Photo Credit: The SS President Hoover, the largest merchant ship built in the USA at that time, made frequent ports of call at the Port of Los Angeles in the 1930s. // Photo credit: Port of Los Angeles.
Life was difficult in 1934. The country was in the midst of the Great Depression, the longest-lasting economic downtown turn in the history of the industrialized world. Additionally, massive droughts had started to dry up the land throughout the Great Plains states, adding to the nation’s woes.
While 1934 in Los Angeles was also a time of hardship, the city was experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The city’s population had nearly doubled in the past decade, and its warm climate was attracting people from around the world.
Halfway through 1934, the A.F. Gilmore Company would open The Original Farmers Market at the corner of Third & Fairfax. This space was created as a place where people could gather, socialize and purchase their farm goods and fresh groceries all in one spot.
Below are a few of the other highlights of what was happening in Los Angeles in 1934.
Los Angeles began 1934 with a rough start. After months of drought and wildfires, a heavy downpour caused massive flooding in the San Gabriel Valley. Nearly 7.5 inches of rain fell in just 24 hours and in some areas flood waters rose to more than 20 feet.
The floods destroyed nearly 100 homes and buried or damaged hundreds more. San Gabriel’s river beds were known to be a gathering place for refugees from the devastating Dust Bowl, so legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie wrote a ballad, “The New Year’s Flood,” about the disaster.
In January 1934, the Los Angeles Times released a story about the possible existence of an ancient society, the Lizard People, who were believed to have lived in tunnels constructed deep below downtown Los Angeles. The story cited the efforts of G. Warren Shufelt, a mining engineer who believed he’d found these ancient tunnels and by using a radio X-Ray machine he had mapped their alleged location.
Shufelt had first learned about the Lizard People from a Hopi Indian leader in Arizona, who told him about three lost cities that supposedly existed along the Pacific Coast. In Los Angeles, the Lizard People had apparently dug this underground tunnel network after surviving a “great catastrophe” more than 5,000 years ago. So convinced was he that he’d found this lost civilization, that he and his aides had driven a shaft 250 feet into the ground, around the area of the “Old Banning Property” located on North Hill Street, overlook Sunset Blvd., Spring St. and North Broadway.
In May 1934, the fledgling Screen Actors Guild staged a gala fundraiser, known as the Film Star Frolic, to coincide with the opening of the brand new Gilmore Stadium, located adjacent to where The Original Farmers Market would open later that year.
The three-day event featured an all-star line-up, including a rodeo, circus acts, a chariot race and appearances by stars like W.C. Fields, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Gloria Stuart and Bela Lugosi. Only 150 of the Guild’s 3,000 members would attend the event, however, and instead of raising funds the event wiped out the Guild’s entire treasury. Board members were said to lament, "The public frolicked elsewhere."
At the time, the Screen Actors Guild was only in its second year of operation, having been formed in 1933 when a group of visionary Hollywood actors teamed together—risking their careers—in order to break the stranglehold Hollywood film studios held over actors.
West Coast Waterfront Strike
Labor conditions were an important issue in 1934 and more than 1,850 labor strikes were held throughout the nation. Among them, an intense 83-day dockworkers strike slowed down every port along the West Coast, including the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Confrontations during this time often became violent and two strikers in Los Angeles were killed by private guards hired by the shipping companies. (Strikers in San Francisco and Seattle suffered similar casualties.) Eventually the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA)—now the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU)—were successful in negotiating better working conditions and hiring practices for their members.
Farmers Market Opening
In 1934, Los Angles was still a largely agrarian society and farmers growing fresh produce were a common sight throughout the county. Entrepreneurs Fred Beck & Roger Dahlhjelm had the idea of building a “village” at the corner of 3rd & Fairfax where the local farmers could sell their fresh fare in one convenient location and E.B. Gilmore agreed to let them give it a go on his property.
In July 1934, a dozen farmers and a few other merchants parked their trucks at the corner of 3rd & Fairfax and sold their fresh produce and groceries from the back of the trucks. By October 1934, farmers and merchants, including restaurants, grocers and service providers, were moving into permanent stalls. The new Farmers Market was so popular that its founders staged a celebration, the first Fall Festival at Farmers Market.
Although times were tough in Los Angeles in 1934, the city had already started its obsession with the automobile, as well as the entertainment industry. On Sept. 9, 1934, the city welcomed its first drive-In, the Pico Drive-in Theatre at Pico Boulevard and Westwood Boulevard. Only a handful of this type of theatre existed throughout the country—the very first drive-in opened the year prior in New Jersey—but the concept proved to be popular with locals, especially film stars who would use the venue to make personal appearances. The Pico Drive-In Theatre pre-dates the Gilmore Drive-In, which opened 12 years later in 1948.
Opening of Santa Anita Park
On Christmas Day in 1934, Los Angeles also welcomed the new Santa Anita Park, which played a pioneering role in the development of thoroughbred racing in California. It was here that the “photo finish” was invented.
Farmers Market is proud to have its roots in such a pivotal year in Los Angeles. For more than eight decades, Farmers Market has been an integral Los Angeles landmark, welcoming locals, visitors and celebrities and some of the city’s most popular special events.
Farmers Market is proud to have its roots in such a pivotal year in Los Angeles. For more than eight decades, Farmers Market has been an integral Los Angeles landmark, welcoming locals, visitors and celebrities and some of the city’s most popular special events. Click here to learn more about the history of Farmers Market.