Charles and Ray Eames: How Wartime L.A. Shaped the Mid-Century Modern Aesthetic

Tag courtesy of the Charles and Ray Eames Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

During the mid-1990s, while working evenings and weekends on her PhD dissertation on 18th-century Philadelphia, veteran Library of Congress archivist Margaret McAleer found inspiration in what one might consider an unlikely place: the papers of legendary Los Angeles-based, 20th-century designers Charles and Ray Eames. Ray Eames, who died in 1988, had bequeathed the collection to the library, and McAleer was assigned to organize the manuscript portion of the collection in advance of a 1998 exhibition on the designers.[1] She dove into its endless contents. “I was so inspired by their creativity and passion,” she noted in a recent interview. “They developed unique, fresh perspectives on … [Read more...]

The Five Worst Cities in America


Cities are “back,” as you might have heard, following a long period when urban America was viewed by fearful observers in the suburbs as dangerous, dysfunctional, and generally addicted to crack.  We welcome the renaissance of many American cities—who could not applaud declining murder rates (well, at least until this year and, you know, all the time in Chicago), and the rise of a younger generation less wedded to cars, sprawl and fossil fuels? Even if cities are officially back, though, there are a few cities we wish would go back to wherever they came from.  We love New York and San Diego and, uh, Albuquerque, but there are some places in America so pretentious, unfriendly, boring, racist … [Read more...]

East Asian ToM: Five Days of Seoul


After the Korean War, Seoul, South Korea probably wouldn't have been listed as a ideal destination for summer travelers. U.S. occupation, the burdens of a civil war that cost nearly 375,000 Korean civilian lives, to say nothing of the 138,000 Korean soldiers who perished, and persistent food shortages amidst the wreckage of conflict did not make for a prime vacation spot. "Most of Seoul lay in ruins," Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm W. Browne remembered in his 1993 memoir, Muddy Boots and Red Socks. "The poverty was ubiquitous and obtrusive, and there was a constant danger of losing a wallet or camera to thieves." Decades of military rule followed as did the eventual transformation … [Read more...]

The DF in the Rearview Mirror: ToM travels to Mexico City Again

The museum goes out of its way to recreate architecture of the pre-Columbian period; it's appreciated

In 1933, the visionary designer Charles Eames absconded from St. Louis to Mexico, in an effort to “[take] stock of and ultimately [change] his approach and situation in life,” notes his grandson Eames Demetrios. Charles spent about ten months traveling in San Luis Potosi and Monterrey, now and then dipping into more rural areas of the Mexican countryside. He got by doing occasional manual labor and selling sketches and painting for sustenance. When he returned, in 1934, he brought with him numerous depictions of churches and vistas, which so impressed his fellow Midwesterners that the St. Louis Museum deployed them as an exhibit; many of his sketches and paintings later appeared in the color … [Read more...]

Suburban Ideals vs. New Realities: Informal Housing in South Gate


"[T]he idea that movies and stars inspire people from the world's pockets of desperate poverty to undertake treacherous journeys across oceans and borders to this city of immigrants is fatuous," writes UCLA's Eric Avila. "Immigrant understandings of the city rely upon the concrete aspects of urban growth: labor markets, employment opportunities, housing availability, and preexisting networks of family and community."(1) Indeed, the hard economic realities of life drive immigration - and internal migration for that matter -- and it is the intersection of these realities and the culture of immigrants themselves. This is particularly true in regard to family structure and informal economies … [Read more...]

No Escape from New York: Revisiting Jacob Riis, New York and Urban America at the Library of Congress

"Jacob Riis", Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Two years ago, Washington Post journalist Paul Schwartzman drove war photographer Seamus Murphy and a quiet, black-haired, “poet/musician” on a “windshield tour” of Anacostia, Washington D.C. They toured East Capitol Street “where the city had replaced a notoriously violent housing project with mixed-income townhouses, created under a federal program known as Hope VI”; took in the future Homeland Security Headquarters to be located at what had been previously St. Elizabeth Hospital, a large mental health institution; and generally explored “the darker side” of the city, Schwartzman wrote recently. Of course, that quiet, dark-haired woman in the back seat turned out to be P.J. Harvey, one … [Read more...]

Birthing Mass Transit in the DMV: WMATA and the Difficulties of Multi-Jurisdictional Transportation Systems

Carol M. Highsmith, Red Line Metro subway train going one way arrives to join a train about to head the other direction at Metro Center Station, Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress

“It’s a system that’s maybe safe, somewhat unreliable, and that is being complained about by everybody,” - Jack Evans, WMATA Chairman and District of Columbia Council Member[1] The subway that serves the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area, known locally as “the metro,” is running through hard times these days. On January 12, 2015 one passenger died after a train car filled with smoke, and on March 16th, 2016 the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the body in charge of the metro, announced a complete service shutdown for one full day while repairmen could run safety checks on all lines. Shortly after the announcement the Washington Post editorial board posted an … [Read more...]

New South Cocktail: The Terroir of the Jack and Coke


Some call it a Jack & Coke. I like to think of it as a “Chattanooga.” Chattanooga sits at a gap in the Appalachians on Interstate 24, just southeast of the Cumberland Plateau. Balanced on the Georgia-Tennessee border, Chattanooga was once known as Ross’s Landing, a site where Cherokee Chief John Ross operated a ferry across a turbulent spot on the pre-TVA Tennessee River. A railroad and manufacturing city, Chattanooga was located at a crucial spot in the Dixie Highway. The Dixie Highway was a North-South transcontinental highway network built by early-1900s good-roads proponents who wanted to give northern tourists greater access to the South. Flanked by fading “See Rock City” barns, … [Read more...]

The Lakewood Plan: Homeownership, Taxes, and Diversity in Postwar Suburbia

Lakewood: Times Change, Values Don't | Photo: Laurie Avocado/Flickr/Creative Commons

If you're driving about 15 or 20 miles south of Central Chennai in Bali, don't be surprised if you find yourself in a pseudo Golden State. Sure the "road buckles and heaves" and you'll pass farmers in "Madras-checked dhoties" resting outside their palm tree roofed huts; goats might even meander about without molestation. But then, noted the Economist in an essay on international suburbanization, one turns a corner and "arrives in California." Not just any part of the state either, but specifically Lakewood Enclave, a Balinese subdivision named after its pioneering namesake from Southern California.1 Lakewood and other Southern California suburbs like those in Orange County have asserted an … [Read more...]

Ciudad de Oro y Plata: Impressions of Mexico City


I am not exactly the world's most cosmopolitan traveler. I never got on a plane until I was twenty years old, and I've only really visited a handful of countries.  When my wife and I decided to go to Mexico City for a week this Fall, we went into it with some unwarranted assumptions.  The biggest city in the Western hemisphere, we thought, would likely be a dense, chaotic metropolis akin to Karachi or Bangkok. The stereotype of the overcrowded and congested Third World city loomed large in our minds, and Mexico City seemed like it would fit that pattern. Evidently, we were not alone in our assumptions. As journalist David Lida recalled in his 2008 book First Stop in the New World: Mexico … [Read more...]