Golden State Urbanity: 28 History Books That Get At The Heart of Metropolitan California

Moving-from-Chicago-to-Los-Angeles-California-Move-to-Los-Angeles-California-IL-CA

For many Americans, the phrase “California history” sounds like an oxymoron. Born out of a Gold Rush and two World Wars, the Golden State, to easterners, has always seemed like the new kid on the block. Californians might have aided in such perceptions, notes the 1970s dean of West Coast literature, Joan Didion. “You might protest that no family has been in Sacramento Valley for anything approaching ‘always,’” she wrote, “But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it has simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west.” For Didion, such depictions of the past cast melancholy over “those who participate in it,” because underlying the state’s origin story rest a belief that “we had long outlived our finest hour.”[1]

Yet, California with no uncertainty has a long past predating European arrival. In terms of Anglo settlement, however, its “newness” meant it would become a laboratory for the twentieth century vision of urbanity. California’s embrace of the automobile and its highway system influenced retail patterns and architecture and economic development nationally. The state’s popularization of vernacular housing such as the bungalow at the turn of the century and the ranch home in the pre and post World War II period defined large swaths of American suburbanization. “Cheap Amusements” like Disneyland loomed over urban planning and suburban tract developments as designers drew on the Southern California icon for inspiration. Its tax revolts rewrote politics and its politicians and activists promoted both the most liberal ideologies and the most conservative. Its long history of transnational and multiracial populations made it a valuable case study for a United States hurtling toward a majority-minority political landscape and has provided a window into the multiplicity of race outside traditional binaries.

This escape from usual boundaries of discourse relates to the study of its cities and suburbs. Over the past fifteen or so years, historians have tried to dissolve the divide between suburban and urban America, arguing that such divisions obscure the ways in which each affects the other: economically, politically, and socially. We should, many argue, be talking about metropolitan history rather than urban history. California’s complex mix of urban and suburban built environments, populations, and politics has made it a center of study in this historiographical development. Southern California’s membership in the admittedly nebulous designation of the Sunbelt has only increased interest in the state’s history and given its development an even deeper importance.

If historians once ignored the state in favor of an eastern bias that favored more traditional metropolises like New York, Chicago, or Boston, over the last twenty five years they have made up for such blind spots in two ways. The following list of 28 books focuses on works of the past quarter century (with a one exception as noted by the * after the entry) and is divided into subheadings—a “reading list” if you will for metropolitan California. Keep in mind this list is hardly comprehensive and its subheadings are somewhat arbitrary, with many books fitting into more than one subcategorization. For example, Robert Self’s American Babylon could be categorized as Race or Planning/Development, but we chose Politics because it seemed to best explain the book’s focus. Of course, one could argue nearly all the works listed could be put into this category, but the system is admittedly imperfect. As Frank Ocean sings, “We all try/ the girls try, the boys try/Women try, men try, you and I try, try, we all try.”

“California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension,” Didion reflected. “[I]n which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.”[2] Perhaps California marks the end of the continent’s western expansion, but its past marks ground zero for the future of urban America. To paraphrase a famous politician, “it’s not the end, but simply the end of the beginning.”

 

General

city_quartz_cover

 

Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, 1990

 

51xoce1pluL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Kevin Starr, California: A History, 2007

 

Sexuality

51QYFF3ZRVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Nan Boyd, Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco, 2005.

 

9780520249257_p0_v1_s260x420

 

Daniel Hurewitz, Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics, 2008.

 

51i4+XrzguL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Josh Sides, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco, 2009.

 

 

Race

9780870744976

Albert Camarillo, Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrios, 1979. *

 9780520246676

 

William Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of its Mexican Past, 2004.

 

415RbeoMAzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African Americans in Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present, 2006.

 

410Q3Q598JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, 2006.

 

51EWO9rSYGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Charlotte Brooks, Alien Neighbors, Foreign Friends: Asian Americans, Housing, and the Transformation of Urban California, 2009.

change

Mark Brilliant, The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1948 – 1978, 2010.

 

k8525

Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles, 2010.

 

MakingSanFernValley_C

Laura Barraclough, Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development and White Privilege, 2011.

9780816679829_p0_v1_s260x420

Wendy Cheng, The Changs Next Door to the Diazes: Remapping Race in Suburban California, 2013.

 

Politics

51CSPOXloUL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Marilyn Johnson, The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay in World War II, 1996.

 

51ExrdKT-XL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right, 2001.

 

51K068XTT4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Becky Nicolaides, My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920 – 1965, 2002.

51EWO9rSYGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, 2005.

 

51PW1TP7B4L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Lorena Orepoza, Raza Si! Guerro No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism during the Vietnam Era, 2005.

 

The_Power_of_the_Zoot

Luis Alvarez, The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II, 2009.

 

51h701e7LFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Daniel Martinez HoSang, Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, 2010.

 

978-0-8223-4679-1_pr

Danny Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles, 2010.

 

0804776997

Carol Lynn McKibben, Racial Beachhead: Diversity and Democracy in a Military Town, 2012.

15217

Emily Straus, Death of a Suburban Dream: Race and Schools in Compton, CA, 2014.

 

Planning/Development

61W7FTKnGqL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Greg Hise, Magnetic Los Angeles; Planning the Twentieth Century Metropolis, 1997.

 

51H+qH8J4iL

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster, 1998.

51JT9kA7vGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Richard Longstreth, From City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920 – 1950, 1998.

 

51vVHwOMkVL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Robert Gottlieb, Reinventing Los Angeles: Nature and Community in the Global City, 2007.

 

 

[1] Joan Didion, The White Album, (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979), 172.

[2] Ibid.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on DailyHistory.org and commented:
    Tropics of Meta continues their streak of great booklists. Today’s booklist is on Golden State Urbanity. The three biggest urban areas (Los Angeles Metro, the Bay Area and San Diego) are all uniquely Californian, but are fundamentally different from each other. Ryan Reft’s list focuses heavily on Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is not necessarily representative of the other two metro areas. Anyone who has spent time in all of three of towns can instantly spot differences in the environments, urban design and culture. Still, a number of these books address issues that each of these cities experienced (cars, race, the environment, suburbia, etc.), but their solutions were not always identical. This is a great list if you want to learn more about the Golden State.

  2. Reblogged this on itkindofgotawayfromyou.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,878 other followers

%d bloggers like this: