by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The rise of Los Angeles as a major American metropolis by the 1920s can be measured in many ways, whether it be the types of arts institutions, schools of higher learning, automobile registrations, or, in the case of today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead collection, home-grown publications that catered to the educated middle and upper classes.
The object in question is the twenty-fourth weekly issue of the first volume of Los Angeles Life, a magazine published by Moon Publishing Company, Inc., which was based at the San Fernando Building (so named because its builder James B. Lankershim was a San Fernando Valley notable and which is now, naturally, devoted to lofts) at Main and Fourth streets. The issue is dated 19 October 1922, but it doesn’t look as if there were too many published after that, if a fairly extensive internet search showing only one reference to the magazine in a collection at Cal State Northridge, is any indication.
In any case, there were other Los Angeles-based magazines from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that tried to appeal to a general audience of the well-to-do or, at least, the middle class and up.
One of the earliest was The Land of Sunshine which launched in the mid-1890s and was rebranded as Out West at the dawn of the 20th century. That publication, guided for years by Charles F. Lummis, Los Angeles city librarian, writer and founder of The Southwest Museum, lasted a good while and, by the Twenties, merged with the older San Francisco-based Overland Monthly.
Another magazine that had a decent lifespan was The West Coast Magazine, which was issued for several years in the late 1900s and into the 1910s and which was edited by John Steven McGroarty, California poet laureate and author of the widely-seen Mission Play at San Gabriel.
There were others, but publishing was a highly competitive and difficult-to-maintain business with magazines and other periodicals generally coming and going quickly. This appears to be the case with Los Angeles Life, which was definitely geared towards upper-class society women.
This is evident from the first words in the opening feature “Tales About Town,” which ask, “Why Los Angeles grls are letting all the very best matches (matrimonially speaking) slip out of their hands and go to the ‘out of town girl,’ is more than we know!” The specific example was the nuptial of Joseph Brent Banning, of the prominent family dating back to the early 1850s and Phineas Banning of San Pedro and Wilmington harbor fame and which for years owned Santa Catalina Island, to Alice Morse, a San Francisco socialite.
Following sections are titled “They Say,” “Drawing Room Dabs,” “Overheard on the Mezzanine,” and “Affairs This Week,” which smack of gossip and “news” from the social set. Occasionally, these tidbits are mildly chastising, maintaining some decorum while still getting the message across.
One instance is when “Drawing Room Dabs” noted that “the Eric Fowlers have gone back to Washington. Mrs. Fowler likes society, and Washington society seems to appeal to her particularly.” Observing that the family included two sons attending “the Southern branch of the University of California,” which, by the end of the decade, morphed into U.C.L.A., the “dab” noted that the children liked Los Angeles better than Washington.
Moreover, it averred that “they simply adore the old country place out a La Canada [Fintridge], and they also have a warm place in their hearts for the Wilshire Boulevard place.” In the words, the rural retreat in the sticks, albeit the comfortable confines of La Cañada (Pasadena adjacent, after all), was in harmony with the Miracle Mile where many of the moneyed people lived “in town.”
With the centennial of the Los Angeles Philharmonic approaching next year, it is interesting to note the reference, via a “dab,” to the 1922-23 season beginning soon with “the customary luncheon parties before each one” for women of “the better sort.” The note ended by reporting that Philharmonic founder William Andrews Clark, Jr., son of the copper mining magnate, U.S. Senator from Montana and builder of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, committed to underwriting the orchestra for five more years “and, in all probability, for a longer time than that” because of Clark’s “generosity, philanthropy and all such things.”
Affairs of the week included weddings and parties, including the nuptials of Mina Eisner, whose father owned the popular Sun Drug store chain, and Louis Lissner, whose brother Meyer (misspelled “Myer” here) was a prominent attorney and Republican Party reformer in Los Angeles.
Also mentioned was the fact that “though Mr. and Mrs. James G. Scarborough Jr. are living in San Marino this season [again out in the sticks, though well-heeled], they are still taking active part in the affairs of the younger social set, because Mrs. Scarborough who, “you know, was Eleanor Workman . . . gave a luncheon party Wednesday for a dozen guests, and intends to give a series this winter.”
Eleanor was the daughter of [Andrew] Boyle Workman, son of the late William Henry Workman, a mayor and city treasurer of Los Angeles discussed in a post here two days ago. Boyle Workman, in 1922, was president of the Los Angeles City Council, and he merited mention in the magazine, granted that it was an advertisement for “The Reiss System of Health Culture,” which promised to either reduce or building up a customer’s weight and “make you normal” without “violent exercise [boxing?] and without starvation” and “no drugs.” Captains of local industry and film stars, like Colleen Moore, were listed as clients along with Workman.
Speaking of the film industry, photo essays of a sort promoted the latest films of John Barrymore (portraying Sherlock Holmes), Will Rogers and Madge Bellamy (in Lorna Doone), while a similar page highlighted live theatrical productions in Los Angeles and Pasadena.
It wouldn’t be a woman’s magazine without some significant attention devoted to fashion and Los Angeles Life featured a section called “This Week in the Shops” with Cecile Beaucott writing in her “Worn by Smart Angelenos” article that “Los Angeles styles have a charm of their own—colorful and artistic in accord with the sunshine, blue mountains, flowers and sea breezes/ And madame wears them with all the savoir faire of a ‘cosmopolite'”!
Because it was autumn, dark silk crepes, velvet hats, long brown kid elbow-length gloves, and black suede pumps were de rigeur. Jacquette clothing “seen on Wilshire boulevard worn by a tall slender matron” with a crepe skirt and a feather toque with “gray colonial pumps” provided “a really chic effect.” Yet, cloth frocks could also be “dignified” especially in broadcloth and twill. Evening clothes for younger women included such a fairy land array of rainbow colors” and metallic embroidery was very popular.
For accessories, there were matching bracelets and combs, fur capes and wraps, steel beaded purses, and mosaic bracelets, bar pins and others, among others. “For the boudoir,” Beaucott averred that “lounging becomes both an art and diversion” through negligees, breakfast coats in pastel rainbow colors, silk robes, and lingerie in “waterfall velvet” and quilted silk.
Aline Latting in “The Uniform She Wore” wrote in a fictional form of Ethelinda and her mother’s refusal to send her to convent school wearing common sailor and corduroy suits in “an unending monotony of color and design.” Rather, mother fetched a soft black crepe sleeveless dress, a black hat precisely placed to that it “completely concealed her forehead and obliterated the vision of her right eye,” and added a long strand of pearls, a diamond and platinum watch, ring and bar pin. This was topped off with a crepe cape.
Mother than turned to her husband, naturally silent but obviously sporting “a quizzical smile,” and flatly stated, “Ethelinda shall not return to a school that represses all self-expression in dress,” though this begs the question of who was doing the expressing!
Magazines always have depended heavily on advertising revenue for their success, or chances thereof, so a glance at the ads in the issue are revealing for their tendency to appeal to the intended audience. Theaters, restaurants, ballrooms, clothiers and milliners, jewelers, beauty shops, photo studios, gift shops and the like predominate.
Aside from the aforementioned Reiss system for health, there was also “The Gardner Method of Scientific Flesh Reduction,” which promised “fun in rolling thin” and a “roll to normalcy without discomfort, exertion or diet.” though the pictured device looks like an instrument of torture more than a pleasing rolling session. Also curious are the offers of “vapor baths” and “electric baths”!
Poring through Los Angeles Life is an interesting and informative exercise in getting a glimpse at a slice of upper class life in early 1920s Los Angeles, filled with the expected gossip, society news, the latest in up-to-date fashions, and who was selling what (quack medical and health claims notwithstanding!)