by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In its astronomical growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Los Angeles was increasingly among the vanguard in the unparalleled trajectory of economic development in America. Such phenomenal conditions bred seemingly illimitable confidence, especially among boosters, concerning the possibilities for where the national and regional economies could go.
As seen in the post two days ago from the California Tourist and Hotel Reporter from April 1924, at least some voices sought to temper the inflamed enthusiasm of the relentless promoters, particularly when the economy contracted into a downturn, recession or depression. Such was the case at that time, as growth slowed in greater Los Angeles, leading that publication to call for “a time for caution and sanity.”
Juxtaposed with these sentiments was the weekly bulletin of the newly formed Greater Los Angeles Association (GLAA), an organization of business leaders who expressed total confidence in the ability of Los Angeles to forge ahead with massive investments in business and industrial development. Tonight’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the first issue of the bulletin, dated 21 April 1924.
The organization’s motto was “Keep The White Spot White,” and, while the reference was to a “White Spot of Prosperity” demarcating the region on maps as opposed to areas in the nation represented by “the darkness of depression,” it does stand out that the group was comprised entirely of white men, who were entirely dominant in the region and the nation when it came to economic and political control and power. Of course, much of the labor used in the area’s economy were people of color, including agricultural workers, transportation laborers, industrial employees and others.
The GLAA kicked off its campaign earlier in the year with a bold plan to raise $50 million for the expansion of business and industrial areas throughout the region and, with “greater Los Angeles” being the operative geographical element, figures from Orange County, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley and the Inland Empire (though it was not known by that moniker then) were invited to participate.
In the 24 March edition of the Los Angeles Times, a lengthy article laid out the concept:
Plans were laid in a definite fashion yesterday immediately to complete Southern California’s economic equilibrium by increasing her manufacturing activities. The plan, in sum, is to for the community to put its own finances behind its own industries and to increase manufacturing until it gives assurance of affording employment to the large numbers that are coming here from the East. The thing is to be accomplished not by a few capitalists, but by popular investment along lines supported by the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Development Association and similar bodies.
The substantial sum to be raised was to be loaned to existing and new companies to create or add to their enterprises by an Industrial Finance Corporation of Greater Los Angeles. Ten per cent of the desired amount was to be raised immediately and disbursed with cooperation of the Chamber’s industrial department and the city’s banks. A model was the Greater New York Association, formed several years prior, which then spawned like organizations in Chicago and St. Louis.
Speakers at the organizational meeting declared that “Los Angeles long since has ceased to be a tourist city, and requires some economic stabilizer to keep and increase her population.” Although agriculture, oil and the film industry obviously provided enormous economic output and benefit, it was stated that manufacturing was essential to the well-being of the region.
With the climate, access to abundant water and power, nearby raw materials “and a bounteous supply of free labor,” which, obviously, did not mean unpaid, but rather untethered to unions in the so-called “open shop” environment of pro-business Los Angeles, there was no reason for manufacturing and industry to be held back. The funds generated and disbursed by the Association would be packaged into “home industrial bonds,” not speculative stocks.
Notably, the article had a different definition of the “white spot” than did the weekly bulletin, following the very public policy of the Times, that “Los Angeles became known as the ‘White Spot’ because of its stable labor conditions due to lack of labor-union dominance” as well as because it continued to grow while the country was stuck in a recession after the First World War.
One of those who spoke to the assemblage was Paul Shoup, head of the Southern Pacific railroad, who succinctly stated, “we’ve sold Los Angeles to all the world but Los Angeles. Take the bonds out of the box and place one or two good bets on the prosperity of Los Angeles. Harry Chandler, the publisher of the Times added, “we need now to translate this necessity into community action. The financial organization is the one things missing, and the sentiment for it unanimous.” Raising the raw materials in the region and shipping them back to the East for manufacturing was “absurd” as Chandler implored the group, “we have the fuel, the water, the labor and we have the money, so let’s do it.”
Finally, it was planned that the Association would eventually have 25,000 members paying $25 in annual dues. Part of the recruitment effort was the creation of the weekly bulletin, starting with tonight’s highlighted first issue, which began with the assertion that:
For years maps depicting general business conditions have consistently shown Southern California as a White Spot of Prosperity, even when the rest of the country was marked by the darkness of depression. The persistent prosperity of Southern California won the admiration of the world. INDUSTRY IS NEEDED TO “KEEP THE WHITE SPOT WHITE.” Join the Greater Los Angeles Association—Insure Prosperity and achieve for Greater Los Angeles a population of 3,000,000 by 1930.
Under that motto, the document continued that “The Progress and Prosperity of Los Angeles, and the communities surrounding it, have been so phenomenal that a superstructure of gigantic proportions has been created.” But, better financial support was critical and the burden could not be borne by chambers of commerce and civic organizations. Only something like the Industrial Finance Corporation could handle something as monumental as what was envisioned. With the $50 million revolving fund, the goal would be realized of “SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA STRAIGHT AHEAD.”
The mechanics of the fund was to “purchase sound securities in approved industries located in this district” and that these were “to be sold nationally to investors who have heretofore invested millions upon millions in eastern industrial securities or uncertain or doubtful ventures.” Once the instruments were sold, the proceeds would be used for another round of the same, hence the revolving fund.
Hammering the point home about membership, the publication avowed that “your personal duty in the success of Greater Los Angeles is tremendous. You owe it to your family and to your business to get behind this movement, insure prosperity and guarantee the progress of the Greater Los Angeles district.
A striking allusion and the core of the sales push was that
The World and his Wife are looking to Southern California. They wish to live here. We have all they desire, provided only we realize the purposes embodied in this movement. Build the foundation of Greater Los Angeles with your co-operation—your personal effort—your civic patriotism—your love for this community—the happiness you now enjoy—by cementing this with your membership in this organization.
Quotes were proffered by the Association’s president H.H. Merrick and Chamber president William Lacy about the importance of the project with the latter stating “inestimable good will result to Los Angeles and Southern California if the Industrial Finance Corporation as now being fostered by the Greater Los Angeles Association receives the hearty support of every one in this section.”
Merrick, Vice-President Sylvester Weaver, and Treasurer W.D. Longyear were the officers and the directorate was composed of nearly sixty of the most powerful and influential business figures in the region—needless to say that all were white men. They included F.W. Braun, Chandler, E.P. Clark, William H. Daum, Cecil B. DeMille, Henry W. O’Melveny, Pontius, S.H. Woodruff, A.P. Giannini, Irving H. Hellman, Paul G. Hoffman, Harold Janss, Lacy, Joseph Schenck, Moses H. Sherman, and Paul Shoup—with manufacturing, real estate, banking, the film industry, transportation, and much more among the economic sectors represented.
A membership drive led to the formation of a squad of 350 trained workers, divided into teams of ten, who systematically were to work through downtown and then sections of the city, while organizations in the outlying areas were to work on securing members by direction of Association headquarters.
An effort to take the goals and plans of the organization within Los Angeles and to “the outside territories of Greater Los Angeles” included “enthusiastic meetings” in such places as Burbank, Fullerton, Glendale, Long Beach and Santa Monica where chambers of commerce were actively spreading the good word. Other organizations buying into the concept included the Los Angeles Realty Board, the Better Business Association of the Los Angeles Ad Club, the Los Angeles Kiwanis Club.
A substantial section of the newsletter concerned the excellent press coverage received in recent weeks and the animated news division of the Los Angeles Express “took moving pictures of the beginning of the membership drive, showing the hundreds of membership workers leaving the Trinity Auditorium [across from Pershing Square] on the first morning.” These were to be shown at theaters throughout the region, while plans for radio broadcasts were in development.
A second luncheon was held on the 14th at the Biltmore Hotel with several hundred “prominent business men and others from many towns in the Greater Los Angeles area” in attendance. The officers and directors were formally approved at the gathering, as well as a general committee. For the Industrial Finance Corporations, its directors included ten men, including Pontius, Shoup, Sherman, Lacy and Clark from the Association’s directorate, with Marco Hellman and U.S. Senator Frank P. Flint outside members.
Speakers at the banquet included the publisher of the Express, F.W. Kellogg, and his rival, Chandler, one of the few women in attendance, Belle McCord Roberts, editor of the Long Beach Telegram, Flint, and representatives from Claremont, Inglewood, Santa Ana, Norwalk, Anaheim, and Covina among other outlying regions.
After a brief mention that this was the first issue of the bulletin and that it would be published each Monday and sent to members, newspapers, and other organizations, there was a note to “Put a ‘White Spot’ sticker on your windshield” with a postscript that “your neighbor needs one, too.”
The Homestead collection also has the third issue of the bulletin, so we’ll highlight that in a future post and discuss the work of the Association more at that time.