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Los Angeles and the Automobile

Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City

Scott L. Bottles
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 315
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  • Book Info
    Los Angeles and the Automobile
    Book Description:

    More comprehensive than any other book on this topic,Los Angeles and the Automobileplaces the evolution of Los Angeles within the context of American political and urban history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91113-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    Perhaps no technological innovation has affected the character of American cities as much as the automobile. Until recently, however, few historians ever bothered to examine the impact of cars upon American society. Those people who did write about the automobile usually lacked both objectivity and historical insight. This was particularly true during the 1960s when Americans began to recognize some of the less desirable aspects of living in a motorized society. The automobile, critics charged, not only polluted our air but also created sprawling suburbs, crippled our sense of community, and blighted inner-city neighborhoods. The 1970s brought new concerns when...

  5. 2 The Progressive Response
    (pp. 22-51)

    The arrival of the electric railway in American cities brought with it problems as well as promises. People hoped that this technological innovation would improve the quality of urban life by lowering residential densities near the city center. The late nineteenth century saw rapid urban growth throughout the nation. Concerned citizens feared that the influx of new residents would over whelm the already inadequate infrastructures of most cities. The invention of the streetcar, however, allowed people to move into the suburbs, thereby easing the burden on central business districts. Moreover, the outlying areas offered urban denizens the advantages of homeownership...

  6. 3 The Democratic Impulse and the Automobile
    (pp. 52-91)

    Several historians have argued that the Progressive Era was ultimately a conservative one. Rather than challenging the American corporate structure, the reformers accommodated it. These historians assert that corporate leaders in seeking to plan a rational and stable economy free from the debilitating effects of cutthroat competition managed to subvert the progressive movement, particularly at the national level. The corporate world, they noted, needed public regulation to end irresponsible business practices and ensure economic stability. Corporate exec utives therefore helped establish regulatory agencies knowing full well that these bodies would be flexible enough to appease middle-class reformers, satisfy their own...

  7. 4 The Power of Consensus
    (pp. 92-121)

    Los Angeles’ dependency on the automobile by the mid-twenties was unusual for American cities. “The place of the automobile in the transportation problem of Los Angeles,” wrote the distinguished urban planner and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., in 1924, “is far more important than in cities of the East.” Southern California’s favorable climate, “the widely scattered population, and the almost universal housing in detached single-family dwellings” encouraged the widespread use of automobiles.¹ Automobile registration figures bear out the validity of these statements. Table 2 demonstrates that automobile ownership in Los Angeles far outpaced the national average. In 1915, Los...

  8. 5 The Union Station Controversy
    (pp. 122-157)

    Historians have long wondered what happened to the progressive movement during the 1920s.¹ What little unity the movement once had died with America’s involvement in World War I. The Russian Revolution and the subsequent withdrawal of the Soviets from the war discredited the socialists. Indeed, the postwar era saw a fierce backlash against the Left. Meanwhile, the general prosperity of the twenties dampened the reform spirit of the middle class. Although the major objectives of the middle-class progressives had by this time become institutionalized in regulatory bodies such as public utility and planning commissions, urban politics after 1918 became increasingly...

  9. 6 A Lack of Consensus
    (pp. 158-174)

    The union station campaign in Los Angeles was largely idiosyncratic to that region. The railroads’ plan muddled the traditional issues surrounding rapid-transit planning in the rest of the United States. Nevertheless, the controversy displayed all of the divisive forces found elsewhere. The city rejected the railroad proposal and the Kelker-De Leuw report largely because of the public’s general distrust of the railroads, the difficulty in financing a subway system, and the growing split between suburban residents and downtown merchants. In the years that followed the union station vote these problems loomed ever larger, making it nearly impossible for Los Angeles...

  10. 7 Reshaping the Modern City
    (pp. 175-210)

    The adoption of the automobile for urban transportation had a profound impact on the shape of American cities. The electric streetcar, the horsedrawn railway, and even the omnibus had previously allowed a limited amount of residential dispersion. Thousands of urban dwellers fled to the suburbs with the introduction of these technological advances. Nevertheless, most economic activity within cities remained confined to the central business district. The railways in most urban areas converged upon the downtown area, making it a natural center for theaters, offices, light manufacturing, and department stores. Even heavy industry tended to locate at railroad junctions and along...

  11. 8 The Rood to Autopio
    (pp. 211-234)

    By the late twenties, most American urban planners embraced the automobile as a positive force in society. The automobile, they believed, could once and for all change the spatial organization of the metropolis. No longer would urban dwellers have to suffer from the crowded and unhealthful conditions of the walking city. Streetcars had given Americans a glimpse of the suburban ideal. Now it appeared that the automobile could fulfill the promise of residential dispersion. Furthermore, by opening subdivisions well removed from the city center, the automobile could lower population densities at the core and thus ease the burden on the...

  12. 9 Epilogue
    (pp. 236-254)

    Many sectors within American society believed that freeways could solve the problems associated with decentralization. The public, however, held a different view towards mass transit. The split between suburban and inner-city business interests, combined with the issue of finance, blocked rapid-rail construction in all but a handful of cities. Lacking public subsidies, many traction companies failed. This wave of bankruptcies began immediately following World War I when the high fixed costs associated with rampant overcapitalization forced many railways into receivership. Those companies surviving the war soon faced skyrocketing inflation. Although labor and material expenses doubled within four years of the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-302)