-year Invisible L.A. project, 34,000 fragile nitrate negatives will be accessible for the first time via the USC Digital Library. The USC Libraries project team includes principal investigator Dace Taube from Special Collections, Matt Gainer and Giao Luong from the USC Digital Library, project managers Deb Holmes-Wong and Tim Stanton, Bill Dotson, and Marje Schuetze-Coburn. Keep reading for more about the project and historic photos from the Whittington collection.

Although Los Angeles grew from 50,000 residents in 1890 to 2 million residents in 1950, the visual history from this period of rapid growth is sparsely documented. The collection of the Dick Whittington commercial photography studio fills critical gaps in this visual record, including the construction of the Leimert Park community in South L.A. and housing developments like the California Riviera in West L.A.—that shaped the California dream—to factories in the garment district, department store window displays, and cultural performances.

Whittington photographers captured fleeting aspects of everyday life and an urban environment that has changed drastically since the early 20th century. The Invisible L.A. project focuses on the underexplored period between World War I and World War II, which helped to shape the image of Los Angeles in the popular imagination as a city of freeways and swimming pools, mid-century architecture, and film noir-inspired urbanism. Los Angeles took on many of its defining characteristics during the 1920s and 1930s, with the growth of the aerospace, automobile, and film industries; its burgeoning roadways and car culture; and the rapid spread of residential and commercial development.

As we uncover previously unseen images from 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles, we'll share them through our blog and Twitter feed.

Brown Derby Restaurant, ca. 1920s


Parade from Los Angeles' Chinatown, ca. 1930s


Nighttime concert at the Hollywood Bowl, ca. 1920s to 1930s


Cars gathered around Carpenter's Sandwiches