Redefining Asian America: Japanese Americans, Gardena, and the Making of a Transnational Suburb

Kashu Realty had branches in Crenshaw, Wilshire, Los Feliz, and Monterey Park | Google Street View

Naomi Hirahara never "got" Raymond Chandler. The dark, mistrustful view of Los Angeles that Chandler's work so embodied seemed foreign to the award-winning mystery writer. "He has set a tone for stories about the darkness under L.A.'s glitz for 80 years, but I can't relate to the paranoid view Chandler had of my Los Angeles, or his fear of 'the other,' or how his loner detective Philip Marlowe navigated his investigative cases without the weight of family or community," she confessed in a recent article. Rather the Pasadena-born Japanese American writer knew a life of family and strong immigrant networks. L.A.'s sense of reinvention, not alienation, she confided to readers, was its real … [Read more...]

“Brick Mansions: it’s so dangerous, we built a wall around it.”


Warning: This post is full of spoilers. Thankfully, Brick Mansions isn’t the kind of movie you watch for the plot. Brick Mansions is the American remake of the French film District B13 (not to be confused with District 9, the Academy Award-nominated South African film from 2009). Brick Mansions tells the story of a housing project in 2018 Detroit – a project so dangerous the city literally built a 40-foot wall around it, with police checkpoints at all entrances and exits. David Belle plays Lino, a resident of the projects who uses his parkour skills to steal drugs from the dealers and then destroy them. The plot really takes off when cop Damien (played by Paul Walker in one of his final … [Read more...]

A Loray Mill of the Mind


My family moved to North Carolina in the late 1980s, having left a stagnant and hopeless West Virginia in search of greater economic opportunities. My mom and grandparents and I first tried Indiana for a few years, but eventually left for the greener shores of the Sunbelt. We came to Gastonia, a modest-sized former textile town (it once boasted of having “more looms and spindles within its hundred-mile radius than... any other southern city”) in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area. An aunt and uncle had already paved the way for us, in a sort of internal chain-migration, leaving WV for NC several years before. I once asked my mom why Suzy and Jim had settled on Gastonia as a place to … [Read more...]

The Magic of Crabgrass: Thirty Years Later, An Appraisal of Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier (Best of UHA 2014, Part 2)


"If I had added everything I'd still be writing it," eminent historian of U.S suburbanization and Columbia Professor Kenneth Jackson reflected during the UHA’s 2014 roundtable discussion honoring the upcoming 30th anniversary of his 1985 work, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. A packed house of historians dressed in their “urbanist best” greeted Jackson who admitted to being a bit “overwhelmed by the turnout but pleased for many reasons.” One can take for granted the enormity of Jackson’s most famous work Crabgrass Frontier (CF). Today, it seems common knowledge that federal policy in the form of redlining and racial bias in mortgage infrastructure … [Read more...]

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


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...]

Diving into Integration: Sammy Lee, Historical Memory, and the Complexity of Housing Segregation in Cold War California


Even with the clearest of minds, personal and historical memory ebb and flow. Recollections of our own past and that of the society around us often become shaped by current circumstance and selective recall. If one adds dementia to the mix, personal memories become scattered vestiges of our former selves that bound across the mind. Lest one thinks society as a collective operates any better, it does not. You need only point to the occasional survey of American knowledge of U.S. history to know the past might stalk us invisibly at every moment, but as Americans we seem blissfully unaware. When two-time gold medal Olympic diver Sammy Lee disappeared for several days this past April, the … [Read more...]

The Shifting Cultures of Multiracial Boyle Heights


In a critical scene from the 1997 neo-noir "L.A. Confidential," the ambitious and overzealous Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pierce) escorts rape survivor Inez Soto (Marisol Padilla Sanchez) through the tumult of press coverage upon her discharge from the hospital. Soto's testimony proved vital in convicting four black men of murder at the famous Night Owl diner massacre; a case that led to Exley's promotion and subsequent municipal fame. However, in a brief exchange, Soto reveals that while guilty of sexual assault, the four men never stepped foot in the notorious Night Owl. "I don't know what time they left me, I wanted them dead," she tells Exley in a private moment. "Would anyone care that they … [Read more...]

Home on the California Range: Ranch Housing in Postwar America


[Editor's note: This is the second of ToM's two part series on vernacular housing. The first, on the Pre-WWII rise of the bungalow can be found here. This article originally ran on December 3, 2013 under the Intersections column for KCET Departures.] "Machines for living," declared modern architecture's most devout practitioners. 1 Indeed, by the 1950s, modernist impulses -- favoring functionality -- and increasingly popular prefabrication techniques, had transformed the home into a commoditized living space. The accoutrements of mid-century suburbia -- new appliances and technologies -- came to define the home as much as the structure itself. The bohemian "Arts and Craft" aesthetic that … [Read more...]

Bungling Across America: The Bungalow in Southern California and Beyond


[Editor's note: This is part I of ToM's two part series on pre and post WWII  vernacular architecture. For part II, the post WWII rise of the ranch house, see here.  This article originally ran on November 14, 2013 under the Intersections column for KCET Departures.] "This is the thing that strikes the attention of the traveler; not the orchards and the gardens, which are not appreciably different in kind from those of the Riviera and some favored parts of Italy, but the homes, the number of them, their extraordinary adaptability to the purposes of gracious living," gushed Mary Austin in her 1914 work "California: The Land of the Sun." "The Angelenos call them bungalows, in respect to … [Read more...]

The Massive Missed Opportunity

school desegregation

Tanner Colby wants to use history to rethink liberal orthodoxy on questions of race and racism, but his stories so far reproduce as much rotten accepted wisdom as they challenge. Over at Slate, Tanner Colby is celebrating Black History Month with a series titled “The Massive Liberal Failure on Race.” The premise is simple: despite having been “ceded a monopoly on caring about black people” by the Republican right, liberals “hold on to some really bad ideas about race.” As a remedy, Colby prescribes a dose of history, a retelling of the “liberal establishment’s mishandling of this volatile issue” in order to encourage today’s liberals to “purge outdated orthodoxies, admit past mistakes, … [Read more...]


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