Siege of Paris

Many American cities built their own grand panorama rotundas during the 1880s and 1890s, magnificent public halls which could either hold a permanent exhibit or be host to the many traveling, short-term attractions which dominated 19th-century public entertainment. Downtown Los Angeles debuted a panoramic exhibit in late 1887 at Main Street between Third and Fourth Streets, displaying a devastating episode in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war-- the last battle between the French resistance and Prussian 'besiegers' after which Paris fell in January of 1871.

 

Siege of Paris Rotunda
Panorama Rotunda at Third and Main Streets in Los Angeles, late 1880s - seen from the rear.

The 'Siege of Paris' painting displayed in Los Angeles was a faithful copy of the hugely successful Paris original, "Panorama of the Defence of Paris Against the Prussian Armies," painted by the renowned French salon painter Henri Felix Emmanuel Philippoteaux. The original painting had opened in Paris not long after the events of the siege itself, and its popularity was due in part to the portrayal of a heroic French resistance to Prussian occupation. The American copy, by Philippoteaux himself, arrived in Los Angeles in 1887 after having been exhibited in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans. The painting was purported to be nearly 400 feet long and 50 feet high, and a visit was complimented by hourly lectures on the subject of the work by a Mr. J.C. Cameron.

Henri Felix Philippoteax's son Paul also became a painter of panoramas who worked extensively in America, and he helped his father in painting and hanging the copies. His monumental work The Battle of Gettysburg can again be seen in its recently restored glory at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Classified Ad
From the 'Amusements' section, Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1888


Siege of Paris Panorama Souvenir Pamphlet Cover - Huntington Museum Collection
Souvenir Booklet Cover, Collection of the Huntington Library

Within a year of its construction, the brick storefront on Main Street through which panorama visitors entered, called ''Panorama Building,' was home many business ventures, its owners quickly capitalizing on the prestige of the art work and its instantly recognizable address. The rotunda was home to the painted battle scene, and the brick block served as a warehouse for the Bancroft Piano Company; a rehearsal hall for the vocal section of the Philharmonic Society; the meeting space for the Young Man's Prohibition Club as well as the Harrison and Morton Club, a Republican party group; and Miss B.M. Tobin's millinery, directly adjacent to the offices of W.O. Merithew, architect. The Evening Express newspaper had its offices in the building, and the Olmstead and Wales Panorama Bookstore was also an early tenant.

 

Los Angeles Panorama Building, Main Street 1890s

Panorama Building, 1890s.

The painting was sold and removed to San Francisco in 1889, and the rotunda began to take on an array of ventures, some suitable, some not, to its magnificent size and original artistic intent. Throughout the 1890s and early 1900s, the rotunda housed Empire Stables, seen in the above image. In 1906 it was configured into a grand, state-of-the-art roller skating rink, promising exersize and enjoyment for all ages, shown in advertisements touting polite instructors and special lunchtime classes for businesspeople.

 

Roller Rink Ad 1906
Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1906

Unfortunately, it didn't last long as a skating venue; in 1907, the owner of the property, a Mr. Adolph Ramish, demolished the building and made plans to construct the Adolphus Theatre on the site, later to be called the Hippodrome.

Given the widespread exhibition of panoramas in American cities in the late 19th century, Angelenos can be proud that their city was for a short time host to one of the grandest and important panoramas of the era.

Many thanks to Suzanne Wray, the Huntington Library, and Los Angeles Public Library Archives for information and images on this page.

 

 

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