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Books of note about Los Angeles and Southern California.
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The City Beneath by Susan A. Phillips
A sweeping history of Los Angeles told through the lens of the many marginalized groups--from hobos to taggers--that have used the city's walls as a channel for communication Graffiti written in storm drain tunnels, on neighborhood walls, and under bridges tells an underground and, until now, untold history of Los Angeles. Drawing on extensive research within the city's urban landscape, Susan A. Phillips traces the hidden language of marginalized groups over the past century--from the early twentieth-century markings of hobos, soldiers, and Japanese internees to the later inscriptions of surfers, cholos, and punks. Whether describing daredevil kids, bored workers, or clandestine lovers, Phillips profiles the experiences of people who remain underrepresented in conventional histories, revealing the powerful role of graffiti as a venue for cultural expression. Graffiti aficionados might be surprised to learn that the earliest documented graffiti bubble letters appear not in 1970s New York but in 1920s Los Angeles. Or that the negative letterforms first carved at the turn of the century are still spray painted on walls today. With discussions of characters like Leon Ray Livingston (a.k.a. "A-No. 1"), credited with consolidating the entire system of hobo communication in the 1910s, and Kathy Zuckerman, better known as the surf icon "Gidget," this lavishly illustrated book tells stories of small moments that collectively build into broad statements about power, memory, landscape, and history itself.
Dreamers and Schemers by Barry Siegel
Dreamers and Schemers chronicles how Los Angeles's pursuit and staging of the 1932 Olympic Games during the depths of the Great Depression helped fuel the city's transformation from a seedy frontier village to a world-famous metropolis. Leading that pursuit was the "Prince of Realtors," William May (Billy) Garland, a prominent figure in early Los Angeles. In important respects, the story of Billy Garland is the story of Los Angeles. After arriving in Southern California in 1890, he and his allies drove much of the city's historic expansion in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Then, from 1920 to 1932, he directed the city's bid for the 1932 Olympic Games. Garland's quest to host the Olympics provides an unusually revealing window onto a particular time, place, and way of life. Reconstructing the narrative from Garland's visionary notion to its consequential aftermath, Barry Siegel shows how one man's grit and imagination made California history.
Imperial Metropolis by Jessica M. Kim
In this compelling narrative of capitalist development and revolutionary response, Jessica M. Kim reexamines the rise of Los Angeles from a small town to a global city against the backdrop of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Gilded Age economics, and American empire. It is a far-reaching transnational history, chronicling how Los Angeles boosters transformed the borderlands through urban and imperial capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century and how the Mexican Revolution redefined those same capitalist networks into the twentieth. Kim draws on archives in the United States and Mexico to argue that financial networks emerging from Los Angeles drove economic transformations in the borderlands, reshaped social relations across wide swaths of territory, and deployed racial hierarchies to advance investment projects across the border. However, the Mexican Revolution, with its implicit critique of imperialism, disrupted the networks of investment and exploitation that had structured the borderlands for sixty years, and reconfigured transnational systems of infrastructure and trade. Kim provides the first history to connect Los Angeles's urban expansionism with more continental and global currents, and what results is a rich account of real and imagined geographies of city, race, and empire.
Living the California Dream by Alison Rose Jefferson
As Southern California was reimagining leisure and positioning it at the center of the American Dream, African American Californians were working to make that leisure an open, inclusive reality. By occupying recreational sites and public spaces, African Americans challenged racial hierarchies and marked a space of black identity on the regional landscape and social space. In Living the California Dream Alison Rose Jefferson examines how African Americans pioneered America's "frontier of leisure" by creating communities and business projects in conjunction with their growing population in Southern California during the nation's Jim Crow era. By presenting stories of Southern California African American oceanfront and inland leisure destinations that flourished from 1910 to the 1960s, Jefferson illustrates ho these places helped create leisure production, purposes, and societal encounters. Black communal practices and economic development around leisure helped define the practice and meaning of leisure for the region and the nation, confronted the emergent power politics of recreational space, and set the stage for the sites as places for remembrance of invention and public contest. Living the California Dream presents the overlooked local stories that are foundational to the national narrative of mass movement to open recreational accommodations to all Americans and to the long freedom rights struggle.
Policing Los Angeles by Max Felker-Kantor
When the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts erupted in violent protest in August 1965, the uprising drew strength from decades of pent-up frustration with employment discrimination, residential segregation, and poverty. But the more immediate grievance was anger at the racist and abusive practices of the Los Angeles Police Department. Yet in the decades after Watts, the LAPD resisted all but the most limited demands for reform made by activists and residents of color, instead intensifying its power. In Policing Los Angeles, Max Felker-Kantor narrates the dynamic history of policing, anti-police abuse movements, race, and politics in Los Angeles from the 1965 Watts uprising to the 1992 Los Angeles rebellion. Using the explosions of two large-scale uprisings in Los Angeles as bookends, Felker-Kantor highlights the racism at the heart of the city's expansive police power through a range of previously unused and rare archival sources. His book is a gripping and timely account of the transformation in police power, the convergence of interests in support of law and order policies, and African American and Mexican American resistance to police violence after the Watts uprising.
Sun Seekers by Lyra Kilston
Sunshine and nature: California as a beacon of better health Since the mid-19th century, the idea of California has lured many waves of migrants. Here, writer and editor Lyra Kilston explores a less examined attraction: the region's promise of better health. From ailing families seeking a miracle climate cure to iconoclasts and dropouts pursuing a remedy to societal corruption, the abundance of sunshine and untamed nature around the small but growing Los Angeles area offered them refuge and inspiration. In the wild west of medical practice, eclectic nature-cure treatments gained popularity. The source for this trend can be traced to the mountains and cold-water springs of Europe, where early sanatoriums were built to offer the natural cures of sun, air, water and diet; this sanatorium architecture was exported to the West Coast from Central Europe, and began to impact other types of building. Sun Seekers: The Cure of California constitutes the second volume of The Illustrated America (following 2016's Old Glory), Atelier ditions' ongoing series excavating America's cultural past. Lyra Kilston is a writer and editor focused on architecture, history, design and urbanism. Her work has appeared in Artforum, Los Angeles Review of Books, Time, Wired and Hyperallergic, among other publications. She was on the curatorial team of Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the National Building Museum.
The World in a City by David M. Struthers
A massive population shift transformed Los Angeles in the first decades of the twentieth century. Americans from across the country relocated to the city even as an unprecedented transnational migration brought people from Asia, Europe, and Mexico. Together, these newcomers forged a multiethnic alliance of anarchists, labor unions, and leftists dedicated to challenging capitalism, racism, and often the state. David M. Struthers draws on the anarchist concept of affinity to explore the radicalism of Los Angeles's interracial working class from 1900 to 1930. Uneven economic development created precarious employment and living conditions for laborers. The resulting worker mobility led to coalitions that, inevitably, remained short lived. As Struthers shows, affinity helps us understand how individual cooperative actions shaped and reshaped these alliances. It also reveals social practices of resistance that are often too unstructured or episodic for historians to capture. What emerges is an untold history of Los Angeles and a revolutionary movement that, through myriad successes and failures, produced powerful examples of racial cooperation.