The Miracle Mile District is bordered by the Fairfax District on the north, Hancock Park on the northeast, Mid-City on the southeast, West Pico on the south, and Carthay on the southwest. The district's boundaries are roughly 3rd Street on the north, Highland Avenue on the east, San Vicente Boulevard on the south, and Fairfax Avenue on the west. Major thoroughfares include Wilshire and Olympic Boulevards, La Brea and Fairfax Avenues, and 6th Street. The district's ZIP codes are 90036 and parts of 90019.
In the early 1920s, Wilshire Boulevard west of Western Avenue was an unpaved farm road, extending through dairy farms and bean fields. Developer A.W. Ross saw potential for the area, and developed Wilshire as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles.
Ross's insight was that the form and scale of his Wilshire strip should attract and serve automobile traffic rather than pedestrian shoppers. He applied this design both to the street itself and the buildings lining it. Ross gave Wilshire various "firsts": dedicated left-turn lanes, the first timed traffic lights in the United States; he also required merchants to provide automobile parking lots, all to aid traffic flow. Major retailers such as Desmonds, Silverwood's, May Co., Coulter's, Mullen & Bluett, and Seibu eventually spread across Wilshire Boulevard from Fairfax to La Brea. Ross ordered that all building facades along Wilshire be engineered so as to be best seen through a windshield. This meant larger, bolder, simpler signage; longer buildings in a larger scale, oriented towards the boulevard; and architectural ornament and massing perceptible at 30 MPH (50 km/h) instead of at walking speed. These simplified building forms were driven by practical requirements, but contributed to the stylistic language of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne.
Ross's moves were unprecedented, a huge commercial success, and proved historically influential. Ross had invented the car-oriented urban form—what Reyner Banham called "the linear downtown" model later adopted across the United states. The moves also contributed to Los Angeles' reputation as a city dominated by the car. A sculptural bust of Ross stands at 5800 Wilshire, with the inscription, "A. W. Ross, founder and developer of the Miracle Mile. Vision to see, wisdom to know, courage to do."
As wealth and newcomers poured into the fast-growing city, Ross' parcel became one of Los Angeles's most desirable areas. Acclaimed as "America's Champs-Élysées, " this stretch of Wilshire near the La Brea Tar Pits received the name of "Miracle Mile" for its improbable rise to prominence. Although the rise of shopping malls and the development in the 1960s of high-rise financial and business districts in downtown and Century City lessened the Miracle Mile's importance as a retail and business center, it has retained its vitality thanks to the addition of several museums and several commercial high-rises. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and La Brea Tar Pits museums, among others, positioned "Museum Row" on the Miracle Mile as a rival to Exposition Park. Today, the district is one of the city's most vibrant.
The Miracle Mile District is one of the city's more densely populated areas, but is considerably more affluent than other high-density neighborhoods like Westlake and Koreatown. As a result, traffic congestion in the district is bad even by the standards of Los Angeles. To alleviate the problem and provide an alternative to automobiles for commuters, proposals have been made to extend Los Angeles Metro's Purple Line subway to Fairfax Avenue or points further west, from its current terminus at Western Avenue in Koreatown. However, a federal ban on tunneling operations in the area was passed at the behest of the district's Congressional representative, Henry Waxman, after a 1985 explosion caused by the buildup of pockets of methane in the district's long-depleted oil wells destroyed a department store. (As methane deposits abound in most of Los Angeles, some have considered this a dubious justification for a ban on subway construction.) In late 2005, the ban was overturned, owing to tunneling techniques that make it possible to mitigate the methane concern. A westerly extension of the subway has recently been supported by many civic officials in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica, the three cities through which the extension may run. In early 2008, the project— which is destined to terminate in Santa Monica—received $5 billion in federal funds.