“Booster for California”: Eugene Swarzwald’s “Pictorial California” Magazine, July 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

It was published for nearly a half-century and Eugene Swarzwald’s rotogravure (this refers to a process of developing photographs mechanically from a copper cylinder) monthly publication, Pictorial California, featured, in its early years a couple dozen pages of photographs showcasing scenes from throughout the Golden State, including many in and around Los Angeles, where the publisher was based. Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the museum’s collection is the July 1928 issue.

Swarzwald, born in 1883 in New York City, is a mystery figure until his late Twenties, as nothing could be found about him until he was living in St. Louis in 1910 working as a photographer in the studio of the well-known Julius Caesar Strauss. By 1914, he found employment with another renowned photography company, the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania, located about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Post Dispatch, 11 May 1911.

Keystone, founded by Benjamin L. Singley in 1892, eventually purchased other producers of stereoscopic photographs (dual images of the same subject slightly offset so that, when viewed through the special lenses of a stereopticon gave a three-dimensional effect to the scene) and published some 40,000 images. By the early 1920s, the firm acquired the negatives of almost all of its competitors.

Married in New York October 1914 to Vivian Smith and a resident of Queens when the couple had their only child, daughter Carolyn, Swarzwald registered for the draft in September 1918 as the First World War was winding down and was working at the Meadville headquarters for Keystone. His wife and child, however, were living in Inglewood near Los Angeles and this may be because Swarzwald was readying to establish an Angel City branch for the company—sources credit him was setting that up in 1919.

In any case, the 1920 federal census captured him and his family at that Inglewood address and his occupation was given as “Photo Studio Manager.” Three years later he was listed as manager of Keystone Photo Service and president of the Pacific Press Syndicate, which was affiliated with the New York Times Wide World Syndicate and the Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. Features News Service.

Los Angeles Record, 5 January 1924.

In early 1924, the Los Angeles Record reported that, after a few years in the Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown, Swarzwald took occupancy of a two-story brick building on Olive Street north of Pico Boulevard. The paper added,

Within five years this photographic establishment, now the largest and best equipped of its kind on the Pacific coast, has grown from a one-room office to an organization which will utilize 7000 square feet of floor space and occupy quarters equipped with every moden facility. Ten staff photographers are regularly employed and the scope of the business will be broadened to include portrait as well as commercial and news photograph[y].

Within two years, Schrzwald decided to employ his experience with photography and promotion to launch Pictorial California. In its 1 December 1925 edition, the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News published a photo of the newly minted publisher seated on a desk with a large bouquet of flowers presented by his staff in honor of the project. A sidebar noted that “this expert has gathered thousands of California scenes that have been reproduced in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country.”

By 1929, advertisements for the magazine proclaimed that Keystone Photo Service had “the largest commercial photographic plant in the West” by “specializing in fine commercial photography.” Among other services were aerial images, copying, enlarging, exteriors, interiors, news photos and portraits for publication. A December ad in the Los Angeles Times added that, when it came to Pictorial California, readers were advised to “send it to the folks back home for Christmas.”

Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News, 1 December 1925.

The July 1928 issue had a cover photo of a rider on a bucking bronc for the California Rodeo, held at Salinas, that month and that event, which began in 1911, is still being held today, though now it is in late September. The second page noted that “summer time is beach time in California as in the rest of the world” so theere were four photos, three of which showing “bathing beauties” at San Francisco, Long Beach and Catalina Island, with the fourth highlighting the famous Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, who introduced the sport to California. It was added that

Californians have always shown the utmost freedom and proficiency in their swimming, largely because their custom in beach clothing ahs included no fancy sun suits. All that go down to the water’s brink go to become wet. Brevity and simplicity distinguish the Western swimming barb, which may be one very good reason for their many champions.

The third page showed a bucolic scene of dense thickets of trees and rustic branch bridges across a creek at the Paradise Trout Club on Big Rock Creek near Valyermo, twenty-five miles southeast of Palmdale in the northern reaches of the San Gabriel Mountains. The property was owned by the well-known character actor Noah Beery, Sr., whose brother Wallace and son Noah, Jr. were also widely regarded in the film industry. Today, the property includes the Huttopia at Paradise Springs resort.

A particularly interesting photo is that taken from behind an arch at the newly completed Los Angeles City Hall, dedicated in April and on the site of the Temple Block, constructed by the half-brothers Jonathan and F.P.F. Temple between 1857 and 1871, looking across to the Hall of Records, built in 1909. There, it was noted, “are housed the County Teacher’s Library and the County Law Library of 50,000 volumes,” while in the officers of the county supervisors “may be found some interesting old historic prints of Los Angeles in 1854, 1857, the old Court House [probably in the Market House built in 1859 by Jonathan Temple and the site of which was also part of the civic center], the First Church building and many others.” To the right is a small portion of the court house, built in 1889 and razed after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.

Another nice view is one of the road, which appears to be the California Incline, leading from Palisades Park at Santa Monica to the coastline and looking up the shore towards Malibu. Behind the rustic wood fence lining the thoroughfare are a quartet of century plants, the agave americana, with their tall stalks and green/yellow flowers.

It was also recently “The Day of Days” as the magazine noted that “graduation from college is the high-water mark in many a person’s life” and showed photographs of the graduates of the University of California at Berkeley (the Los Angeles campus at Brentwood opened the following year) and the University of Southern California. Images showed the latter marching through Exposition Park on their way to the commencement ceremonies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, completed earlier in the decade. The brief caption waxed eloquent about “all the days spent in college are just preparatory for the years to come,” but warned that those who “played [too much] along the way” woul earn “correspondingly few marks of merit.”

A page with the headline of “Improvement?” showed a highly edited photo, with a decidedly softened effect, of an unstated date, perhaps in the early Twenties, of the eucalyptus tree-lined San Gabriel Boulevard in the mission city of that name “before business started to boom.” Below it, was a modern photo demanding “Is this Improvement?” and starting that “after the trees were annihilated in the name of progress” no room was left for replanting because sidewalks were laid to the gutters. A sidebar noted that the magazine had launched “a crusade against the tree-cutting impulse that has spread through so many of our growing town in the guise of business development.”

The following page showed a massive eucalyptus on what was then Preuss Road, now Robertson Boulevard, near Beverly Hills (where, incidentally, Swarzwald lived), and noted that it was “A Tree of Controversy!” This was because landowner, Alfred H. Whitworth, refused to allow the fifty year-old tree to be sacrifice[d] . . . to the onslaughts of business and real estate.” It was added that Cecil B. deMille and other notables “have offered to purchase and present it to the city rather than see it cut down.” Incidentally, in 1874 as eucalyptus trees were being imported from Australia, the Forest Grove Association was formed to raise them near Downey along the San Gabriel River and F.P.F. Temple was treasurer of the organization, which had Robert M. Widney as president.

Photographs of sports and venues were common in Pictorial California, particularly of golf, adn there is a view showing “the favored fourth hole in the upper canyon” at the Whitley Park Ciuntry Club, which opened in 1926. The course was built by the “Father of Hollywood,” Hobart J. Whitley on over 300 acres south of Ventura Boulevard in Van Nuys. The photographer, who was with Keystone, was behind a pine tree and taks in the canyon with a couple of women looking out toward the hole where other players were finishing their putts. The chapparal-covered slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains are in the background, but course closed by 1935 and became part of the Valley Park subdivision.

Quite different from the above photos showing the outdoors and beauty spots of the area is a parge devoted to “Los Angeles’ Latest,” in this case, the massive Firestone Tire and Rubber plant in what became South Gate. The half-dozen images show company president Harvey S. Firestone and this three sons, Harvey, Jr., Lenoard, and Russell in various areas of the facility with Harvey mostly front-and-center at machinery. The magazine observed,

With several rubber factories, Los Angeles now ranks second in the United States [after Akron, Ohio] in this industry. The huge $7,000,000 Pacific Coast Firestone factory, recently erected, will supply the Pacific Coast states and the Pacific overseas trade.

Although the formal dedication and official opening occurs two months hence, the building of the first tire in the factory was sufficient to lure [the Firestones] to Los Angeles . . .

It was added the Harvey, Jr. was manager of a million-acre rubber plantation in Liberia “which represents a step towards freeing the United States from Foreign monopoly of crude rubber.” That plantation is still in Firestone hands, though its history, not surprisingly, is replete with the kinds of machinations often found to be the case with powerful Western companies operating in Third World nations.

The Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the west side, was highlighted with the note that “each year the etchers of California hold an international display . . . in which notable etchings of California life and subjects by masters in this line of art are presented.” Works by Arthur Millier, Dan Sayre Groesbeck, Armin Hasen and Warren Davis were reproduced and it was concluded that these pieces would be exhibited at the well-known Stendhal Galleries, owned by former confectioner Earl Stendhal, who opened the gallery in Pasadena in 1913 before moving it to the newly opened Ambassador Hotel. A grandson closed the gallery in 2017 after over a century of operation.

Douglas MacLean (1890-1967) was a major film star in the silent era, making his debut in 1914, but was a leading man in First National and Paramount productions during the Twenties, though, after making one talkie that year, he retired and then was a producer for Paramount during the following decade before writing for film and television into the post-World War II era. There is a page in this issue featuring a “cottage small,” rather than in a “mammoth mansion,” in Beverly Hills and featuring five views of the home and grounds and a photo of the actor and his wife, Faith, who were, however, divorced within two years, even as the sidebar called him “fine, clean, [and] business-like” and her “a level-headed, beatufiul girl.”

Finally, the back cover has an artistic image through an arch of the lush landscape “of the charming Beverly Hills Hotel, which opened in 1912 before there were more than a handful of houses in the area and two years before the city was established. The brief caption noted that “the grounds of this pioneer hostelry cover twelve acres and are luxuriant with many imposing palms and semi-tropical plants.” As noted above, Swarzwald was a longtime resident of Beverly Hills and obviously very keen to promote the upscale enclave of film stars and other notables.

In fact, although the Depression was less than two years away, Swarzwald was able to keep his magazine operating and even expanded its scope and range by traveling to Hawaii in 1930 and establishing ties there for his publication, which was then renamed to Pictorial California and the Pacific. His wife, who was a club leader in Beverly Hills as he served on the Board of Education, including a stint as its president, took on a greater role in its operation, so that, when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1948, she continued as publisher for two more decades, just before the magazine folded by the early Seventies.

There are collections of the magazine at the Seaver Center for Western History Research and Swarzwald papers at the Huntington Library, while the Homestead’s collection has a few dozen issues of the publication between 1926 and 1930, so we’ll be sure to feature more of them in future posts.

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