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Electrifying Photos of Los Angeles, 1940-1990

Not far from Downtown Los Angeles, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is the former home of American railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, whose 500-acre estate and massive collection of 18th-century British portraiture became available to the public after his death in 1927. While the Huntington is definitely worth a visit in person, it’s also possible to check out a few of its resources online. Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940–1990 is a web-based exhibition presented by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West featuring a selection of 70,000 images from Southern California Edison, the company that supplies the majority of electricity to the LA area. As part of the Getty’s initiative, Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in LA, authors, scholars, and other experts have culled the Huntington’s massive archive documenting the region’s — quite literally — electrifying history. USC History professor and director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West William Deverell is one of them. “I’ve been fascinated with the Edison archive since it arrived here,” he says of the collection, which the Edison International donated to the Huntington in 2006. “It’s such a gold mine of history — from the late 19th century to the late 20th century Edison had photographers out in the field documenting everything from the installation of telephone poles to various other electrical applications. Now we get to have some fun, dig more deeply, and look for what else is in these pictures — behind the telephone poles and switching stations. And there’s a lot there.”

See a few images documenting the increased illumination of Los Angeles below. Form and Landscape: Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940–1990 is viewable online through December 31, 2013.

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Artist unknown, ‘Safety First,’ 1915. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Doug White, ‘Shopping Bag Market,’ n.d. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Artist unknown, ‘Hemet: Main Street,’ circa 1940. Photograph, nitrate. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Doug White, ‘The Famous Merle’s Drive-in’ (Visalia), ca. 1950. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘Wilco Gas & Sieberling Tire Store,’ 1954. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘Pokey’s Restaurant’ (Beverly Drive at Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles), 1955. Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘Transmission Towers,’ 1953. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘Pool Lighting and Family at Home,’ 1958. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘People Living in All Electric Home,’ 1955. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Joseph Fadler, ‘People Living in All Electric Home,’ 1955. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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Doug White, ‘Dam 7 Construction,’ 1949. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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