Across the Southland in the early 1920s, horses were vanishing from public streets, their once-essential motive power made obsolete by the internal combustion engine. Buses replaced horse-drawn omnibuses. Automobile taxis replaced horse-drawn hacks. Heavy-duty trucks replaced horse-drawn wagons.
But Beverly Hills bucked the trend.
From the early 1920s through the 1960s, pathways dedicated to horse travel ran down the center of several Beverly Hills streets. One stretched from the city's eastern to western boundary, meandering through town down the center of Sunset Boulevard. Another occupied the median of Rodeo Drive, where it replaced an abandoned Pacific Electric trolley line that once connected Santa Monica Boulevard with the Beverly Hills Hotel. Two more snaked their way up Coldwater and Benedict canyons.
Laid with decomposed granite and buffered from automobile traffic by curbs and ornamental plants, these bridle paths served several purposes. They satisfied the recreational urges of the city's many equine enthusiasts. They reinforced the image of Beverly Hills as a place of wealth and privilege. They preserved the rustic feel of a city that was fervently carving itself out of the open countryside of Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas. And lastly, though saddle horses were never as common on city streets as draft horses, they nostalgically recalled that dying breed -- the urban horse.
The geranium was an exotic flower where she had grown up, a tender plant kept in the parlor during winter. She had kept her prize geranium on her lap on the long, transcontinental train trip. And when she stepped off the station platform in Los Angeles, she saw geraniums in bloom in nearly every vacant lot. They were as common as weeds. In humiliation (and perhaps with some relief), she threw her pampered plant away.
You might say that we've been tossing out the geraniums ever since. In its abundance, Los Angeles is a kind of garden, after all. Why would anyone need or want any more of nature?
Today the community won & sent a message that District 1 is not for sale. Now let's get to work! pic.twitter.com/HhPCW6m7Se— Elect George McKenna (@ElectMcKenna) August 13, 2014
Seen and heard last week at the George McKenna campaign headquarters in the Crenshaw district:
Too early for any returns, but the Mardi Gras party atmosphere is already heating up with purple and gold balloons, marshals preparing to lead a "second line" parade with beads and festooned umbrellas, and a food station busy cooking up a full Southern menu. Several people are dressed in variations of purple, gold, and green. McKenna is a New Orleans native and one of the more prominent representatives of a whole contingent of L.A. transplants from New Orleans who arrived here starting in the '40s; many of them are Creole, historically black people mixed with white and/or Native American and often with a French surname. They were part of the last wave of major black immigration out of the South to other, presumably more racially hospitable places in the country during the long era of Jim Crow. L.A. pretty quickly got a reputation for being the city with the largest Creole population outside of New Orleans itself. That generation is aging, but the traditions have stuck, especially the celebratory ones. Whatever the outcome of the election tonight, this party will go on.
Roz Chast -- the jittery cartoonist of middle-class urban anxiety -- lay down next to her dying father in his nursing home bed trying, she wrote in the Los Angeles Times, to "telepath to him how much I loved him, and that I knew how much he loved me, and that we were 'good' and it was o.k. to let go." It was her last conversation with her father.
Josh Max was called to his father's apartment where, he said, "a lone, hard detective stood in a full suit and tie in the blistering July heat. 'You might not want to go in,' the detective said. 'He's been there awhile.' My dad would have liked this guy." And when Max did look at his father for the last time, he saw that "his features had collapsed onto themselves. It was clear that whatever that was in the chair, it was not the man responsible for bringing me into the world."
My father died behind a well-made wooden bathroom door late on the evening of August 15, 1982 (the feast day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
Long before yoga pants made their first appearance in Runyon Canyon, a health guru helped Angelenos discover their local mountain trails.
Beginning in 1924, on the first and third Sunday of each month, members of the Wanderlusters Hiking Club followed Paul C. Bragg into the hilly terrain around Los Angeles. Dozens of them traipsed through Altadena's Millard Canyon or hiked up Griffith Park's Mount Hollywood. Men doffed their shirts. Women wore bathing suits. Sunscreen had yet to be invented.
Their sprightly leader had moved to Los Angeles in 1921 and set up what he claimed to be the nation's first health food store on Seventh Street, just west of Figueroa. In his paid "Health Hints" column in the Times, Bragg advertised services like his Hydralite Bloodwash Bath, a hot-water shower that lasted for several hours, and products like Live Sprinkle, a salt substitute. His dietary recommendations ranged from prunes and whole wheat bread to Knudsen's Velvet cottage cheese ("it melts in your mouth") and Fig-Co, a coffee substitute made from figs and barley.
Los Angeles, a city that then buzzed with the fervor of a hundred cults and religious revivals, embraced Bragg's food fanaticism -- and arguably still does today.
Outside Los Angeles, Bragg was a controversial figure. In 1930, the postal service debarred the self-styled "professor" from the mails, alleging fraud. The American Medical Association denounced him as a "food faddist." He likely overstated his age by 14 years to bolster his claims of longevity.
But in Los Angeles, for a time, he championed what he billed as the city's "return to Nature."
Earlier this week, I sat in as the co-moderator of a discussion about museums and historic sites at Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach, The discussion was part of a new series of Conversations in Place at the rancho.
The participants were W. Richard West, Jr., president and CEO of The Autry National Center of the American West; Milford Donaldson, FAIA, chairman of the US Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; Stephen Farneth, FAIA, founding principle of the Architectural Resources Group; and Pamela Seager, executive Director of Rancho Los Alamitos, along with Claudia Jurmain, the rancho's director of Special Projects and Publications.
The presentations and panel discussion aimed at finding the place in our lives of sites like the Autry and the rancho.
The taint of official corruption has reached the West Basin Municipal Water District, one of the three regional water agencies that serve Los Angeles County. It was inevitable.
West Basin, like its sister agencies, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and the Central Basin Municipal Water District, is an obscure local government that the media and voters don't much care about.
The districts are in the news mostly after they foul up. Voter turnout in district elections averages about 10 percent. No one knows who the elected board members are.
And with no one watching, it's easy for these little governments to give in to personal and political interests.
I've recently been talking about the Cold War, first to undergraduates at USC and then to high school history teachers at California State University, Long Beach. None of them -- not even the 30-somthings among the teachers -- is a veteran of that war. I might have been talking to them about World War I -- or the Trojan War -- so distant have the 1950s and 1960s become.
I was born under the shadow of the Berlin Airlift in 1948, while Soviet troops and tanks blockaded the city and President Harry Truman campaigned for election on his willingness to do the unthinkable. Berlin in 1948 was a minor engagement in the 100-year war. The smashing up of European empires -- and their remnants in Syria, Iraq, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere -- has been going on since August 1914.
I grew up in the garrison nation that first engagement created, in an arsenal for the making of ever more sophisticated weapons, held as a thermonuclear civilian hostage for all of my youth, and trained as a reservist in a battalion of ideological warriors.
I think I may suffer from a kind of moral PTSD.
Jewett Walker predicted it would come to this.
Back in April, when George McKenna finished first in the primary election to fill the LAUSD school board seat in District 1 vacated by the death of Marguerite LaMotte, McKenna supporters were elated. So was Walker, McKenna's campaign manager. But Walker, a veteran of the business, was looking ahead to the August runoff, and he didn't like what he saw. He's seen a lot of dirt and desperation, and he figured that McKenna's opponent in the runoff, Alex Johnson, would at some point indulge in both.
It wouldn't seem that Johnson would need to. An education aide to County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Johnson has had access to plenty of money and big-name endorsements -- far more than McKenna -- but he lost to McKenna in the primary by a whopping 20 percentage points. The twist to this story of many twists is that McKenna has name recognition and a community base, while Johnson has neither. Walker figured the opposition would try and make up the ground not by polishing up the credentials of its candidate, but by going negative on the other guy. It's become kind of standard political practice.
Never mind that Tinseltown was five or even fifty miles away. By the mid-1920s, the Hollywood brand was so strong that communities across Southern California were affixing it to their names. Toluca became North Hollywood. Sherman became West Hollywood. And in distant Ventura County, Oxnard Beach became Hollywood-by-the-Sea.
There was some truth in the glitzy moniker of the beachfront resort, built atop the sand dunes of Leon Lehmann's beachfront ranch. Disguised with papier-mâché palm trees as the Arabian desert, the dunes had starred alongside Rudolph Valentino in the 1921 blockbuster, "The Sheik." A few years earlier, Douglas Fairbanks spent time on the same dunes while filming "Bound in Morocco."
That Hollywood connection was enough for real estate developers to establish the Hollywood Beach subdivision just north of Lehmann's ranch in 1924 and the Silverstrand ("silver screen") tract just south of it in 1925. And so it's hardly surprising that Lehmann himself soon capitalized on the connection. In 1926, he sold his 80-acre ranch to developer Fred J. Cutting, who leveled the dunes, carved out 100 individual lots, and christened the site Hollywood-by-the-Sea.
Atop the flattened dunes, Cutting platted a tiny street grid that honored both of Hollywood-by-the-Sea's namesakes. Streets nearest the ocean bore the names of the Channel Islands: Catalina Avenue, Anacapa Avenue, Santa Rosa Avenue, and so on. Further inland, street names recalled the thoroughfares of Hollywood: Sunset Drive, Laurel Court, Cahuenga Drive. To maximize waterfront property, Cutting placed a five-acre lake, its sandy shores planted with iceplant, a few hundred feet from shore.
Ironically, the transformation into Hollywood-by-the-Sea promptly drove away motion picture productions, which valued the location for its desert-like landscape. But the lack of any actual movie stars didn't stop Angelenos from making the long drive out to Oxnard. Visitors could buy their own housing lot for a vacation home, but they could also stay in a 40-room hotel or simply camp on the beach. Perhaps drawn by memories of Valentino, a crowd of several thousand flocked to Hollywood-by-the-Sea on its first Fourth of July in 1927.
Around that time, a photographer from the Dick Whittington studio visited Hollywood-by-the-Sea. Commissioned by Cutting, these photos -- recently digitized by the USC Libraries with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities -- reveal the resort in its early stages of development, a sandy expanse dotted with a few rudimentary buildings.
The scene has changed. Houses eventually rose on vacant lots, and Hollywood-by-the-Sea, Hollywood Beach, and Silver Strand are now billed as a more affordable version of Malibu -- the "un-Malibu" is what the New York Times called the area in 2007. Furthermore, construction of the Channel Islands Harbor in the 1960s inserted a waterway and jetties directly through Hollywood-by-the-Sea, splitting the community in two.
But one thing remains the same: the aura of silver-screen fame. Clark Gable supposedly lived in at least two houses on Oxnard's beaches. Local lore recalls Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo vacationing there. And travel guidebooks dutifully report that the Latin Lover, Rudolph Valentino -- who likely never returned after "The Sheik" wrapped -- later bought a vacation house atop the leveled sand dunes of Hollywood-by-the-Sea.