150 Foot tall "streetlights" Los Angeles 1800s

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#1
I am new to SH and have not posted yet. I have enjoyed this forum and have been reading everything. My first post maybe should be in the introduction area but I ran across this streetlight dilemma and needed to share it. I will do my best at posting photos, descriptions and links. Most posts on this forum are very well written and I will not be able to be so eloquent, please bear with me. So here it goes.

I was looking at this website Water and Power Associates which has tons of old photos of LA. I live and work in the area and thought I would go through them and maybe find some buried floors in a older section or anything out of the norm. Los Angeles is not as old supposedly, as many of Americas cities, not much alternate history here I was thinking. There is interesting train technology that fits the narrative in its evolution. The oil wells sprouting up in that short period is incredible also and worth a look. The street lights all seemed normal also until all of a sudden they put up 150 foot tall towers for simple lighting.

Historical Notes
In 1867, Los Angeles Gas Company, the forerunner of today's Southern California Gas Company, installed 43 new gas lamps along Main Street, making the city safer at night. The gas lighting business was run by five entrepreneurs who manufactured the gas from asphalt, a tar-like substance, and later from oil.

Historical Notes
In 1882, C. L. Howland installed seven 150-foot tall streetlight masts, each carrying three carbon-arc lamps of three thousand candle-power. He also installed a small power plant to provide the electricity for his new street light system.
In 1883, Howland and other investors would go on to form the California Electric Light Company (changed to Los Angeles Electric Company within a year). It was the first electric utilty in Los Angeles.*
Click HERE to see more in First Electricity in Los Angeles.

Historical Notes
Approximately 30, 150-foot tall poles with carbon-arc lamps were installed in Downtown Los Angeles between 1882 and about 1885. These were reported to provide illumination equal to the level of a full moon.^^

Historical Notes
On New Year's Eve of 1882, with much less reportage and ceremony, and only twenty-four hours after electric lights were introduced to Los Angeles, the electric light mast at First Street and Boyle Avenue was switched on.
There were four other locations in Boyle Heights and East LA. (Using present-day street names) they were Avenue 22 and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights (the area was then called East Los Angeles), First Street and Central Avenue, Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, and Sixth and Main streets.^##

Now according to this Bright as The Full Moon article, the moon is .035 lumens when full and this may differ with location. One of each of three lamps are 3000 lumens at 1 foot. So 9000 lumens is less then 3 200 watt incandescent bulbs with 150 foot lamp height. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. 150 foot street lights seem like it should be questioned. I dont know what those crazy posts are but isnt it possible they have another purpose? In the pictures from 1867 the light poles are normal height for the gas lamps, then in 1882 these monster towers go up for adding street lighting that could be accomplished with 10 foot poles. I still havent figured out when the 150' lights were discontinued.

Article from LADWP's Historic Archives

“Los Angeles City is famed not only for its climate and for its oranges, but its electric light comes in as its crowning glory . . . "

This glowing eulogy depicts the enthusiasm 130 years ago when on December 30, 1882 the first streetlights were turned on in Los Angeles, illuminating the way to a pioneering age of growth and development for the expanding metropolis.

There had been a time in Los Angeles, a century ago, when a scattering of dimly lit gas lanterns, hanging from an occasional front porch, were the only traces of light on the otherwise darkened city streets. By law, early residents and business owners in the small pueblo of 12,000 were required to hang a lamp outside their doorway for the first two and one half hours of every dark night, or face a penalty of $2 for the first offense and $5 for each subsequent offense.

It was a vexing time for early Angelinos who could rarely leave their homes at night without stumbling about in the dark, toting candle-burning lanterns to find their way. A rumbling began among the citizenry for universal night lighting. The need for city dwellers to be able to find their way home, to have protection from crime, and to have greater illumination for stores and properties at night created fervor of support.

The interest was intensified in 1882 when Thomas Edison put his Pearl Street Station – the first commercial central station in the world – in operation on September 4 in New York. This was the start of the electric industry as it is known today.

The Edison plant supplied its light through incandescent lamps. A similar kind of lighting, in an improved form, was proposed for Los Angeles by C. L. Howland, representing the California Electric Light Company. While numerous proposals had been made, on September 11, 1882 the City Council unanimously voted to enter into a contract with Howland to “illuminate the streets of the city with electric light.”

At the time, it was a revolutionary idea. The proposal called for Howland, at his own expense, to erect seven, 150-foot-high masts each carrying three electric lights or lamps of three thousand candle-power. The masts were to be located in the heart of the city and its settle suburbs “which would be thoroughly and satisfactorily illuminated.”

Howland set quickly to work. He had received a deadline of December 1, 1882 to have the masts erected and electricity on. By October 25, he had purchased a lot on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets where he proceeded to erect a brick building, 50 by 80 feet, to house the boilers, engines and the 30kw, 9.6 ampere “Brush” arc lighting equipment for supplying the electric energy. Three weeks later, by November 16, the masts were in place and soon afterwards the pole lines and wires were strung along the streets leading to the masts.

By December the only hold-up was the delayed arrival of the dynamo and lamps. In growing anticipation, the citizens anxiously awaited the moment in history when the first streetlights would illuminate the night skies of Los Angeles. That moment came on December 30, 1882 before an admiring crowd of spectators. Mayor Toberman threw a switch at twenty minutes past eight, simultaneously lighting two mast tops, one at Main and Commercial and the other at First and Hill.

An account in the Express newspaper at the time, recounted the historic event in this way: “The Main Street light burned steadily and beautifully and it cast a light similar to that of the full moon on snow. The First Street light was very unsteady, glowing at times with brilliancy and again almost fading from sight. The only complaint so far is from young couples who find no shady spots on the way home from church or theatre.”

By the following evening, five more masts were lighted on First Street and Boyle Avenue; Avenue 22 and North Broadway; First Street and Central Avenue; Fourth Street and Grand Avenue; and Sixth and Main Streets.

The project was considered so successful that before the expiration of Holland’s two year contract, he and others had formed the Los Angeles Electric Company, which besides serving streetlights, supplied arc lights for commercial establishments.

From these early beginnings, engineers over the years have worked to improve lighting technology. In May 1905, the first ornamental post system in the city was introduced on Broadway between First and Main Streets. This installation consisted of 135 posts each equipped with six small glass globes, enclosing 16 candle-power amp, and one large glass globe, enclosing a 32 candle-power lamp. This system operated until 1919 when it was demolished to make way for a more modern system.

The progress of street lighting in the years hence has been truly phenomenal. The present electric system of the DWP is a far cry from the pioneer service of the Los Angeles Electric Company in 1883. Yet, this pioneering system paved the way for today’s sophisticated electric system, which like its predecessor still “illuminates the streets of the city with electric light." **

1st_Streetlight.jpg

1st_Streetlight.jpg Main_St_ca1882.jpg Main_Street_1880s.jpg Main_Street_Parade.jpg Calle_de_los_Negros.jpg

Here are a few pics with the 150' street lights.
Changing the bulbs must be a pain.
First_Electric_Light_Plant.jpg

This is the power plant.
Power_Line_Congestion_ca1928.jpg

Hanging street lights
Streetlight_Ladder.jpg

This was tall but not high enough for those monsters above.
LACMA_3.jpg
This is a cool display.​


So I look forward to comments. Could these be something else? Are they just street lights? The second I laid eyes on them I knew something was fishy. Whatcha think?
 
Last edited:
Messages
10
Likes
33
#2
I am new to SH and have not posted yet. I have enjoyed this forum and have been reading everything. My first post maybe should be in the introduction area but I ran across this streetlight dilemma and needed to share it. I will do my best at posting photos, descriptions and links. Most posts on this forum are very well written and I will not be able to be so eloquent, please bear with me. So here it goes.

I was looking at this website Water and Power Associates which has tons of old photos of LA. I live and work in the area and thought I would go through them and maybe find some buried floors in a older section or anything out of the norm. Los Angeles is not as old supposedly, as many of Americas cities, not much alternate history here I was thinking. There is interesting train technology that fits the narrative in its evolution. The oil wells sprouting up in that short period is incredible also and worth a look. The street lights all seemed normal also until all of a sudden they put up 150 foot tall towers for simple lighting.

Historical Notes
In 1867, Los Angeles Gas Company, the forerunner of today's Southern California Gas Company, installed 43 new gas lamps along Main Street, making the city safer at night. The gas lighting business was run by five entrepreneurs who manufactured the gas from asphalt, a tar-like substance, and later from oil.

Historical Notes
In 1882, C. L. Howland installed seven 150-foot tall streetlight masts, each carrying three carbon-arc lamps of three thousand candle-power. He also installed a small power plant to provide the electricity for his new street light system.
In 1883, Howland and other investors would go on to form the California Electric Light Company (changed to Los Angeles Electric Company within a year). It was the first electric utilty in Los Angeles.*
Click HERE to see more in First Electricity in Los Angeles.

Historical Notes
Approximately 30, 150-foot tall poles with carbon-arc lamps were installed in Downtown Los Angeles between 1882 and about 1885. These were reported to provide illumination equal to the level of a full moon.^^

Historical Notes
On New Year's Eve of 1882, with much less reportage and ceremony, and only twenty-four hours after electric lights were introduced to Los Angeles, the electric light mast at First Street and Boyle Avenue was switched on.
There were four other locations in Boyle Heights and East LA. (Using present-day street names) they were Avenue 22 and North Broadway in Lincoln Heights (the area was then called East Los Angeles), First Street and Central Avenue, Fourth Street and Grand Avenue, and Sixth and Main streets.^##

Now according to this Bright as The Full Moon article, the moon is .035 lumens when full and this may differ with location. One of each of three lamps are 3000 lumens at 1 foot. So 9000 lumens is less then 3 200 watt incandescent bulbs with 150 foot lamp height. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. 150 foot street lights seem like it should be questioned. I dont know what those crazy posts are but isnt it possible they have another purpose? In the pictures from 1867 the light poles are normal height for the gas lamps, then in 1882 these monster towers go up for adding street lighting that could be accomplished with 10 foot poles. I still havent figured out when the 150' lights were discontinued.

Article from LADWP's Historic Archives

“Los Angeles City is famed not only for its climate and for its oranges, but its electric light comes in as its crowning glory . . . "

This glowing eulogy depicts the enthusiasm 130 years ago when on December 30, 1882 the first streetlights were turned on in Los Angeles, illuminating the way to a pioneering age of growth and development for the expanding metropolis.

There had been a time in Los Angeles, a century ago, when a scattering of dimly lit gas lanterns, hanging from an occasional front porch, were the only traces of light on the otherwise darkened city streets. By law, early residents and business owners in the small pueblo of 12,000 were required to hang a lamp outside their doorway for the first two and one half hours of every dark night, or face a penalty of $2 for the first offense and $5 for each subsequent offense.

It was a vexing time for early Angelinos who could rarely leave their homes at night without stumbling about in the dark, toting candle-burning lanterns to find their way. A rumbling began among the citizenry for universal night lighting. The need for city dwellers to be able to find their way home, to have protection from crime, and to have greater illumination for stores and properties at night created fervor of support.

The interest was intensified in 1882 when Thomas Edison put his Pearl Street Station – the first commercial central station in the world – in operation on September 4 in New York. This was the start of the electric industry as it is known today.

The Edison plant supplied its light through incandescent lamps. A similar kind of lighting, in an improved form, was proposed for Los Angeles by C. L. Howland, representing the California Electric Light Company. While numerous proposals had been made, on September 11, 1882 the City Council unanimously voted to enter into a contract with Howland to “illuminate the streets of the city with electric light.”

At the time, it was a revolutionary idea. The proposal called for Howland, at his own expense, to erect seven, 150-foot-high masts each carrying three electric lights or lamps of three thousand candle-power. The masts were to be located in the heart of the city and its settle suburbs “which would be thoroughly and satisfactorily illuminated.”

Howland set quickly to work. He had received a deadline of December 1, 1882 to have the masts erected and electricity on. By October 25, he had purchased a lot on the corner of Alameda and Banning Streets where he proceeded to erect a brick building, 50 by 80 feet, to house the boilers, engines and the 30kw, 9.6 ampere “Brush” arc lighting equipment for supplying the electric energy. Three weeks later, by November 16, the masts were in place and soon afterwards the pole lines and wires were strung along the streets leading to the masts.

By December the only hold-up was the delayed arrival of the dynamo and lamps. In growing anticipation, the citizens anxiously awaited the moment in history when the first streetlights would illuminate the night skies of Los Angeles. That moment came on December 30, 1882 before an admiring crowd of spectators. Mayor Toberman threw a switch at twenty minutes past eight, simultaneously lighting two mast tops, one at Main and Commercial and the other at First and Hill.

An account in the Express newspaper at the time, recounted the historic event in this way: “The Main Street light burned steadily and beautifully and it cast a light similar to that of the full moon on snow. The First Street light was very unsteady, glowing at times with brilliancy and again almost fading from sight. The only complaint so far is from young couples who find no shady spots on the way home from church or theatre.”

By the following evening, five more masts were lighted on First Street and Boyle Avenue; Avenue 22 and North Broadway; First Street and Central Avenue; Fourth Street and Grand Avenue; and Sixth and Main Streets.

The project was considered so successful that before the expiration of Holland’s two year contract, he and others had formed the Los Angeles Electric Company, which besides serving streetlights, supplied arc lights for commercial establishments.

From these early beginnings, engineers over the years have worked to improve lighting technology. In May 1905, the first ornamental post system in the city was introduced on Broadway between First and Main Streets. This installation consisted of 135 posts each equipped with six small glass globes, enclosing 16 candle-power amp, and one large glass globe, enclosing a 32 candle-power lamp. This system operated until 1919 when it was demolished to make way for a more modern system.

The progress of street lighting in the years hence has been truly phenomenal. The present electric system of the DWP is a far cry from the pioneer service of the Los Angeles Electric Company in 1883. Yet, this pioneering system paved the way for today’s sophisticated electric system, which like its predecessor still “illuminates the streets of the city with electric light." **


Here are a few pics with the 150' street lights.
Changing the bulbs must be a pain.
View attachment 15237

This is the power plant.
View attachment 15238

Hanging street lights
View attachment 15239

This was tall but not high enough for those monsters above.
View attachment 15240
This is a cool display.​


So I look forward to comments. Could these be something else? Are they just street lights? The second I laid eyes on them I knew something was fishy. Whatcha think?
Congrats on your first post. I live in la and I had no idea about these lights.
 

Ice Nine

Well-known member
Messages
483
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1,930
#4
Welcome fellow west coaster! great first post. All I can say how utterly ridiculous, 150 foots light poles. I like Timeshifter thought of energy collectors.

I did some digging and found Moonlight Towers. There is one still in Austin, Texas. How come we never know about stuff like this?
At the end of the 19th century, many towns and cities were lit up by powerful electrical lamps placed on towers up to 300 feet (90 metres) high.
1280px-LeveeAtNightNewOrleans1883.jpg SanJoseArcLightTower1881.jpg Welcome_City_Hall_Detroit.jpg austin0.jpg Moon Tower.jpg New Orleans.jpg

 

dreamtime

Well-known member
Messages
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1,712
#5
Fun Fact: Prior to the 20th century every city had it's own moon light tower. With the advent of electrical telegraphy and global communication this fact was collectively realized, and plans were created to build a single moon and put it in the sky to light the entire planet. The moon was finally built between 1903-1905 by a joint project between several American Start Ups, which put the competing moon light tower industry out of business. This insane building effort was extremely expensive, and the dispute over the overdue invoice led to the first world war. Germany got the short end of the stick, and payment for the moon was finally stipulated in Versailles. This war also destroyed the library that held all the construction photographs. In a series of unfortunate events, a screw that tied the moon to the firmament broke lose in 1962. It prompted Kennedy to announce "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade, not because it is easy, but because the moon is broken and it might fall down soon". A quick moon landing was organized by the insurance company that had insured the entire thing for 100 years. Because they did not want to pay for the professional repair, they covered up the whole thing and brought Armstrong up to do some amateur repair. While busy with repair, he mumbled "That's one small screw for the moon, one giant screw for a man" but this was later changed into a less profane message. (satire warning)
 
Last edited:
OP
OP
Willielad
Messages
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Likes
27
#7
Moonlight towers: light pollution in the 1800s
At the end of the 19th century, many towns and cities were lit up by powerful electrical lamps placed on towers up to 300 feet (90 metres) high.
This was a interesting read. I can not remember if I had learned about arclight bulbs in my federal education. I immediately think of Arc Light Cinemas and how Hollywood is always misleading when I see the word.
So maybe Edison made the first clean bulb? Definitely the first bulb that I can not build myself and have to buy his. Edison sure gets alot ot glory in history books. To be fair the incandescent bulb is clean for indoor use but it always seems that all technology leads right into corporate control. Before today I assumed all cities were lighted by non electrical means until Edison gave us the first bulb.
I am originally from Iselin NJ, right next door from Edison NJ. I have been to Edisons house which had a tower out in front with a giant light bulb on it. A testament to a entire moon tower industry he destroyed.
I wonder if any of these towers can be seen earlier in history? I am truly skeptical that such towers were built to add ambient lighting for urban areas. I certainly was not around for the most recent electrification of this world but can imagine life in a city difficult at night. I have a pocket flashlight that is much more powerful then arc lights so I naturally take for granted my ability to see at night.
So, many cities in the 1880s were erecting towers 100s ot feet tall with power plants popping up all over. The people living in that era experienced a sovereignty I can only imagine. The independence a city had from the State left way for a period of innovation and individuality. The indipendance a man had from the state gave him a completely different opportunity then we have. A few corporations managed to acquire so much since then that almost every thing i see or experience is allowed by them for their benefit at my cost for my detriment. I feel like a frog in a pot on a stove and for some reason most of my fellow man feel freedom. Happy for the choice between left and right believing it's the other sides fault.
 
Messages
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249
#12
Only light tower off hand I can think of was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt, it was over 330 feet high.
Kinda makes me wonder about the story of the Tower of Babel. What was THAT all about? Was God really mad that a bunch of people got together on a construction project that provided employment for thousands of people...or was there some other reason for the then-ruling government bodies to object to a giant tower?
 
Messages
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18
#13
This was a interesting read. I can not remember if I had learned about arclight bulbs in my federal education. I immediately think of Arc Light Cinemas and how Hollywood is always misleading when I see the word.
So maybe Edison made the first clean bulb? Definitely the first bulb that I can not build myself and have to buy his. Edison sure gets alot ot glory in history books. To be fair the incandescent bulb is clean for indoor use but it always seems that all technology leads right into corporate control. Before today I assumed all cities were lighted by non electrical means until Edison gave us the first bulb.
I am originally from Iselin NJ, right next door from Edison NJ. I have been to Edisons house which had a tower out in front with a giant light bulb on it. A testament to a entire moon tower industry he destroyed.
I was born and raised in Edison, NJ in the 1990's, and I currently live 5 minutes away from Christie Street. This was taught time and time again to be the "first street in the world lit by electric light bulbs". Growing up, we were always so proud of this "fact", and much time in each grade was spent learning about Thomas Alva Edison and his accomplishments. The comparison to Nikola Tesla was not even there. The only important thing that we needed to know about Tesla was that he was unsuccessful, and that Thomas Edison's invention was so much better.
 

Onijunbei

Well-known member
Messages
106
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364
#14
Im gonna take the elementary approach.
They wanted light for nighttime use. At 3000 candle power they figured they would just put up a few towers at higher elevation to cover maximum area.
At some point the electric company figured that more street lamps would bring in more revenue and /or the original street lamps were unsightly or not very practical... And thus the move to modern street lights.
The article is neat.. I never seen the first lighting they tried doing in L. A. My place of birth.
 

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