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Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past

William Deverell
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 349
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  • Book Info
    Whitewashed Adobe
    Book Description:

    Chronicling the rise of Los Angeles through shifting ideas of race and ethnicity, William Deverell offers a unique perspective on how the city grew and changed.Whitewashed Adobeconsiders six different developments in the history of the city-including the cementing of the Los Angeles River, the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1924, and the evolution of America's largest brickyard in the 1920s. In an absorbing narrative supported by a number of previously unpublished period photographs, Deverell shows how a city that was once part of Mexico itself came of age through appropriating-and even obliterating-the region's connections to Mexican places and people. Deverell portrays Los Angeles during the 1850s as a city seething with racial enmity due to the recent war with Mexico. He explains how, within a generation, the city's business interests, looking for a commercially viable way to establish urban identity, borrowed Mexican cultural traditions and put on a carnival called La Fiesta de Los Angeles. He analyzes the subtle ways in which ethnicity came to bear on efforts to corral the unpredictable Los Angeles River and shows how the resident Mexican population was put to work fashioning the modern metropolis. He discusses how Los Angeles responded to the nation's last major outbreak of bubonic plague and concludes by considering the Mission Play, a famed drama tied to regional assumptions about history, progress, and ethnicity. Taking all of these elements into consideration,Whitewashed Adobeuncovers an urban identity-and the power structure that fostered it-with far-reaching implications for contemporary Los Angeles.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93253-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION: City of the Future
    (pp. 1-10)

    Los Angeles has been the city of the future for a long time. Even as far back as the 1850s, at the moment of California statehood, people thought and spoke and wrote about Los Angeles as urban destiny in the making. Seventy-five years ago, John Steven McGroarty, journalist, playwright, and poet, wrote that Los Angeles was “the old new land of promise.” “The City of Destiny,” McGroarty called it.⁴ Indeed the city seems almost able to bend time, at least in the ways people described it and talk about it even today. Los Angeles, they say, forges a relationship between...

  6. ONE The Unending Mexican War
    (pp. 11-48)

    Ugly reflexive characterizations about Mexicans are deeply rooted in the California past. The expressions of 1820s and 1830s American visitors such as the sailor Richard Henry Dana anticipate the racial and ethnic presumptions of later generations. Once imperial designs upon Mexico had been put into motion (exactly what Dana meant by his California commentary, “In the hands of an enterprising people, what a country this might be!”), it became an act of patriotism to refer to Mexicans in explicitly racist terms.³ The 1846–1848 war against the Republic of Mexico—a nasty, brutal affair—drove home Manifest Destiny’s darkest assumption...

  7. TWO History on Parade
    (pp. 49-90)

    It is a curious feature of the history of Southern California that the Los Angeles Fiesta belongs to the novelists more than the historians. Novelists often write about historical events of course, and they can do so with every bit as much accuracy as historians. But in the case of the Los Angeles Fiesta, historians have barely stepped into the ring. Fictional accounts abound which describe the citywide frenzy accompanying each springtime Fiesta in the last half decade of the nineteenth century. Taking their cues straight from the newspapers or their own eyewitness observations, writers and the occasional poet added...

  8. THREE Remembering a River
    (pp. 91-128)

    In 1906, a Los Angeles settlement house worker named Amanda Mathews Chase published a book of stories about Mexicans calledThe Hieroglyphics of Love: Stories of Sonoratown and Old Mexico. She dedicated the little volume to her settlement house colleagues, offering that it was made up of sentimental tales of “the Mexican peonada . . . a dark and lowly people, who are yet rich with the riches of the poor, and wise with the wisdom of the simple.”

    Amanda Mathews Chase liked metaphors about Los Angeles Mexicans. She returned again and again in the book’s stories to one in...

  9. FOUR The Color of Brickwork Is Brown
    (pp. 129-171)

    The paved Los Angeles River—the river industrial—created an entirely new environmental feature on the landscape of the city so proudly referred to as “nature’s workshop.” As we have seen in chapter 3, engineers and urban planners cemented a new river into existence guided, in part, by building on the seventy- and eighty-year-old memories of aged Mexicans. Reminiscence, explicitly ethnic reminiscence, became a critical accompaniment to stark hydrologic data gathered by servants of science. The irony, that a rural Mexican past held information important to the race toward an urban, selfconsciously Anglo Saxon future, seems not to have occurred...

  10. FIVE Ethnic Quarantine
    (pp. 172-206)

    In this chapter, we again visit the districts around the Los Angeles River in the early decades of the twentieth century, not all that far from Simons Brick Yard No. 3. But our focus is less upon the dividing line of the river (past and present, east and west, Mexican and non-Mexican) and less upon labor. Rather, we turn to a different kind of boundary forcibly placed between Mexicans and non-Mexicans in Los Angeles. We address here a form of segregation prompted or reinforced by more biological boundaries. For just as taming an unruly river could produce tools by which...

  11. SIX The Drama of Los Angeles History
    (pp. 207-249)

    In the spring of 1912, the ocean linerTitanicclipped an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank. Newspapers across the nation and the world covered theTitanicstory with tabloid zeal. Who lived? Who died? Who was brave, and who was cowardly? Who was to blame? What were the last moments aboard the doomed ship like for those on the brink of icy eternity? It all made for compelling reading, as the papers featured story after story about the tragedy. Papers in Los Angeles proved no exception to the aggressive coverage of the event. After all, the tragedy had...

  12. CONCLUSION: Whitewashed Adobe
    (pp. 250-252)

    In the city of Los Angeles, sometime in the 1870s, a man named Victor Hall pasted a recipe in his scrapbook. Such an odd thing to do, offering the future a concise, if mundane, set of instructions on “How to Whitewash.” The recipe goes like this:

    Procure fresh-burnt lime, not that partially air-slacked. The large lumps are best. The fine portions and small lumps will not make a wash that will stick well. For this reason, lime that has been burned several months is not as good as that just from the kiln. Put a pound or two into a...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 253-320)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 321-331)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 332-332)