How the Miracle Mile Got Its Name: A Brief History of L.A.'s Unlikely Retail District

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How the Miracle Mile Got Its Name: A Brief History of L.A.'s Unlikely Retail District

In 1921, the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard now known as the Miracle Mile was a 20-foot-wide dirt road, flanked by oil wells and barley fields. Today, the strip is a busy thoroughfare, home tomuseums, the La Brea Tar Pits, and a collection of historic Art Deco structures. The story of the Miracle Mile's stunning transformation from cow path to commercial artery -- told through selected images from the region's photographic archives -- is part of the larger narrative of L.A.'s decentralization, as electric railways and automobiles encouraged sprawl and drained the downtown retail district of its vitality.

The Miracle Mile was the brainchild of real estate developer A.W. Ross, who in 1921 paid $54,000 for 18 acres of land along the south side of Wilshire Boulevard between La Brea and Fairfax avenues. Ross envisioned a retail district there, subdividing the land and offering it to suitors for as little as $100 a front foot, but the tract's commercial potential appeared bleak to many. Retail was then concentrated in the downtown business district, and with no electric railway line along Wilshire, the remote location was inaccessible to many Southern Californians. Ross' detractors dismissed the tract -- surrounded by grain fields, a primitive airport, and an active oil field where asphalt seeped up from the ground -- as "Ross' bean patch" and "Ross' folly." Ross pressed forward with his plan anyway.

"I went to men of wealth," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1939. "They turned me down; I was visionary. Even friends who had the means to help me laughed and wished me luck."

But the developer foresaw how the rise of the personal automobile would change settlement patterns and upset the balance of power between downtown and what were then the city's hinterlands.

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