Over one hundred years ago, volunteer firemen sold a book titled, “Santa Monica Fire Department, Souvenir Book of Santa Monica, 1902” door to door. Legend has it that the newly-established fire department promised to fight fires for those who purchased the book, but made no such promise to those who didn’t.
I first discovered the book years ago in the house I grew up in, which was also owned by Santa Monica Mayor Edmond S. Gillette in the 1930’s. The 1902 book contained 110 interior and exterior photographs of houses and businesses in what we know today as western Santa Monica and a few images from other locations around Los Angeles. When I picked it up again, creating a comparison book seemed like a natural idea.
I spent a few months researching and verifying the locations using 1902 and 1909 Sanborn Insurance Maps, Google Maps and the Santa Monica Digital Library. Once I had all of the addresses confirmed, photographer Jens Lucking and I biked or walked to every location, carefully matched the camera angles, and re-shot the historic photographs. Traversing Santa Monica by foot and bike made me appreciate how the people of the day must have experienced the City. The slower pace of transportation (and life) in 1902 may have allowed them to enjoy the city’s character in a more personal way than most people do today–until now.
“Santa Monica: A Look Back to 1902 from Today” is a side-by-side comparison that was more than a century in the making, a juxtaposition of the past and present as seen through lenses focused on one of California’s most vibrant, accessible and diverse beach cities.
Michael A. Murphy