The Miracle Mile District is bordered by the Fairfax District on the north, Hancock Park on the northeast, Mid-City on the southeast, West Pico on the south, and Carthay on the southwest. The district’s boundaries are roughly 3rd Street on the north, Highland Avenue on the east, San Vicente Boulevard on the south, and Fairfax Avenue on the west. Major thoroughfares include Wilshire and Olympic Boulevards, La Brea and Fairfax Avenues, and 6th Street. The district’s ZIP codes are 90036 and parts of 90019.
In the early 1920s, Wilshire Boulevard west of Western Avenue was an unpaved farm road, extending through dairy farms and bean fields. Later it was integrated into the Pacific Electric Railroad System–a large network of trolley cars known as Red Cars. This transit system included a Wilshire Boulevard line through the post-WWII era. Parallel lines ran on Santa Monica Boulevard, Olympic Boulevard, and San Vicente Boulevard. They were connected by north-south lines on Fairfax and Highland Avenues.
Developer A. W. Ross saw potential for the area and developed Wilshire as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles. A historical context preceding the development of the Miracle was the displacement of the Los Angeles Jewish community by restrictive rental and ownership opportunities in downtown and prestigious neighborhoods as a result of nativist anti-Semitism brought with the large influx of mid-Westerners to Southern California. The Miracle Mile development was initially anchored by a Jewish owned May Company Department Store on the west and the E. Clem Wilson Building, then the Los Angeles’ tallest commercial building having a dirigible mast on top, home to a number of Jewish businesses and professionals relocating from a downtown and served as an impetus for the migration and growth of the Jewish community in the Fairfax vicinity. The success of the new alternative commercial and shopping district outside of downtown negatively effected downtown real estate values and began the multiple downtowns which characterizes contemporary Los Angeles.
Ross’s insight was that the form and scale of his Wilshire strip should attract and serve automobile traffic rather than pedestrian shoppers. He applied this design both to the street itself and to the buildings lining it. Ross gave Wilshire various “firsts,” including dedicated left-turn lanes and the first timed traffic lights in the United States; he also required merchants to provide automobile parking lots, all to aid traffic flow. Major retailers such as Desmonds, Silverwood’s, May Co., Coulter’s, Mullen & Bluett, Myer Siegel, and Seibu eventually spread across Wilshire Boulevard from Fairfax to La Brea. Ross ordered that all building facades along Wilshire be engineered so as to be best seen through a windshield. This meant larger, bolder, simpler signage; longer buildings in a larger scale, oriented toward the boulevard; and architectural ornament and massing perceptible at 30 MPH (50 km/h) instead of at walking speed. These simplified building forms were driven by practical requirements but contributed to the stylistic language of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne.