Off-Ramp | Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Hidden Treasure - LA Public Library photo archive

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Just now, I asked my colleague Michael Roe to give me a random word. "Superpower," he replied, and that's how we got the picture above, an electrical experiment at the Cal Tech's High-Potential Laboratory in 1925.

It comes to you through one of LA's treasures, the huge searchable photo archive of the LA Public Library. Go to that site, click on "browse the photo collection," and you can travel back in time. Whether you're a tourist or looking for something specific, you'll always come across something you've never seen before, something that illuminates LA's long-ago past or even the near past.

The photos are gathered from all over. They include much of Gary Leonard's vast library, shots by now-City Councilman Tom LaBonge, and documentary and newspaper photographers back to the turn of the (other) century, and the extensive Herald-Examiner newspaper collection. We've used photos from the LAPL collection to make the Off-Ramp website shine since we started the show in 2006.

Each photo comes with a ton of information, like this additional caption from the CalTech picture:

View 2: "Molten rainbows--roar of baby thunder--this 40-foot spark is produced by the California Institute's million-volt apparatus used in testing high voltage equipment and furthering research in the field of super-power transmission." (Information taken from what appears to be a printed caption from a magazine pasted to the back of the photo.) The transformer was devised by Royal W. Sorenson, professor of electrical engineering. Photo dated: December 11, 1925.