“The Plan Keeps Coming Up Again”: Conspiracy Theories, Policing 1970 D.C., and Creating Model Neighborhoods in Model Cities (Best of UHA, Part 4)

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Today's post wraps up our coverage of the Urban History Association's Seventh Biennial Conference in Philadelphia.  You can find overviews of other great panels on everything from "cartographies of protest" in Boston to the Mafia-like dark arts of the PTA here, here, and here.  If you want to check out Kenneth Jackson's bikini bod, though, you'll have to settle for TMZ. Kwame Holmes, "Paranoia as Prescience: The Plan, Black Conspiracy Theory and the History of Black Displacement in a Post-Civil Rights Chocolate City" "Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” wrote Joseph Heller in the novel, Catch 22.  Few places reflect this reality like 1970s … [Read more...]

Beyond the Bakesale: PTAs, Education Reform, & the Best of UHA 2014, Part 1

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Several times a year, the intrepid reporters of Tropics of Meta follow the academic conference beat, checking out panels on everything from the Illuminati to Asian American basketball leagues and sissy rap. At their best, conferences offer a window into the freshest and most innovative historical scholarship, and our reports on panels aim to give readers an early look at the groundbreaking articles and books of tomorrow.  This year's Urban History Association conference was the organization's eighth biennial meeting, and the world's hardest working urbanists braved the persistent drizzle of "always sunny" Philadelphia to attend panels and plenaries on the campus of the University of … [Read more...]

Structured Unrest: The Rumford Act, Proposition 14, and the Systematic Inequality that Created the Watts Riots

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If “you keep telling people that they are unfairly treated and teach them disrespect for the law,” Chief William Parker told reporters in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, then violence is inevitable. Parker’s commentary, an attempt to deflect his own department’s culpability for the civil unrest veered into increasingly racist territory. In Parker’s worldview, trouble only started “when one person threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, others started throwing rocks.” Calls by assemblyman Mervyn Dymally for a civilian police review board were little more than a “vicious canard,” argued the imperious police chief.[1] The legacy of the riots, fifty years old next year, has reverberated … [Read more...]

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

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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,” … [Read more...]

“Capital within a Capital”: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

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“That flag is the symbol of the spirit of the refu­gee,” Springfield resident and Vietnamese American talk show host Liem D Bui told journalists in 2012. The flag to which Bui referred is that of the fallen South Vietnam government and it along with an American flag fly over Eden Center shopping plaza in Falls Church, VA, a symbolic embodiment of Vietnamese American culture that some call “a capital within a capital,” for D.C.’s 80,000 residents of Vietnamese descent. Unfortunately, in recent years, the shopping center has garnered attention for more than its restaurants and markets. A murder-suicide left two men dead in July of 2012 and gambling raids in 2011 linked Eden Center and its flag … [Read more...]

125 Years of 4th of July Parades and Liberalism in Maryland’s Takoma Park

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“We’re compromised,” an exasperated Julie Boddy told a Washington Post journalist in 2012. As a sitting member of the Nuclear Free Takoma Park Committee, Boddy and other committee members expressed sharp reservations about a recent city council decision. “What kind of reputation do we have if we fall down in that way?” Ian Barclay, a town native agreed. “It’s just a slippery slope … when you start letting this slide then where are you going to end up.” The issue at hand you ask? Town librarians had ordered a set of Hewlett Packard computers to replace older outdated models. However, HP’s historical association with the production of nuclear weapons led librarians to “stash” them away in … [Read more...]

Fighting for Leisure: African Americans, Beaches, and Civil Rights in Early 20th Century L.A.

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"These people worked on the railroad, they saved their money, they put up a resort, and they lost everything," lamented Bernard Bruce in 2007. "How would you feel if your family owned the Waldorf and they took it away from you." Bruce, the grandson of former beach resort proprietors Charles and Willa Bruce, spoke to the Los Angeles Times after a contested Manhattan Beach city council vote of 3-2 confirmed the city's official commemoration of his parents' beach resort as a historic landmark. "There's a kind of tension," longtime resident and local historian Robert L. Brigham added, "between people who are very conscious of the history of Bruce's and those who would rather forget about the … [Read more...]

I Live in America’s Most Dangerous Suburb

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According to Movoto.com, East Point, Georgia is America’s most dangerous suburb. As an eight-year resident of East Point, I received this news with a curious mix of pride and loathing. On the one hand, anyone who lives in a “most dangerous” anywhere must by definition be tough and manly—and I have always wanted to be tough and manly. On the other, I was not aware that I had been living in a suburb—and I have always, always been an impassioned opponent of suburban living. Of course, no one should really take the Movoto.com article seriously. It is based upon sloppy methodology, faulty assumptions, and questionable conclusions. To paraphrase Dean Yeager from Ghostbusters, "you are poor … [Read more...]

Retail California: Shopping Centers, Malls, and Creating a New Consumerism

Broadway-Crenshaw Center in 1947. Photo by Loomis Dean.

[Editor's note: This article first appeared on April 4, 2013 for the Intersections column at KCET Departures. Part of a 3 part series on Southern California's retail history, Part III (below) explores SoCal's role in popularizing shopping malls  Part II on the convergence of the Big Lebowski and Ralph's as a symbol of SoCal's early embrace of the grocery store and new "advances" in consumerism can be read here. Part I examines Los Angeles' role in creating the drive in market, a precursor to the dreaded strip mall. It can be read here.] "It was a peculiar and visionary time, those years after World War II to which all the Malls and Towns and dales stand as climate controlled monuments," … [Read more...]

Retail California: Cars, Drive-In Markets, and Consumers

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[Editor's note: This article first appeared on March 7, 2013 for the Intersections column at KCET Departures. Part of a 3 part series on Southern California's retail history, Part II on the convergence of the Big Lebowski and Ralph's as a symbol of SoCal's early embrace of the grocery store and new "advances" in consumerism can be read here. Part III on SoCal's role in popularizing shopping malls can be read here. Part I, below, examines Los Angeles' role in creating the drive in market, a precursor to the dreaded strip mall.] When C.L. Peckham opened Ye Market Place on Los Feliz Road in Glendale in 1924, few realized the influence the drive-in market would have on urban planning and … [Read more...]

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