He says that census figures, pictures, and other records show that Los Angeles consisted of 50% apartments from 'way back. Sometimes, very crowded, nasty, blighted apartments. His point is that recent plans to "Manhattanize" the downtown area are nothing new.
Gish inspired me to go looking for some old pictures. USC has some wonderful panoramas of the city. This first one was taken in 1868, and looks southwest from Broadway and Temple:
The tallest building is the old courthouse, which has a clock tower. Looking out from the same corner today, City Hall would be in back of you (I think).
The next pictures was taken in 1905, and is one of eight panoramic shots taken from the roof of the Lankershim Hotel. This shows the southeast corner of Broadway (with banners strung across it) and 7th. Double click on it to see a larger version:
The Lankershim Hotel is also in this picture:
We get a rare look at the rough edges of Spring Street in a state of transition. This view is probably from the roof of the Pacific Electric Building back on Main Street, looking over the soon-to-be-replaced backyards, small buildings, and houses on the east side of Spring Street to take in the western face of the 600 block of Spring, which runs left to right in this picture. The large tripartite building slightly deeper in the picture and to the left of center is the Hotel Lankershim at the corner of Seventh and Broadway, which we shall be coming to in due course. Note the little house at the northwest corner of Spring and Seventh Streets, just this side of the Lankershim.
** Minor vent: Why does the Times change its titles between webpages and print editions? The printed opinion piece has one title, the web has another. This creates a big problem when trying to locate a piece online--you may have the EXACT TITLE, but it doesn't come up on a search because some power-mad overlord has rewritten the title. I resent that. End minor vent.