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Metropolis in the Making

Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s

Tom Sitton
William Deverell
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 383
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  • Book Info
    Metropolis in the Making
    Book Description:

    Los Angeles came of age in the 1920s. The great boom of that decade gave shape to the L.A. of today: its vast suburban sprawl and reliance on the automobile, its prominence as a financial and industrial center, and the rise of Hollywood as the film capital of the world. This collection of original essays explores the making of the Los Angeles metropolis during this remarkable decade. The authors examine the city's racial, political, cultural, and industrial dynamics, making this volume an essential guide to understanding the rise of Los Angeles as one of the most important cities in the world. These essays showcase the work of a new generation of scholars who are turning their attention to the history of the City of Angels to create a richer, more detailed picture of our urban past. The essays provide a fascinating look at life in the new suburbs, in the oil fields, in the movie studios, at church, and at the polling place as they reconceptualize the origins of contemporary urban problems and promise in Los Angeles and beyond. Adding to its interest, the volume is illustrated with period photography, much of which has not been published before.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93552-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTION Metropolis in the Making: Los Angeles in the 1920s
    (pp. 1-10)
    Jules Tygiel

    Carey McWilliams, the patron saint of Los Angeles history, first arrived in the City of Angels at the dawn of the great boom of the 1920s. He had departed his native Colorado in the midst of a snowstorm, but stepped off his train, not unlike Dorothy landing in Oz, into a land of bright colors, flowers, and perpetual sunshine. “The extraordinary green of the lawns and hillsides” dazzled McWilliams. But, he perceived, “it was the kind of green that seemed as though it might rub off on your hands; a theatrical green, a green that was not quite real.” Like...


    • CHAPTER ONE Industry and Imaginative Geographies
      (pp. 13-44)
      Greg Hise

      In a 1907 reform tract,The Better City, Dana Bartlett, a Protestant cleric and urban progressive, waxed euphoric about the promise of Los Angeles. From its church-centered founding to the beneficent climate and increasing civic “patriotism,” Bartlett cast his eyes upon an “American city,” where the foreign-born “vied with his neighbor in devotion to high ideals,” a city poised for greatness and, if residents heeded the social gospel, goodness. In its setting and its development to date, Los Angeles had avoided the blight Bartlett saw in Chicago, New York, and other eastern cities. “Ugliness,” he wrote, “has no commercial or...

    • CHAPTER TWO Mulholland Highway and the Engineering Culture of Los Angeles in the 1920s
      (pp. 45-76)
      Matthew W. Roth

      Mulholland Highway, a twisting 22-mile roadway along the ridgetops of the Hollywood Hills (fig. 2.1), meant different things to the real estate investors who first promoted it, to the engineers who designed it and supervised its construction, and to the property owners who encountered the environmental effects of its completion.¹ “The property in the district is owned by a small group of capitalists who expect to be rewarded for their enterprise by the subdivision of the frontage on the highway into building sites,” wrote the trade journal for the region’s construction industry.² But Mulholland Highway did not raise property values...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Quest for Independence: Workers in the Suburbs
      (pp. 77-95)
      Becky M. Nicolaides

      Along with its sunshine and cinema, 1920s Los Angeles was known for a far more insidious quality: its brazen hostility to labor unions. The city gained a reputation as a citadel of the open shop under the leadership of a powerful business elite that included the likes ofLos Angeles Timespublisher Harry Chandler and, before him, his father-in-law Harrison Gray Otis. These leaders pressed down hard and furiously on organized labor by mandating the open shop, persecuting labor leaders and activists, and wielding the powers of the state to maintain this condition. So harsh was their action, it prompted...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Sunshine and the Open Shop: Ford and Darwin in 1920s Los Angeles
      (pp. 96-122)
      Mike Davis

      At the turn of the twentieth century, Los Angeles had plenty of sunshine and oranges, but few of William Blake’s despised “Satanic mills.” All farsighted local leaders agreed that prosperity was unbalanced by the absence of significant industrial output. Thus, in his otherwise triumphal history of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Charles Dwight Willard (1899: 171–80) complained that the region, despite its explosive growth, lacked any manufactures worthy of the name. A burgeoning real estate and tourism economy rested precariously upon an attenuated industrial base (see Table 4.1) of a brewery, a few foundries, the Southern Pacific machine...

    • CHAPTER FIVE “Another World": Work, Home, and Autonomy in Blue-Collar Suburbs
      (pp. 123-142)
      Nancy Quam-Wickham

      In 1922, Mr. and Mrs. John East ventured into downtown Los Angeles to purchase some camping equipment at a large sporting goods emporium. When they arrived outside the store, John East left his wife, Lorecia, and their three small children in the car, parked at curbside, while he ran inside to make the family’s purchases. Unfortunately for the Easts, it was rush hour in downtown Los Angeles, parking was prohibited, and within moments one of Los Angeles’s finest arrived to order Mrs. East to move her vehicle. Only intending to move the car as far as the nearest legal parking...


    • CHAPTER SIX The Star of Ethiopia and the NAACP: Pageantry, Politics, and the Los Angeles African American Community
      (pp. 145-160)
      Douglas Flamming

      The Hollywood Bowl, 1925. On a beautiful June night, with stars shining faintly in Southern California’s purple-blue sky, an audience of blacks and whites watched as spotlights came up on the grandeur of ancient Africa, c. 50,000 b.c. In five acts, history in motion swept across the stage. As centuries passed, beautiful Ethiopia began a slow, painful demise, which ended with Africa’s tragic descent into the slave trade. To the accompaniment of orchestral music, all of it composed by African Americans, several hundred local black actors—volunteers all—danced, marched, and sang their way across the stage, presenting an epic...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Making Mexico in Los Angeles
      (pp. 161-178)
      Douglas Monroy

      The centrality of the decade of the 1920s for the Mexican history of Los Angeles cannot be disputed. The First Great Migration of Mexicans to the city their forebears founded in 1781 took place in the 1920s. This gigantic movement of people derived from the disruptive consequences of the cataclysmic Mexican Revolution (1911–20) and from the striking expansion of the economy of Southern California and the Southwest, which created so many low-wage jobs in the areas of service industries, transportation, and agribusiness. Thus the story of Mexicans in Los Angeles in the 1920s has usually been told as one...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The View from Spring Street: White-Collar Men in the City of Angels
      (pp. 179-198)
      Clark Davis

      In 1928, throngs of Americans in cities throughout the nation streamed to local movie palaces to watchThe Crowd, an MGM feature directed by King Vidor. The two-hour silent film presented a devastating vision of modern life. The story begins on July 4, 1900, with the birth of Johnny Sims in an idyllic small town. Upon seeing his new son, Johnny’s father triumphantly announces, “There’s a little man the world is going to hear from all right. . . . I’m going to give him every opportunity.” Twenty-one years later, however, Johnny Sims is working as no. 137 in a...


    • CHAPTER NINE “Practically Every Religion Being Represented”
      (pp. 201-219)
      Michael E. Engh

      “Los Angeles is the most celebrated incubator of new creeds, codes of ethics, philosophies and near philosophies and schools of thought, occult, new and old,” wrote journalist-turned-historian John Steven McGroarty in 1921, describing the city in which he lived. McGroarty observed that a multiplicity of religions thrived in Los Angeles during the prosperous years after World War I. He worried, however, that the city was acquiring a reputation as a “rendezvous of freak religions” which lured “people pale of thought.” Like later civic boosters, McGroarty hastened to reassure readers that “sane religion” had a safe haven in the City of...

    • CHAPTER TEN Fighting Like the Devil in the City of Angels: The Rise of Fundamentalist Charles E. Fuller
      (pp. 220-252)
      Philip Goff

      A change has occurred in American religious studies that has just begun to affect the writing of Los Angeles religious history. Over the past two decades scholars have moved away from a national model emphasizing a Puritan Protestant foundation that degenerated over the centuries into a secularized, “post-Protestant” civil religion, devoid of transcendent meaning. The challenge to this interpretation came from two sources. The first reflected a renewed interest in those groups that retained their spirituality outside the traditional power structures and focused on religious experiences of immigrants and the disfranchised. The more recent objection was formulated by injecting religion...


    • CHAPTER ELEVEN How Hollywood Became Hollywood: Money, Politics, and Movies
      (pp. 255-276)
      Steven J. Ross

      Settling into their seats eagerly anticipating an evening of entertainment, millions of moviegoers soon found themselves shaken by the powerful scenes on the screen.What Is to Be Done?(1914), produced by socialist activist Joseph L. Weiss, showed national guardsmen massacring 24 striking miners and their families.A Martyr to His Cause(1911), made by the American Federation of Labor, showed manufacturers conspiring with local authorities to kidnap union leaders who fought to protect the rights of workers. Presenting a very different political perspective,Steve Hill’s Awakening(1914), produced by the New York Central Railroad, revealed how thousands of railroad...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE My America or Yours? Americanization and the Battle for the Youth of Los Angeles
      (pp. 277-301)
      William Deverell

      A school board election is generally not the most contentious political affair. But the election of 1923 in Los Angeles was different.¹ The fight over board representation convinced powerful individuals and groups in Southern California to take off the gloves and wage a bitter public battle. It was a contest—and collision—that had been coming for years. Investigation of the debates and players in the board bout can tell us a great deal about regional political alignments, right and left, as well as those post–World War cultural tensions which seem to characterize the “nervous 1920s.” By taking the...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Did the Ruling Class Rule at City Hall in 1920s Los Angeles?
      (pp. 302-318)
      Tom Sitton

      Many historians and other observers of Southern California’s history ascribe to a belief that early twentieth-century Los Angeles was controlled politically, as well as socially and economically, by an informal oligarchy of wealthy business leaders and professionals. Composed of some of the heads of the city’s major corporations, financial institutions, and business associations, partners in the most prestigious law firms, and a few wealthy social leaders, this power structure is commonly held to have promoted a regional program encompassing industrial, commercial, and residential development in its own class interest. At the same time it restricted opportunity for working-class residents and...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Behind the Scenes: Bronco Billy and the Realities of Work in Open Shop Hollywood
      (pp. 319-338)
      Laurie Pintar

      In the early 1900s, G. M. Anderson, a young vaudeville actor in the East who could not so much as ride a horse, managed to bluff his way into a major role in Edwin S. Porter’sThe Great Train Robbery. But when the young actor fell off his trusty mount during filming in New Jersey, he promptly lost the part and was reduced to playing an extra in the classic movie. Despite such an inauspicious beginning, Anderson, who had previously changed his name from Max Aaronson, soon found a way to bridge the gap between onscreen depictions and behind-the-scenes realities....


    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Selling Eternity in 1920s Los Angeles
      (pp. 341-360)
      David Charles Sloane

      In 1928, whenHarpers Magazinewriter Sarah Comstock tried to describe Los Angeles, she was immediately taken by its hustle-bustle. First, she tried to cross a street, and found instead, “I quiver, cower, make a dart, halt in panic.”¹ If the arrival of the car in addition to the street railway made the city’s streets as congested and dangerous as any in America, then electricity illuminated its street life: “Lights, lights, lights. Along Spring Street and Broadway and Hill, throughout the downtown cross streets, they focus in fierce incandescence.” Welcome to the big city. In the city that so many...

    (pp. 361-364)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 365-371)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 372-372)