In 1939, Fortune magazine commissioned photographer Ansel Adams to document the city’s aerospace industry as the country was shoring up its air power. He captured more than 200 images for the assignment, many focused on the lunchtime rituals of factory workers along with everyday street scenes he encountered as he ambled about the rapidly developing region.
Adams visited a bowling alley, a forest of oil derricks, and a trailer park, one of many that popped up to meet a fierce demand among the workers for temporary housing. But only a handful of Adams’ images were published with the Fortune article, which marveled at the juxtaposition of the arsenal-making effort in the land of orange groves, neon signs, and movie stars.
It wasn’t until a couple decades later that Adams rediscovered his old photos and offered them somewhat meekly to the Los Angeles Public Library. “The weather was bad over a rather long period,” he wrote in a letter. “None of the pictures were very good.”
The library respectfully disagreed. “Even though you say they are not your best work,” a librarian wrote in response, “they present an interesting and useful study of the Los Angeles area in the late 1930s.”
Three men relaxed on a bench overlooking South Hill Street in Los Angeles. (Ansel Adams/Los Angeles Public Library)
Hanging laundry at Olympic Trailer Court on the border of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, circa 1940. (Ansel Adams/Los Angeles Public Library)
Workers at Lockheed’s Burbank plant gathered on their lunch break. (Ansel Adams/Los Angeles Public Library)
A young girl outside a market at Olympic Trailer Court. (Ansel Adams/Los Angeles Public Library)
People on Santa Monica’s Ocean Park pier. (Ansel Adams/Los Angeles Public Library)