“The Eyes of America Are Turned Toward the Pacific Coast”: Part 3 of the Los Angeles Times Annual Midwinter Number, 3 January 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Excepting the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, there was probably no bigger booster or avid advocate for the Angel City and its environs than the Los Angeles Times. Established at the end of 1881, several years before the Boom of the Eighties burst forth, the paper, under the leadership of Harrison Gray Otis and then his son-in-law Harry Chandler became a remarkably powerful voice for growth, including the “open shop” concept of non-unionization as well as a virtually untrammeled development of the material, along with human, resources of the region for expansion.

For much of the 1920s, greater Los Angeles was in another of its many booms and the Times could be relied upon to throw its considerable weight towards promotion of the area with one of its most illustrative methods being the issuance of the “Annual Midwinter Number.” Published at or near the first of each year, these multi-part special sections were filled with purple prose, abundant statistics and numerous photographs as they promoted several major aspects of local, as well as statewide and Pacific Coast, elements.

For this post, we highlight, from the Museum’s collection, part 3 of the Midwinter Number issued on 3 January 1928 (a previous post here focused on part 4) with its theme being “Western Initiative” and a subheading proclaiming “America Sees the Pacific.” Typical of the verbiage found in these publications, the opening lines of a coastal tour read:

The eyes of America are turned toward the Pacific Coast. To see adequately all there is to see here would require the greater part of a lifetime. Thanks to the perfection of air travel, however, it is possible to get a broad conception of the accomplishments of western initiative upon this stage so nobly built by Nature, in a 24-hour flight, passing the principal cities by daylight.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of aviation, along with radio and sound film technology, as part of 1920s life and this aerial photo tour of the coast began at Rockwell Field in San Diego and one hour later the traveler was “in sought of Los Angeles Harbor and Long Beach.” The second image in the travelogue is of the Port of Los Angeles with 25 locations identified and listed in the expansive man-made facility that, a half-century earlier, was incredibly primitive and crude by comparison. Image #3 shows Long Beach, which boasted nearly 150,000 residents after incredible growth in recent years.

Within a half-hour, the craft passed downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood and photos four and five show the expansive downtown section with its commercial core of large commercial buildings and, at the upper right, the nearly completed City Hall, as well as Hollywood, which, as noted, “was nothing but farm land in 1895,” but over three decades later was the center of the incredibly expanding motion picture industry and was one of the representations of “the miracles of western initiative.”

The rest of the trip went through Santa Barbara, Fresno, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Portland, Olympia/Tacoma and Seattle, where, in all cases, the emphasis was on the rapid developments of each of these metropolises. Naturally, all, in their varied ways and means, represented accomplishments and miracles of “western initiative.”

The next section was labeled “Civic Pride” and included such notable developments as the civic center of Spokane, San Francisco’s sprawling city hall, the famous Astoria column, and the Parliament Grounds at Victoria, British Columbia. A page, however, is dedicated to Los Angeles City Hall and it was stated,

Los Angeles, grown in but a few years to be metropolis of the West, has been among the last to express itself thus in a manner commensurate with its destiny. The towers of yesterday . . . the old Court House and the Hall of Records, are overtopped by the new City Hall, foredooming to the rag-bag of past dreams as the city comes into its own—the marketing, industrial, and shipping center of the West.

That “old” court house was, in fact, not even three decades old, while the Hall of Records hadn’t even reached its 17th birthday yet! It was added that a state building and “the Union Depot, for which the citizens have already noted,” this being Union Station, not completed until 1939, and other structures would be erected and many old ones razed.

Also presented were some facts about the new civic structure, including its $5 million cost; the excavation having begun in early March 1926 with construction completed just two days prior to the Midwinter issue’s publication and the formal opening to follow in April; the height of over 450 feet (the sole exception to the 11-story height-limit imposed to prevent the crowding found in such eastern cities as New York City and Chicago); usable floor space of more than a half-million square feet; in excess of 8,000 tons of steel and 800,000 cubic feet of concrete; the furnishings to cost up to a million dollars; and, always a concern for auto-centric Los Angeles, the capacity of 500 vehicles in the structure’s parking facility.

The page devoted to “Culture” was specifically about the recent investments in libraries in Los Angeles and Pasadena with the Crown City’s new facility, built over nearly two years from 1925 to 1927, costing well over $800,000, and measuring 320 feet long by 184 feet wide, drawing the attention of the London Daily News, which reported that it was “a jewel in the very heart of a city.” The Mediterranean-style edifice, designed by Myron Hunt and Harold C. Chambers was, the Times observed, “part of Pasadena’s great civic center development” and highlighted were the alabaster fountain in the patio, teakwood pillars from Thailand, and the “Peter Pan” room for children, placed so that those in the adult portion would not hear what the little ones were doing.

Then there was the distinctive and monumental Los Angeles Central Library, which opened in July 1926 and was designed by Bertram G. Goodhue, who died in 1924 just after construction began, and which was identified as “one of the most spacious, convenient, and beautiful buildings of its sort in the world.” There were still sculptural components yet to be finished and these were to “form an exhibition of modern sculptural art well worth a long journey to see.” In addition, “the Ivanhoe murals in the Children’s Room rank in a lass with the famous Abbey murals in Boston” and its public library, while “withal, sculpture, paintings, decorations, architectural design, and convenience of arrangement blend into an harmonious whole.”

The city library system, however, “aside from its main building, has forty-four branches and eighty deposit libraries” in the burgeoning and sprawling metropolis and it was added that “fourteen of these branches . . . were completed last year at a cost of $500,000.” With the main library pegged at an impressive $2.3 million and the investment in Pasadena’s facility, this meant that well over $3.6 million was invested in these cultural edifices “for the comfort of the book-reading public.”

Next to be featured were “Exports” with it noted that “the six largest commodities exported from Los Angeles Harbor during the last fiscal year,” this meaning 1926-1927, were petroleum (72.5%), cotton (11.5%), engines and machinery (3.7%), fruit (2.9%), canned fish (2.3%) and borax (1.1%). Total value for these half-dozen items was north of $106 million out of a total of all exported products being above $113 and it is obviously noteworthy how dominant the oil industry really was with respect to this area of the regional economy.

In a table of mineral production for counties in the southern portion of California, it should be noted that this included oil, and Los Angeles County was nearly half the total of more than $400 million, with its contribution being almost $195 million. Kern County was second at far less than half that amount—its total being not quite $84 million—while Orange County came in third at just north of $63 million and Ventura was at around $30 million. A nicely composed photo, framed by the branches of a large tree showed wells, tanks nd structures associated with Shell and other companies at Ventura, an area very recently discussed, with a connection to Walter P. Temple’s late prospecting efforts, in a post on this blog.

A separate “Petroleum” page noted that Ventura was “one of the newest and greatest oil fields in California,” if not the planet, where, as the post observed, some of the deepest wells in the world were situated. It was estimated that there was a pool there of 200 million barrels, though Temple and his associates didn’t get to the best areas in the field. Also features was the amazing Midway-Sunset field of Kern County, which produced over 600 million barrels since its discovery, while Coalinga, to the northwest, was at over 300 million. By contrast, the Cushing field of Oklahoma yielded over 280 million.

Natural gas was mentioned, as well, though without statistics, as being “produced in tremendous quantities” and which “furnishes fuel for domestic purposes . . . and plays an important part in the operation of thousands of industrial plants in and around Los Angeles.” Another refined product was oil and asphalt which “play an important part in giving California good roads, and the latter is also an essential factor in roofing.” Finally, it was proudly stated that,

The fact that Southern California has, in the last four years, produced approximately 1,000,000,000 barrels of petroleum entitles that state to serious consideration as an oil producer. More than half of California’s oil now comes from Los Angeles County. The annual output, since Signal Hill (another area in which Temple made significant efforts in drilling) and Santa Fe Springs were discovered, has been close to 250,000,000 barrels per year, and for several years the output of oil here has been so great that companies have pinched in many thousands of barrels per day to avoid collapsing the market.

After a page discussing lumber production with Washington and Oregon leading the country in this area, and California fifth, there is one on fish with the notation that “in Southern California, sardine and tuna are the principal fish canned” and much of this happening in the harbor district, such as at Terminal Island. In addition, it was mentioned that a newly launched Los Angeles Whaling Company was generating some 1,300 barrels of oil from the catching of blue whales near the port.

Flowers were also given their due and the paper reminded readers that “it is fitting that California, with 4,000 native plants, more than any other state in the Union, should lead the world in the commercial production of flowers, bulbs and seeds.” Los Angeles County accounted for over three-quarters of this with some $17.5 million in production and it was added that “the largest flower-seed farm in the world [is] at El Monte,” this being the Bodger Seed Company’s field. Also, world-record setting were palm tree nurseries at Sierra Madre and Montebello.

With respect to fruit, it was recorded that almost half of all California farm products were related to fruit and nuts, with citrus valued at nearly $88 million, grapes and raisings at just shy of $53 million and peaches, prunes and apricots cumulatively at around $45 million. In 1926, the Golden State shipped above 57,000 carloads of oranges and grapefruit, about 12,000 more than Florida, the main competitor within the country in this field, and this accounted for above half of all American citrus production. The 1920 federal census, moreover, revealed that California possessed nearly three quarters of all the grapevines on Earth.

It is expected that advertising would be heavy with these special numbers and there are certainly plenty of notable examples in this part three, so a couple of examples here will suffice to show the range of firms that sought to reach out to readers as well as to celebrate their roles in the great output of business production and development taking place in Roaring Twenties greater Los Angeles.

Of course, it would be under two years before the crash of the stock market on Wall Street in New York City ushered in the Great Depression and put a sudden and dramatic halt to the seemingly limitless growth that took place here and in much of the country during the decade. So, the language in these publications definitely stands out in that context, but, naturally, virtually no one at the dawn of 1928 had any inkling of what was coming! Our story at the Homestead, with the decline of Walter P. Temple’s financial situation, also plays out as part of the environment leading to the depression so we will continue to explore the specifics of the family and site within the regional context as the 2020s develops.

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