Since 1902 Santa Monica has gone through some big changes: cart horses have been replaced with smart cars and clapboard stables with Urban Outfitters. An exhibit at the Santa Monica History Museum shows what Santa Monica looked like over 100 years ago.
Based on the book “Santa Monica: A look back to 1902 from Today” by Michael Murphy, with photographs by Jens Lucking, the exhibit displays photos of Santa Monica from 1902 next to modern photos of the same location.
The 1902 photos were found by Murphy in a book at his childhood home, formerly owned by 1930’s Santa Monica Mayor Gillette.
Murphy said the prohibition era house was full of nooks and crannies containing items left behind when the Gillette family moved out.
“And one of the things we found stashed was this book,” he said.
The photos were part of a book created by the fire department and sold to residents as a fundraiser.
Initially, Murphy had no intention of publishing the photos, but he was interested in finding the locations pictured and the book had become a cherished object as it was a personal reminder of his childhood home.
“The book I held on to for a long time and it was a cherished object and something to remember the house that I grew up in, the history of the house that I grew up in,” he said. “And in many ways represented the abundance of my family’s time in the house.”
In researching the original photos, he learned he address system has changed since 1902, however, he found an old insurance map from the same era that he used to match the old addresses to their current locations.
“So, I decided to go, with Google Maps, bike riding around using the 1902 map I could research where every location was at night,” he said. “Locking it all down. Then I made a Google Map out of it and once I figured out the majority of the locations I thought it would be really fun to do a then-and-now book. Between the 1902 Book and 1902, I saw an amazing story of place, and I was just going to self-publish a book however it came out.”
He worked with professional photographer Jens Lucking to guide the book into its final form.
“Working with Jens was great. He is a true professional and friend. We would take off early Saturday or Sunday mornings. Jens with his camera and the tripod and I’d be out there with the 1902 map, the 1902 photographs, the Google map I made with all 110 locations, and any notes I had about the locations. We plotted out 5 or 6 or 10 shots on a route and we would just do our best that day,” he said.
Murphy said the pair enjoyed the weekly bike rides around the city hunting for the correct point of view to replicate the original photos.
The process became its own kind of time-travel adventure.
“This was a time before cars and you really got a feeling of what it was like in Santa Monica before cars. Trains took everyone to the beach then,” he said. “Santa Monica in 1902 must have been a dream in many ways.”
Research for the book took Murphy to the Santa Monica History Museum where he met with Sarah Crown, who suggested that the project would be a great idea for a museum exhibit. It was then adapted and the exhibit opened on May 18 of this year. The exhibit includes old photos and new, of the same locations, taken at the same angles. The images are placed side by side and some are shown on screens, fading in and out.
“Locals and tourist alike have been enthusiastic about the exhibition,” said Crown. “Locals enjoy seeing familiar locations and their home city in its infancy, while out-of-town visitors benefit from a layout that does not require them to be familiar with the locations.”
Murphy said the final work is a slice of time that provides an interesting context for the city.
“The interesting part about the book, I feel, is its objectiveness,” he said. “I didn’t choose these locations, the book presented them to me through their photographs. So, there was really no motive it whatever came out of that is what came out. I am very proud of the project’s results.”
Murphy agreed that the project will appeal to a vast audience including locals, tourists and historians. He will be speaking at the Montana Branch Library this Thursday, July 19 at 6 p.m. to discuss the project. More information about the project is available at santamonica1902.com
This exhibit will be open until July 21 and will reopen in September. The history museum is located at 1350 7th St. and is open Tuesday through Saturday. General admission is $10, $15 for two adults, $5 for seniors/students. Children under 12, members, veterans and active duty military are free. Group tours can be arranged by calling (310) 395-2290. Special pricing is available for groups of 6 or more people. Visit https://santamonicahistory.org for more information.