by Paul R. Spitzzeri
There was no bigger booster of greater Los Angeles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, save the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, than the Los Angeles Times, the predominant daily newspaper in the city. Launched at the end of 1881, the paper, under the leadership of Harrison Gray Otis and then his son-in-law Harry Chandler, promoted the region relentlessly, though always with a pro-business, anti-union philosophy and highlighting the “good life” that economic prosperity begat, whether this was reflected through education, leisure, art and culture or other elements of society.
One of the more interesting and telling ways in which the Times emphasized its particularly brand of boosterism was through its Annual Midwinter Number, issued at the beginning of the year in multi-part series, and redolent with photographs and prose promoting the region in picturesque and romantic terms that, of course, did not apply to everyone living in the area. This evening’s post looks at the fourth of six parts of the series, printed by the California Rotogravure Corporation and issued on 3 February 1928 and focused on “Life on the West Coast.”
The opening essay, titled “Between the Mountains and the Sea,” opened in typical purple prose: “glance through the pages of history at the communities where life has been lived to the fullest coming for fair fruitage in art, literatre, science, and the finer things in life; and you will find these communities for the most part located between the mountains and the sea.” The essay continued that “in a locality blessed with both of these servitors of mankind, the one pouring down rushing melted snows to turn the wheels of industry, and protecting the fields and cities from extremes of climate; the other bearing the ships of trade and refreshing the summer with its breezes—life is replete with pleasures innumerable.”
Such a place was Los Angeles and its environs and it was added that “here, founded on a sound agricultural, industrial, and commercial development, is prosperity that is father to leisure.” With the film industry cited as having “built a cultural center,” the uncredited author of the essay proclaimed that
if we read our history aright, there will be builded out of this leisure, fired by the inspiration of the mountains and the sea, a great spiritual renaissance, expressing itself in art and a literature that will be rivaled only by the great classic art of ancient Greece, also located between the mountains and the sea. For here life is lived to its fullest with the inspiration and the leisure that have always made for great periods of art.
However, exalted the language was in its lofty predictions for the historical greatness of the region, it did reflect the attitudes of boosters who promoted greater Los Angeles as a city of seemingly unlimited resources and potential. The Angel City was not built in a location that would suggest such greatness, but such examples as the creation of a substantial port where no natural harbor existed and the marvel of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, bringing its precious water well over 200 miles from the Owens Valley in eastern California showed what modern engineering could do to transform the city. An exceptionally moderate climate and incredibly fertile soil naturally aided the growth of the region as millions poured in from the 1880s onward. Not discussed in these pages, however, was the inequity of opportunity and benefit, as people of color mostly provided nameless and faceless manual labor for the business and agricultural leaders who were almost exclusively white men.
Instead, the generalized paeans rolled on: “where man finds happiness, there he makes his greatest works of beauty, and happiness awaits one along the Pacific Coast, with its multiform playgrounds, alluring climate, and the endless inspiration of the mountains and the sea.” When it came to describing the region as “An Out-Door Land,” it was averred that “so completely is Southern California adapted to all forms of outdoor pleasure that it might have been designed for this purpose by a supreme architect.” With such a bounty available in climate and geography, play, for those who had the time, seemed unlimited with the attractions of golf, polo, horse-riding, auto racing, football, baseball and others available year-round, “except for rainy days in winter” and all this “with rarely a thought for fur coats or umbrellas.”
Such venues as the Coliseum, which “will house the Olympic games of 1932,” the Rose Bowl and the Hollywood Bowl were emphasized for all-season activities of sport, music, exhibitions and more. Also noted was the Pilgrimage Play, which has been featured in this blog, which “exerts a rival appeal” to the Bowl, while “a rather new and highly-promising custom is community singing, on summer evenings, in municipal open-air theatres,” this sounding something akin to what was done in the open amphitheaters of ancient Athens.
Then there was yachting and plenty of beaches, with some “flanked by luxurious beach-club homes,” and various water-sports, including swimming, diving and “aquaplaning,” this latter predating water skiing and involving skimming the surface with a board while being pulled by a boat. Elsewhere there was “motoring, canoeing, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and photograpby to an extent impossible in societies where definite seasonal changes restruct each activity.”
A typical recasting of history is found in two pages headlined “A Past Rich in Romance” and this common descriptor of fiestas and missions emphasized the “colorful note to the life on the Pacific Coast, and preserves the traditions of picturesque days when prehistoric races, then Indians, then Spanish cavaliers, ruled the land.” Somehow, Hopi snake dances, the ruins of Casa Grande and “public intertribal ceremonials,” denoted as “weird” at Santa Fe and Gallup, New Mexico were thrown into the mix.
Mention was made of The Mission Play by John Steven McGroarty and the passion play was pronounced to be “notable for preserving the tradition of the Padres,” while the point of view of the natives was largely bypassed. Walter P. Temple, builder of the highly romanticized and recently completed La Casa Nueva, was a major financial supporter of the play, which “closed its 1927 season on July 25, in its new home at San Gabriel [Temple contributed $15,000 toward the theater, a figure only matched by Henry E. Huntington], having enjoyed the worldss attendance record.
In this hodge-podge of fiestas was added the “flower-bedecked floats and beautiful girls” of the Tournament of Roses parade, which was cancelled this year for only the fourth time in its 130-plus year history, as it attracted a reported 700,000 onlookers on the first day of 1927. In the Missions section, it was claimed that “in the pattern of American history, no section has more brightly-colored threads than the Southwest” as “its domber old missions recall days of Spanish explorers, Mexican soldiery, Franciscan friars, English pirates, Russian wanderers, and Castilian noble families.”
Excitedly came an incomplete and incoherent sentence: “Hospitality, wealth, loves, and feuds, roving conquest, shifting domainance of race, class, and clan!” Following this was an explication of an out of order sequence of gold seekers, civil unrest, Mexican sovreignty, the American invasion, and “the California Republic” of the so-called “Bear Flag Revolt,” followed by statehood “and the subsequent unparalleled development.”
The missions were accounted “precious monument to a zealous age” and the ruins of what were purported “milestones in a march of progress and as relics of incalculable interests to tourists and Californians alike. A typo stated that the work at these institutions began in 1759, rather than a decade later—likely attributable to a deadline rush for publication! Notably, it was added that “as an early phase of the present struggle for separation of church and state by Mexico,” the secularization of the missions,” identified as “the nationalization of ecclesiastical property,” in the mid-1830s, led to the circumstances in which “Indians were scattered, many treasures disappeard, and the missions fell into the decay from which they are now being recovered.”
A section on rodeos noted that, while the largest such contest was in Salinas, near Monterey, and that other major locales were in Pendleton, Oregon and Cheyenne, Wyoming, “Los Angeles is now becoming a national rodeo center,” as demonstrated by “wild west events” held the prior May at the Coliseum with some 50,000 in attendance while “plans were laid for an enlarged program this year.” Notably, it was said that the Salinas rodeo “is a non-profit enterprise of California cattlemen to perpetuate early cowboy customs and encourage good stock breeding.”
The next portion is another strange and incongruous element, titled “Ancient Art,” in which it was stated that in México, British Honduras (Belize) and Guatemala, there were ruins of fabulous cities from “a remarkable civilization that once flurished in that part of the American continent” and referred to Mayans as “aptly called the Greeks of the New World.” After providing a brief history and showing a photo a Mayan remnant from the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, it turned out that the page wasn’t about “ancient art” at all, but rather of the Mayan Theatre, designed by Stiles O. Clements the prominent architectural firm of Morgan, Walls and Clements and which opened the past August. The page also incldes an image of some of the ornate decorations of the side of the stage, said to be “adapted from the altar of the sun at Palenque,” now famous archaelogical site in Chiapas state near the Guatemala border.
“Enchanted Islands” covers both the steamship route from the harbor at San Pedro/Wilmington to Hawaii, which was inaugurated five years before and the local haven of Santa Catalina Island, which was acquired by Chicago chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. It was observed that “an extensive building and improvement program, intended to mold this Island after the architectural patterns of pleasure centers of the Mediterranean shores of Italy, France, and Spain, was ordered last year” by Wrigley, who also owned the Chicago Cubs and built Wrigley Field in south Los Angeles. Among the intended projects was a new country club house; a terminal and ferry building, a Greek theatre with parquet dancing floor, pergola-covered walks and scenic drives and beaches with pergolas and jetties for protection. It was added, as well, that there was to be “a Spanish village for housing of Mexican laborers.”
Advertising is the lifeblood of publications of all kinds and a prime placement in one of these Midwinter numbers was likely an important way for companies and others to reach prospective customers and clients and there are plenty of them in this part. Many of the advertisers were contractors and others involved in building, such as the Raymond Granite Company and general contractors C.J. Kubach Company, both of whom promoted the construction in record time of Los Angeles City Hall, with photos showing its development just before its April 1928 grand opening; Federated Metals Corporation, formerly the Great Western Smelting and Refining Company; Hammond Lumber; Llewelyn Iron Works, an old established firm in the city; Western Concrete Pipe Company; and a two-page ad at the centerfold for C.F. Braun and Company, billed as the “Largest Metal Working Manufacturing Plant in Western America,” with its 36-acre plant in Alhambra.
Other ads of note include for the Mayan Theatre; the Gaylord apartments; the Arcady Apartments, now the Wilshire Royale; California Lutheran Hospital, now California Hospital Medical Center; the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood; the I.N. Van Nuys Building at Spring and 7th, now an apartment building; the Roosevelt office building at Seventh and Flower and now comprised of lofts; and the Hotel Rosslyn and Annex at Main and Fifth and also a lofts complex. The cities of Glendale and Long Beach also ran promotional ads and there was one for Miramar Estates in what became the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles. Unusual ones include Solomon’s Penny Dance Deluxe on Grand Avenue and Ninth Street, where ten dance lessons cost just $1.10 and three bands performed daily with a purported 50 million dancers enjoying the facility over 20 years and the Urban Military Academy in Hollywood.
One more of interest is titled “The Life of Herman W. Hellman was that of City,” prepared by his estate, and it talks in great detail about the banker and business figure, whose brother Isaias (spelled “Isaiah” here) W. Hellman was a financial giant in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are images of Hellman, his home at Spring and Fourth streets where the H.W. Hellman Building was built in 1903 a few years before his death and which was recently converted into HWH Luxury Living, a 188-unit residential development. Notably, through all of the hisory given of Hellman, nothing was said about his being Jewish until the end of the essay and even then it stated “Mr. Hellman’s will contained generous bequests to chairty and he was always a constant contributor to many charities, making no distinction between the Jewish societies and others.” This is likely reflective of the wariness prominent Jews had to discuss their religion and culture in this public a forum given the anti-Semitism that was so common.
The Annual Midwinter Number editions of the Times are fascinating for many reasons, illuminating for what is covered as well as for what isn’t, but always representative of the special type of boosterism for which that paper was long known. We’ll look to highlight other parts of this 1928 version from time to time in this blog.