Pico House

Los Angeles, California | C.1870

Photo Credit: Brandon Freitas

In the late 19th century, Los Angeles was still a small farm town, with a population of less than 6,000 in 1870. Having long existed as a part of Mexico’s state of Alta California, the small town was a diverse mix of multiple communities with its central square making up Plaza de Los Ángeles. But a massive migration westward would make the quaint town’s population soar.

As new residents and visitors poured in, Don Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of Alta California, saw an opportunity to develop L.A.’s downtown with a luxury three-story hotel located directly on the plaza. What was then the tallest building in Los Angeles, no expense was spared on the Pico House, which included indoor plumbing, gas chandeliers, and even a French restaurant (in case someone didn’t realize it was a luxury hotel from the other features).

At first, Pico’s gamble paid off—Pico House was “the place to be” as the surrounding area grew. Hotel workers would sometimes have to send guests to stay in the hotel’s overflow rooms across the street due to the popularity of the luxurious space. The fun times at the Pico, however, would be short-lived.

Growing to support over 10,000 residents in just ten years, L.A. outgrew the small town square, and business districts began to develop south of Pico House and the original Mexican structures. This growth, coupled with Pio Pico’s personal gambling issues and penchant for conducting fraudulent business transactions led the famous governor to lose his opulent property in 1880. Since the foreclosure, Pico House never has had long-term success, and even sits vacant today.

Now a part of the landmarked El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, Pico House waits for a return to its glory days of sumptuous meals and fine decor. City officials continue to debate how to resurrect Pico’s old palace–but maybe all that’s needed is a new French restaurant.

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