Never mind that December was one of the region's wettest on record—to New Year's Day viewers of the Rose Parade, Southern California appeared to be a sun-blanketed paradise, in sharp contrast to the frosty East Coast.
Showcasing Southern California's comfortable climes was one of the goals of the parade's founders. Established in 1890 by Pasadena's exclusive Valley Hunt Club, the Tournament of Roses was a wintertime diversion for the club's family and friends still on the East Coast. A series of athletic events, including chariot races and feats of strength, were organized for the afternoon. In the morning, participants paraded in carriages decorated with freshly cut roses, as seen in the above photo from the Autry National Center's Braun Research Library. A football game—the Rose Bowl—eventually replaced the afternoon athletics, but the annual event has continued for over 120 years.
Boosters like the early organizers of the Tournament of Roses played an important role in shaping the story of Southern California. Consider that in 1890, Los Angeles had a population of only 50,395. Thanks in part to the allure of the sun-and-fun, idyllic narrative advanced by regional promoters and real estate sellers in advertisements back East, the city's population grew to over 1.2 million by 1930—roughly a 2,500% increase over a forty-year period—as Easterners and Midwesterners moved to Los Angeles in search of housing, health, and the California dream.
The history of that boosterism is preserved in the archives of our libraries, museums, and personal collectors across Southern California. Images from the Los Angeles Public Library's Photographic Collections, for example, provide a rare glimpse of another parade that promoted Southern California tourism: La Fiesta de Los Angeles. Not nearly as well known today as the Rose Parade, La Fiesta Parade (pictured to the left in 1903 on Broadway) was first organized in 1894 and it, too, featured carriages and floats adorned with flowers. The annual street carnival, which explicitly drew on the romantic imagery of California's Spanish heritage, survived for about ten years and was occasionally revived throughout the twentieth century.
Citrus groves also figured prominently in promoting Southern California to the rest of the nation. David Boulé, a private collector, has documented the role of one citrus fruit—the orange—in his extensive private collection of historical ephemera, The Orange & the Myth of California. Boulé's collection reveals how Southern California tourism, real estate, and business interests used the orange to sell the region as an agrarian paradise. Even the labels on orange crates sold more than just the fruit inside-they often depicted tranquil settings and reinforced the region's reputation for sunny skies.
In 1921, as Los Angeles was evolving into a metropolis, booster efforts were organized under the All-Year Club of Southern California, whose records are preserved at the Urban Archives Center at Cal State Northridge's Oviatt Library. The club emphasized the perennial nature of the region's tourism and recreation opportunities and helped shape the public's concept of Southern California. As journalist Carey McWilliams wrote in his seminal 1946 book, Southern California: an Island on the Land, the term "Southern California" gained widespread currency thanks to the club's marketing campaigns:
Prior to 1921, eastern newspapers and magazines had always referred to the land south of Tehachapi as southern California, never capitalizing the first word. But today this practice has almost been entirely discredited. Thanks to the All-Year Club, Southern California is now handled with all the courtesy due a forty-ninth state.
Thanks to the All-Year Club, "Southern California" became the favored vacation destination for millions of tourists, and eventually millions of emigrants who came to "sleep under a blanket every night all summer in Southern California."
Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.