Court of Historic American Flags

Court of Historic American Flags. Los Angeles Explorers Guild.

Court of Historic American Flags

In the center of Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles, you’ll find a curated selection 18 flags used throughout the history of the United States of America.

The Court of Historic American Flags

Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles is loaded with landmarks and interesting things to see. Amidst all the attractions, it’s easy to overlook the Court of Historic American Flags, a display of some of the flags used throughout the history of the United States.

Although the Court of Historic American Flags sits in the middle of Grand Park, the collection of flags predates the park by about 45 years — the Court was a fixture as far back as 1966 when the area was known as the Civic Center Mall.

The main problem with the Court of Historic American Flags is that Los Angeles, in general, isn’t often that windy. And on the rare windy days Grand Park, framed by tall buildings, usually gets even less wind, so the flags aren’t really given the opportunity to show off.

Still, we do what we can with what we have, so here’s a look at the 18 flags on display at the Court of Historic American Flags and a little bit of history behind them.

A few of the flags on display at the Court of Historic American Flags. Photo from the author’s collection.

At the base of each flag there’s a plaque describing its importance in the history of the United States. Each plaque also lists the name of the agency sponsoring that particular flag.

The 18 Flags at the Court of Historic American Flags

Taunton “Liberty and Union” Flag

October 21, 1774. The flag of Taunton, Massachusetts was one of the first flags used by the original 13 Colonies to show their dissension with England while still showing an underlying loyalty to the Crown. This flag was adopted by the Sons of Liberty after they kicked the American Loyalists out of the city.

Bunker Hill Battle Flag

June 17, 1775. A variation of the Pine Tree Flag (see below). Rather, it flew as the battle standard at the Battle of Bunker Hill. It’s represented in the famous John Trumbull painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. Even though the U.S. forces lost that particular battle, the British suffered heavy losses. It was a battle that enflamed patriotic passion throughout the colonies. Also noteworthy — nearby Bunker Hill in Los Angeles was named to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Liberty Tree Flag

August 1775. The Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party under the Liberty Tree, an old elm that grew in Hanover Square. After the violent protest, British Loyalists cut the tree down in August 1775. In turn, the colonists created this flag in memory of their sundered symbol. Another variation of the Pine Tree Flag.

Moultrie Flag (Liberty Flag)

September 13, 1775. Colonel William Moultrie designed this flag for the South Carolina militia under his command. It features a white crescent inscribed with the word “Liberty” on a blue field modeled on the blue uniforms of his troops. It flew during the battle of Sullivan’s Island, where it was famously shot down. Through an heroic act of bravery, Sergeant William Jasper recovered the fallen banner and held it aloft until it was re-mounted. Today, the current state flag of South Carolina incorporates its design.

Pine Tree “An Appeal to Heaven” Flag

October 21, 1775. A lone pine tree was a common symbol on flags flown in the New England Colonies. This variant, supposedly designed by Colonel Joseph Reed (General Washington’s secretary) to represent six ships commissioned by Washington, featured the words “An Appeal to Heaven” and was put forth by the Massachusetts Congress after the Battle of Lexington. The quote is taken from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government. Starting in 1776, this flag was adopted by the Massachusetts navy, a distinction that lasts to this day (though the quote was removed in 1971).

Court of Historic American Flags. Los Angeles Explorers Guild.
A few of the flags at the Court of Historic American Flags, including the somewhat controversial Gadsen Flag (yellow). Photo from the author’s collection.

Gadsen Flag

December 3, 1775. More popularly known as the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, this banner originated as an idea from Benjamin Franklin. His initial flag just had the phrase “Join or Die” with the coiled timber rattlesnake cut into 13 pieces (representing the original colonies). The slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” was added by Christopher Gadsen (hence the name), a slaver from South Carolina and was used by the Continental Marines during the Revolution. It’s recently been adopted by right-wing extremists, sparking debate whether it should be removed from its place on the Court.

Grand Union Flag

January 1, 1776. The first national flag of the United States resulted from the Continental Congress-appointed committee of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch, Benjamin Harrison, and George Washington in the early days of the American Revolution. It features 13 alternate red and white stripes, representing the colonies, as well as the British Crosses of Saint George and Saint Andrew in the upper left-hand corner, representing unity with Great Britain — as well as an openness to reconciliation.

Betsy Ross Flag

June 14, 1777. Many flag-makers answered the call of Congress to create the first official flag of the United States, but Philadelphia dress-maker Betsy Ross is often credited with combining the 13 red-and-white stripes with 13 stars in a circular pattern on a blue canton. The date on this flag’s accompanying plaque (June 14, 1777) was the day the Continental Congresses passed the first Flag Resolution stipulating what the flag should look like, so it’s unlikely this flag actually appeared on that day. But legend carries a lot of weight, so on June 14 America celebrates Flag Day, a holiday signed into law by President Truman on August 3, 1949.

Bennington Flag

August 16, 1777. Flown at the Battle of Bennington, where General John Stark’s Green Mountain Boys defeated a superior force of 1,000 British troops. This flag is thought to be the first to incorporate the stars and stripes design and it’s the oldest stars and stripes flag in existence.

Star-Spangled Banner

May 1, 1795. Made famous by the National Anthem written by Francis Scott Key, this is the flag that flew above Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. This is the only American flag with more than 13 stripes — it had 15, along with 15 stars (representing the number of states in 1795). It’s also the flag that Lewis and Clark carried with them on their Corps of Discovery Expedition.

Lake Erie Flag (Don’t Give Up the Ship)

September 10, 1813. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry first flew this flag from his ship during the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. The words “Don’t Give Up the Ship” are the famous last words of Perry’s friend Captain James Lawrence, who died in June of that year aboard his ship Chesapeake during a fierce battle with the British frigate Shannon.

Old Glory

July 4, 1818. The Flag Act of 1818 (the third Flag Act enacted by Congress) was the result of a need for a new flag that reflected the growth of the United States (at the time there were 20 states). This act stated that the United States flag will always have its 13 stripes, but for each additional state admitted to the Union, another star will be added to the blue canton on the 4th of July of any given year. This flag wasn’t nicknamed “Old Glory” for six more years when Captain William Driver, after it was presented to him for his birthday on March 17, 1824, affixed it to the mast of his ship Charles Dogget and declared, “Behold Old Glory!”

Lone Star Flag of Texas

January 25, 1839. Designed by Dr. James B. Stewart, legend says the flag of the Texas Republic was the result of Texian Colonel James W. Fannin’s appeal to “Give us a flag to fight under!” However, Fannin was killed by Mexican forces in 1836, three years before the flag was adopted as the official flag of the Texas Republic. When Texas was admitted as the 28th state in 1846, the Lone Star Flag was adopted as the Texas State Emblem.

The Bear Republic Flag and the Lone Star Flag of Texas at the Court of Historic American Flags. Photo from the author’s collection.

California Bear Republic Flag

June 14, 1846. This flag first appeared when a group of 33 Americans (who entered the country illegally) calling themselves Los Osos (the bears) rebelled against the Mexican government in California. They took over the town of Sonoma and proclaimed independence as the California Republic.

The Mexican-American War had started only a few months earlier, and U.S. troops quickly stepped in to take up the fight for California. The California Republic ceased to exist on July 9 of the same year when the Mexican forces were defeated and the 27-star U.S. flag was raised at Sonoma and Sutter’s Fort. Despite only existing for 25 days, the Bear Flag was later adopted as the official banner of the State of California.

Fort Sumter Flag

July 4, 1859. This flag, with 33 stars representing the then-current number of states, flew above Fort Sumter at the battle that officially started the Civil War on April 12, 1861. Although Congress discussed revising the flag during the Civil War to reflect the fractured nature of the country, it never changed and this design was still in use at the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865. Upon the war’s end, three more stars were added to the canton (on July 4th, as per regulation).

48-Star Flag

July 4, 1912. In 1912, two stars were added to the flag of the United States (for New Mexico and Arizona), bringing the total to 48 stars for the country’s 48 states. This was the official flag of the United States for 47 years and represented the country during both World Wars and the beginning of the Korean War.

50-Star American Flag (Official Flag)

July 4, 1960. On January 3, 1959, Alaska was admitted to the United States, the first new state in 47 years. Almost immediately, work began to add another star to the 48-star flag from 1912. But 17-year-old Bob Heft had his eye on Hawaii. He suspected Eisenhower would want to add this new Republican-leaning territory to the U.S. to offset the Democratic influence of Alaska. So young Mr. Heft mocked up his prescient 50-star flag for a school project.

Heft’s flag was handed to Ohio Congressman Walter Henry Moeller, who in turn presented it to President Eisenhower, who then selected it as the next flag. After Hawaii was admitted to the Union on August 21, 1959, Heft was invited to stand next to President Eisenhower as his flag was unveiled on Independence Day in 1960. Heft’s 50-Star Flag supplanted the 49-star flag that was revealed just a year prior and has represented America longer than any banner.

POW/MIA Flag

Initially presented in 1971. A symbol of the United States’ commitment to resolving the fates of the more than 2,400 Americans missing, captured as prisoners of war, or otherwise unaccounted for in Southeast Asia since the end of the Vietnam War. The flag has seen many subtle alterations over the years, but this is the version first presented in 1971.

A Flag Removed

For many years, the Confederate Stars and Bars flag flew on the Court. But it was removed sometime in 2015 pursuant to the Assembly Joint Resolution No. 26: Removal of the Confederate flag and symbols. The POW/MIA Flag was raised in its place.


Speaking of Flags …

Los Angeles City Flag

A look at the symbolism behind the elusive Los Angeles City Flag.

Keep reading

Court of Historic American Flags



Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: