City of Quartz: On Real Estate

So from its beginnings, L.A. was a place for the rich, by the rich, all of whom wanted to sell Los Angeles to the masses. Mike Davis examines a couple of major institutions and their forerunners as follows:

“I begin with the so-called ‘Arroyo set’: writers, antiquarians, and publicists under the influence of Charles Fletcher Lummis (himself in the pay of the Times and the Chamber of Commerce), who at the turn of the century created a comprehensive fiction of Southern California as the promised land of a millenarian Anglo-Saxon racial odyssey. They inserted a mediterraneanized idyll of New England life into the perfumed ruins of an innocent but inferior ‘Spanish’ culture. In doing so, they wrote the script for the giant real-estate speculations of the early twentieth century that transformed Los Angeles from small town to metropolis. Their imagery, motifs, values and legends were in turn endlessly reproduced by Hollywood, while continuing to be incorporated into ersatz landscapes of suburban Southern California.”

Here, I don’t have to look far to find the ‘comprehensive fiction’ Davis describes, as memorabilia of L.A.’s idyllic lifestyle are abound:

la-07bytrainglorious
Free Harbor and Glorious Southern California are brought to you by the L.A. Public Library, while California this Summer was found through the California State Library.

In Free Harbor (1899), the L.A. ports of 1899 are overseen by a flock of little white angels, who promise great things to come for the land neighbored by the ocean and overseen by triumphant sunlight. In similar fashion, Jubilee‘s trumpet signals the rise of an American dream in California’s ports, from which freedom and eloquence naturally follow.

California This Summer (1934) makes similar gestures, as the poster captures a world with a little bit of everything, including a state of beaches, lush and green hills, and even mountaintops to quietly conquer as the fair lady with the sunhat does. Life in the portrait looks simple and untainted by the dirt of cities and the congestion of crowds. A perfect summer vacation.

Glorious Southern California (1907) exhausts the point. On one side, the ocean waves signal the life of unchartered waters, while below, the life of cactus and other plants serve to welcome dreams of real estate and other property in an open frontier.

As Davis notes, all of the posters promise Anglo-saxon or white purity, making no allusion or reference to the Spanish-speaking brown cultures which gave California its name, nor the pockets of indigenous civilizations throughout the state which were pushed out to make way for the influx of newcomers. Instead, real estate moguls figured out that depicting a world of endless sunshine and openness would be a draw, and they were absolutely right. As Quartz reveals, such images of Southern California would be endlessly reproduced in Hollywood throughout the decades that’d follow, and well into the present.

It reminds me of a similar trend in my neighborhood at the moment, where real estate agencies dub the area as Silverlake, when in fact the city recognizes it as ‘East Hollywood’. As a neighbor pointed out to me, “when out-of-towners arrive into their new apartments from Seattle and other parts of the country, they’re surprised: there’s no lake, and the apartments are much smaller than they thought, so they just leave, and the cycle starts all over again.

With more soon,

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