1916 view of the nearly completed Warehouse No. 1.
Several factors of commerce during the early part of the century created a need for longer-term warehousing than the transit sheds could provide. First, ships' schedules were erratic and distributors would want their goods at the port ready for shipment when a ship bound for the desired destination arrived. Thus, it was more economical to warehouse goods at the Port than at a distributor's own facility.
Second, distributors would accumulate goods at the Port as they were available or produced, and then arrange for shipment (via ship or on the reverse via train and truck) when a critical mass of goods was accumulated. This allowed for the most economical use of cargo space on the ship, train, or truck. Third, international trade required a bonded location for the temporary storage of goods that would go through customs. The bonded portion of a warehouse was also used for particularly valuable goods.
1927 view of the Warehouse, temporarily renamed
Warehouse No. 3, with original pilothouse and
marine exchange buildings.
This process of transshipment dictated the order in which the Harbor Commission funded construction activities: dredging of the ship channel; construction of the land fill that would be the home for Warehouse 1 and associated wharves, transit sheds, and rail lines; and construction of the massive, bonded warehouse. With these facilities in place, the Port of Los Angeles entered into international commerce and by 1923 had surpassed all the other West Coast ports in tonnage and value of cargo. During this great growth period other facilities were developed. However, Warehouse No.1 remained the largest and, through early part of the 20th century, the only bonded warehouse in the Port.
By the mid-1960s shipment of cargo had been irrevocably altered by Malcolm McLean's integrated transportation system, now known as containerization. Cargo is loaded into a container that is sealed, loaded onto a truck or train for distribution to the shipping terminal, loaded onto a ship, and delivered to its destination in reverse fashion. Thus, the cargo is handled only at the source and at the destination and has built-in protection from the elements.
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At the same time shipping schedules have become more standardized, allowing distributors to deliver to the Port within days of the arrival and loading of the ship. These changes in the transshipment process reduced the need for massive warehouses like Warehouse No. 1 and changed the physical layout of all modern seaports. Warehouse No. 1 stands as a physical reminder of an earlier era of commerce and reflects the important role it played in the opening of Los Angeles as an international trade center.(View modern photos of Warehouse No. 1.)