Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading L.A. - The Hawthorne 25

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christoper Hawthorne announced in the January 26th issue of the Times an ambitious one-year reading program Reading L.A. which will take a detailed chronological look at major works in the history of the development of Los Angeles and Southern California. One of his goals is to by the end of the year have a better handle on how the city has been explored by the critics and writers who have preceded us here.

This 12 month immersion in our storied past seems like a fun trip for aficionados of Los Angeles history and the evolution of modern architecture to embark upon with him. I plan to closely follow along, especially on the books I have as yet not read. For those of you who choose to join Hawthorne on this trek through our past he states that this effort is not organized as a formal book club as many of the titles are out of print and some are almost impossible to find. This is especially true of the first month's selections, "The Truth About Los Angeles" by Louis Adamic and "Los Angeles" by Morrow Mayo. I was able to recently find a fairly reasonably priced copy of the Mayo book in a library buckram binding. Many local libraries have copies. The book is extremely scarce in the dust jacket. (See original dust jacket below). The Adamic book is much scarcer and can only be found at select research institutions. Have fun tracking it down.

Los Angeles by Morrow Mayo, Knopf, 1933. Photo courtesy of Peter Harrington Books, London.

The dust jacket flap bio of Mayo states that he served for six years at the Pasadena Star News, Los Angeles Express, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Associated Press in Los Angeles writing on California subjects for eastern newspapers and magazines such as The Nation, New Republic, Life, Plain Talk, The American Mercury, Current History, The Commonweal and numerous West Coast periodicals of opinion. His "History with side-shows from the Conquistador to Aimee Semple McPherson" begun in 1931 took 13 months to finish and includes 28 illustrations, 2 maps and importantly, from my perspective, an extensive bibliography. Kevin Starr cited Mayo in The Dream Endures, "Here is an artificial city which has been pumped up under forced draught, inflated like a balloon, stuffed with rural humanity like a goose with corn." With prose like this I can't wait to read it.

As an avid collector of Los Angeles architecture books, I have in my library the lion's share of the 25 classics Hawthorne has included in his list and have read most of them. I have found, however, that rereading important books such as these, or at least sections of them, every few years from the fresh perspective of accumulated knowledge and experience uncovers new treasures and ideas that did not surface on first reading thus I am looking forward to the experience.

As with most lists established by noted critics such as Hawthorne, of whom I am a big fan by the way, they tend to gain a life of their own. I expect this list to possibly become known as "The Hawthorne 25" along the lines of a poor man's Zamorano 80 created by the Zamorano Club and its erstwhile leader Phil Townsend Hanna. Hawthorne seems somewhat flexible in the final list as he states it is not set in stone. I have had many comments since posting his list on my Facebook page about someone's faves being left off. Send your feedback to

I have added a few additional recommended titles at the end of this article and will continue to add more as we go through the list in the coming months. Once one begins reading a few of these books, their bibliograhies and end notes always provide good clues for further serendipitous research for pursuing personal interests. It would be fun if Hawthorne comes up with an on-line final exam at the end of the year to test who read the most books the most closely. Happy reading,  L.A.

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"The Hawthorne 25"
January: "The Truth About Los Angeles," by Louis Adamic (1927) and "Los Angeles," by Morrow Mayo (1933).
February: "Southern California: An Island on the Land," by Carey McWilliams (1946) and "Five California Architects," by Esther McCoy (1960). (Hawthorne review: Reading L.A.: "Esther McCoy").

Southern California Country: An Island in the Land by Carey McWilliams, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1946. (From my collection).
Five California Architects, Reinhold, 1960. Julius Shulman cover photo. (From my collection).
For much more on Esther McCoy's work see my Selected Publications of Esther McCoy: Patron Saint and Myth Maker for Southern California Architectural Historians. Hawthorne likely selected this since it was McCoy's first published book but there are three others I like more, The Second Generation, Peregrine, 1984Modern California Houses, Case Study Houses 1945-1962, Reinhold, 1962 and Vienna to Los Angeles: Two Journeys, Arts + Architecture Press, 1979. (See my McCoy critiques at the above link).
March: "Eden in Jeopardy: Man's Prodigal Meddling With the Environment," by Richard Lillard (1966) and "The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles 1850-1930,"  by Robert M. Fogelson (1967).
April: "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies," by Reyner Banham (1971) (Hawthorne review "Reading L.A.: A Reyner Banham classic turns 40" and "Guide to the Ugliest Buildings of Los Angeles," by Richard Meltzer (1980) (Hawthorne review: "Richard Meltzer tracks down ugly").

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham, Harper & Row, 1971. (From my collection).
May: "L.A Freeway: An Appreciative Essay," by David Brodsly (1981) (Hawthorne review: "David Brodsly's 'L.A. Freeway'") and "Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture," by Thomas Hines (1982). (Hawthorne review: "Thomas Hines on Richard Neutra").

Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture by Thomas S. Hines, Oxford University Press, 1982. (From my collection).

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Mark Reisner, Viking, 1986. (From my collection).

City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles by Mike Davis, Vintage, 1992. (From my collection).
Heteropolis: Los Angeles, the Riots and Strange Beauty of Hetero-Architecture by Charles Jencks, Academy Editions, 1993. (From my collection).

Holy Land: A Surburban Memoir by D. J. Waldie, Norton, 1996. (From my collection).

D. J. Waldie's Holy Land was the recipient of the California Book Award for non-fiction in 1996. A fascinating read about postwar suburban life in the tracts sprouting up in Lakewood, SoCal's answer to Levittown. Waldie gave my web site a nice blurb in his new KCET blog SoCal Focus. See Taking a good Look Around.

Excerpt from Waldie's SoCal Focus:
John Crosse/Southern California Architectural History
This is real architectural history, largely focused on modernity and its evolution in Southern California. The site is dense and informative, full of illustrations from the author's collection of architectural monographs.
Maynard Parker Collection
Or you can be a researcher on your own in this expanding collection of mid-century photographs by Maynard Parker. As John Crosse points out, Parker's career in Southern California closely paralleled that of the better known Julius Shulman. I'm working with a team of writers under the leadership of Jennifer Watts, curator of Photographs at the Huntington, on a survey of Parker's photographs to be published later this year.
The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory by Norman M. Klein, Verso, 1997. (From my collection).

This book is essential in any modernist's library but contains some myths and inaccuracies surrounding the circumstances of John Entenza's takeover of California Arts & Architecture magazine. For the true story on this see my  California Arts & Architecture: A Steppingstone to Fame: Harwell Hamilton Harris and John Entenza: Two Case Studies and Selected Publications of Esther McCoy: Patron Saint of Architectural Historians.

Magnetic Los Angeles: Planning the Twentieth Century Metropolis by Greg Hise, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. (From my collection).
September: "Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region," edited by Hise and William Deverell (2000) and "The Drive-In, the Supermarket, and the Transformation of Commercial Space in Los Angeles, 1914-41," by Richard Longstreth (2000). [For the record: An earlier version of this post misstated the title of the Longstreth book.]
The Longstreth book should be read as a pair with the above. They are extremely well-researched and complement and intersect each other on every level. In other words you really shouldn't read one without the other.
Form Follows Libido Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture, by Sylvia Lavin, MIT Press, 2004. (From my collection).

Further Recommended Reading

January: "La Reina: Los Angeles in Three Centuries," by Laurence A. Hill, Security Trust & Savings Bank, 1929, "Los Angeles: Biography of a City," by John and LaRee Caughey (1976), "L.A.'s Early Moderns," by Victoria Dailey, Natalie Shivers and Michael Dawson (2003), "Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City," by Remi Nadeau (1960) and "L.A. in the Thirties," by David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton (1975).
La Reina: Los Angeles in Three Centuries, by Laurence A. Hill, Security Trust & Savings Bank, 1929.

This is a richly illustrated gem of a book full of wonderful vignettes of our founding fathers and their developments published at the peak of Los Angeles development at the end of the Roaring Twenties.

LA'S Early Moderns by Victoria Dailey, Natalie Shivers and Michael Dawson, Balcony Press, 2003 (from my collection).

This book is absolutely essential for an in-depth understanding of the exciting transition to modernism taking place in 1920s-1930s Los Angeles and the intertwined modernist circle which developed and supported each other's work. For much more on this see my Pauline Gibling Schindler: Vagabond Agent for Modernism, 1927-1936 and Foundations of Los Angeles Modernism: Richard Neutra's Mod Squad.

Los Angeles: Biography of a City, by John and LaRee Caughey, Universsity of California Press, 1976. (From my collection).

A choice anthology of more than 100 essays by the likes of Juan Crespi, Juan Batista de Anza, Philipe de Neve, Hubert Howe Bancroft, Robert Glass Cleland, E. Gould Buffum, Horace Bell, Sarah Bixby-Smith, Mary Austin, Helen Hunt Jackson, Morrow Mayo, Remi Nadeau, Robinson Jeffers, Aimee Semple McPherson, Ralph S. Bunche, Upton Sinclair, Budd Schulberg, Carey McWilliams, Aldous Huxley, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Jim Murray, Reyner Banham, Jack Smith and many others. It also includes a lengthy "Selected Readings" list in the back matter, a great staring point for further study.

 L.A. in the Thirties, by David Gebhard and Harriette von Breton, Peregrine, 1975. (From my collection).

Another essential, well-researched piece of work from a much under-appreciated historian, exhibition curator and archivist at UC Santa Barbara and relentless compiler of a series of architectural guide books on Los Angeles, David Gebhard.