“She Has Touched the Imagination of General Public Opinion as no Other City Has Touched the Millions”: Purple Prose Boosterism in “Why Los Angeles Will Become the World’s Greatest City,” 1923, Part Two

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As we continue with a review of the breathless boosterism bursting forth in “Why Los Angeles will become the World’s Greatest City,” written with exuberant enthusiasm by advertising copy writer Sherley Hunter for the financial services firm of H.J. Mallen and Company and published in late October 1923, we pick up with the author’s peculiar way of expressing himself when it came to the seemingly endless supply of resources for developing a region that was blessed with the climate “to attract industries and workers out of the coal-dictating, frigid-winter districts.

Hydroelectric power was crucial and Hunter noted that “plans for a gigantic program, to extend over a period of ten years, and to involve a total expenditure of $375,000,000” by Southern California Edison, would provide 1.25 million horsepower of electricity, making greater Los Angeles “the most extensively electrified section in the world.” This was to include the Boulder Canyon dam, now the Hoover Dam, completed a few years beyond that decade mentioned by the writer, which would allow for the impounding of water for irrigating 2 million acres and develop 600,000 horsepower of electricity, though the larger project was pegged to provide 4 million.

Beyond this, Hunter continued, seven electricity company were to provide “a super-power system” of energy production that amounted to a “gigantic industrial enterprise” such that “the world is learning the California is a machine run by sunshine and snow—the first completely electrically operated state in the production and consumption of electricity. Even though hydroelectric production was just 10% of the projected capacity, the state “has already passed all other states of the nation” in that arena.

The writer went on that this project of creating enormous amounts of electricity and the irrigation of millions of acres meant “that the community of Los Angeles, and her back-country, will become, more and more, a great village—factories and clusters of workers’ homes, ranches and schools—tied together by oiled pavements for motoring—flowers everywhere.” Capitalists in other parts of the United States would learn of this and flock to a city which “has touched the imagination of the people of the new generation everywhere” so that a new central manufacturing district, similar to one in Chicago, and factories of many kinds were opening in Los Angeles.

For Hunter this was the consummation of a neatly packaged perspective of global commercial history:

News that harmonizes with the trade tendencies of history through the last 4,000 years. Commerce ad trade starting in central Asia—the western trek of humanity and commerce to Egypt and her Alexandria—then Tyre and Sidon on the shores of the Mediterranean—next Athens—on to Carthage and into the imperial ascendency of Rome—over to Florence, when roving bandits so harassed the caravans beyond the Mediterranean . . . Columbus sailed West [later trade networks through New York and New Orleans] . . . Today, with European markets worn out insufficient for this country’s abilities, we find Los Angeles the final frontier seaport for western civilization and the meeting place between eastern and western trade . . . we find Los Angeles the closest port to three-fourths of the world’s population, with adequate transportation facilities, and a back-country with a radius of one hundred miles from the heart of the city.

With this clear distillation of world mercantile history so obvious to the writer, he declared, “it becomes clear why great operators of vision see Los Angeles racing to become the world’s greatest city” and, he averred, “it becomes clear that Los Angels will never greatly lower her prosperity in this race.” For Mallen and other financiers, this was also “why ambitious money will have more work to do, and earn big compensations in frequent turnovers, than anywhere else in this country.”

A lengthy diversion concerned a soldier from California who was on leave in Paris spring 1919 after the conclusion of the First World War and, with all of the “tense magnetism” of the City of Lights, the young man was “lonesome for adolent [adolescent] California and the city of the future, Los Angeles.” Despite the sights in the French capital, the soldier said to himself that he was longing “for a peep at the valley of the San Gabriel with San Anton[io—meaning Mt. Baldy] looking down,” while telling a fellow American doughboy that he couldn’t wait to return home so he could “dust off the old flivver and beat it for out West where I’m going to roll my own and forget it.”

Moreover, this soldier “though of the oft told dream of Harry Chandler [the powerful publisher of the Los Angeles Times and real estate operator] and other far-visioned men of Los Angeles—a magnificent highway extending from the “Rim of the World” [near San Bernardino] to the sea at the mouth of Santa Monica Canyon, the finest boulevard of the New World,” this being, in part, Sunset Boulevard and, apparently, much of the rest being Arrow Highway, which was not completed as envisioned, though a good deal was laid out in the Twenties.

Every time it seems that Hunter could not top himself in his bursts of euphoria about the Angel City and environs, he launched further into the stratosphere with his gushing, glorified expositions about the metropolis and its unlimited potential. In this case, the soldier, which almost certainly was him, pondered the natural beauty, the orchards, “the home of monster industries and their bright subsidiary villages,” “a valley of peace and quiet, contentment and prosperity” and “through the ideal throne of international commerce and finance . . . a jewel-bright and smokeless Los Angeles.”

The Angel City was “the opal of the world” with structures that were “poems of architectural usefulness” in a metropolis that “Confidence built” and had a continuous prosperity that appeared to be proof that “at last, the end of the luring rainbow can be reached.” To the cynics of Chicago and Pittsburgh, Hunter launched into a flight of fancy that has to be quoted at some length in its prognostication that Los Angeles was to be

A city of wide streets, quiet streets, mirroring the splendors of Rome and the glories of Greece. Marble arches reminding visitors from the Orient of the arch of Septimus Severus—temples of Saturn with Ionic porticos—temples of Vespasian—triumphal arches of Constantine—market gates of AthensTowers of the Winds—Parthenons on the hills of Glendale and Pasadena—Notre Dames and cathedrals of Seiville [sic]—monumental piles similar to Italy’s memorial to Victor Emmanuel II. The hilltops against the purple mountains “superbly rich and aristocratic in their rise of perfect harmony and fall of most exquisite cadence,” as [William Makepeace] Thackeray described the hills of Athens . . . Gems prompted by the Alhambra [in Spain], by designs Byzantine—and perfect architectural creations in Siam [Thailand]—each befitting its natural setting—all blending into violet and gold of the evergreen valley and grape-tinted mountains—all symbolical of a new peace and liberty, power and contentment which retain ambition and a mature understanding of MAN’S happiness. All reiterating a truth—that prosperity, true prosperity, is only possible where men believe in other man, no matter what speech, color or race.

It is hard to read these impossibly idealized and lofty sentiments and not think that Hunter must have realized that he was laying on a little too thick, even for an advertising copy writer! But, he didn’t stop there, as he waxed enthusiastically of the work of industry, the use of abundant electricity to irrigate wastes and provide a cornucopia of produce, not to mention have plenty of grass for “brightly garbed children of laughter and red cheeks, and the profusion of “quaint villages with bright roofs and doll’s houses peeking through blooming hedges and borders of geraniums,” like you’d perhaps see recently in a Thomas Kinkade painting.

To become the hub of the American Southwest, something dreamed of by some visionaries well back into the 19th century, “Los Angeles has planned well” and done so because it was aware that “the disconsolate world would turn faces from the jostle and smoke and congestions of less favored environments and come to her.” This careful process, Hunter asserted, was such that it was taken for granted that greater Los Angeles would expand into “a metropolitan district reaching almost to San Diego and up to the San Jacinto mountains—another network of motor roads, electric lines, air-navigation landing fields [airports], ware-houses—and always a mingling of agriculture and fruit-growing with industrial establishments and everyone enjoying the year-round outdoor climate and healthfulness.” Beyond this were regions of great mining sections and “the great mountains streams and aqueducts and reservoirs for power plants”—seemingly without end.

Even with the silent electric energy driving the growth of the region “the great blue Pacific will be furnishing its new ways of giving power—the sun its new ways—the air its new ways” and the Port of Los Angeles would tap markets of up to 1 billion people manufactured “by a contented, prosperous, healthful people . . . a people proud of doing American production better than it can be done anywhere else in the world.” The metropolises of the eastern states had to admit that “Los Angeles has everything in the future—just as this country has its greatest era in the future—just as the lands beyond the Pacific are to awaken and be served by America in the future.”

Notably, Hunter saw in motion pictures the promotion of Los Angeles abroad so that the city and environs were “most truly creating the psychological impression in the minds of millions that it is the place where dreams come true, the veritable Land of Heart’s Desire.” With 90% of all films made in the city, this medium “has done far more than now admitted to touch the imagination of the nations for Los Angeles.” The wonders of Monte Carlo and the French and Italian Riveras were to find their analogs in such local spots as Santa Monica and Santa Catalina Island.

Working himself into yet another lather, the writer resumed his Nostradamus-like predilection for promoting greatness for the region as he claimed that

The time is almost here when Southern California, with Los Angeles the center, will be studded and gemmed with the most beautiful homes of America, or of the modern world, all set in an embroidery of parks and gardens—a monument to the charms of genuine American culture—and in these parks and gardens, adjacent to the homes of grandeur, will snuggle the exquisite little homes of the middle-class man, the reality of his dreams.

London was a mere “ant-hill” and Paris, with all her charm, was foul in odors and age, unsanitary and frequently damp and chill,” while Dublin, Rome, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Milan, Madrid, and New York were such that “not one of them enjoys all of the attributes for a great city which Los Angeles possesses.”

Hunter concluded his paean to the future of the Angel City by asking (rhetorically, of course), “can there by any doubt but what Los Angeles is to be the world’s greatest city . . . greatest in all of the annals of history” and that humanity wanted this to be the case, “or doubt that she has touched the imagination of general public opinion as no other city in history has touched the millions?”

A short statement more prosaically observed that the Mallen firm was in a position “to plan financial attitudes of a magnitude never before considered by western financing institutions” and did so with the aim of establishing “a solid, sincere, sanely visioned policy of service to California and Los Angeles, the metropolis of California and the West.” For those “canny visioned investors” using the services of the company, there were opportunities with mortgages, bonds, stocks, industrial and transportation investments, and others. This was such that “our friends who learn to rely upon our abilities will discover” that Mallen “will have first call on the financing enterprises of magnitude in keeping with the growth of Los Angeles and commerce along these shores of the Pacific.”

Beyond the remarkable prose of Hunter, there are some notable quotes from well-known persons locally and elsewhere, predictions of where Los Angeles would be in 1930 and a good deal of information to show the current conditions in the Angel City, so tomorrow’s third and final part of this post will share this material and also discuss the divergent futures of Hunter and Mallen. So, please come back then!

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