In a small traffic triangle in the Mid-Wilshire district, you’ll find a head-and-shoulders statue of one A.W. Ross, the almost forgotten mastermind of the Miracle Mile.
A.W. Ross: Father of the Miracle Mile
A.W. Ross had a vision. Where most people saw Wilshire Boulevard as nothing but a dusty road through pastureland and oil fields, Ross saw an opportunity. Wilshire ran from Downtown Los Angeles, at one time the main commercial district of the city, through Beverly Hills, skirting the edge of Hollywood, and down to the waves of the Pacific Ocean.
In 1920, there were only a handful of cars in Los Angeles (around 160,000 for a population in excess of 600,000). Ross, suspecting that this automobile thing just might catch on, bought 18 acres of land between what is today La Brea and Fairfax Avenues. He paid $54,000.
Ross spent the next decade or so slowing developing his new acquisition into a retail destination that would be a car driver’s paradise instead of a pedestrian destination. He attracted popular, high-end stores by offering low rents. He built well-lit streets with wide lanes, offered plenty of parking, and mandated that the buildings along Wilshire were designed to look appealing thorough a car’s windscreen.
Of course he was mocked. All the great visionaries are. But by 1939, when travel by car had become de rigueur and Los Angeles’s formerly ubiquitous street cars had all but disappeared, Wilshire Boulevard had become the favored shopping destination for motorists.
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This district was anchored by Wilson Building (then the tallest building in Los Angeles, complete with blimp mooring on its spire) to the east and the Streamline Moderne May Building (now the Academy Museum) to the west.
Ross originally called his property Wilshire Boulevard Center. Over the years, this parcel of land earned many nicknames, such as “Fifth Avenue of the West,” “America’s Champs-Élysées,” and occasionally “Ross’s Folly” by his detractors. But it was Ross’s friend Foster Stewart who dubbed it “The Miracle Mile.” That last one stuck, and it can be seen on signs all over the area today.
Later, in the 1970s, Reyner Banham, the famous English architectural critic and author of Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, would refer to this Miracle Mile as “the linear downtown.”
A.W. Ross: The Innovator
When it came to attracting shoppers riding by in cars, Ross was an innovator. He mandated that everything along the Boulevard should be visible from a car moving at 30 mph instead of walking speed. This meant that the stores along Wilshire had to be built with wider storefronts and had to be fronted by large signs with simple, bold block letters that angled toward the boulevard.
Also of interest, Wilshire was the first street in the western United States to use left-turn lanes and timed streetlights for traffic control. It’s unclear whether this was one of Ross’s ideas or not, but it did help make the district friendlier for motorists to visit.
Considering his vision and its subsequent implementation, it’s not too much of a stretch to think of A.W. Ross as the grandfather of the current Los Angeles car culture.
Yet despite all his innovation, A.W. Ross is barely a footnote in Los Angeles history. An internet search turns up very little about the man — it’s not even apparent what A.W. stands for.
And while he had a decisive impact on Los Angeles, there are almost no pictures of him — aside from this photo of Ross standing in front of the newly constructed Lee Tower on the Miracle Mile Resident Association from 1962.
A.W. Ross: The Statue
The statue of A.W. Ross was dedicated at a small traffic island at Wilshire & Curson on March 16, 1964. Ironically, unlike the large signs along Ross’s boulevard, the man’s statue is very easy to miss unless you’re walking by it.
In addition to the statue proper, the marble pedestal bears this inscription:
Founder and Developer of the Miracle Mile
Vision to See, Wisdom to Know, Courage to Do
So the next time you’re cruising down Wilshire Boulevard (perhaps on your way to see the Berlin Wall Segment Markers), look through your windshield and try to see it through the lens of Ross’s vision.
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A.W. Ross Statue
- 5799 Wilshire Blvd (at Curson)
- GPS Coordinates: 34.062612, -118.354729 [ Google Maps ]
- what3words: ///milk.solo.steps
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