Housing, Homeless, and Freeways: Kicking Off SACRPH 2015 with a History of L.A. Social Justice

When you look up the word "plenary," the dictionary provides the following definition: “(of a meeting) to be attended by all participants at a conference or assembly, who otherwise meet in smaller groups.” Plenaries when scheduled at the beginning of a conference are meant to set the tone, and the opening session at this year’s Society of American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH), “Social Justice through a Historical Lens,” did just that. In a nation that has just witnessed protests at the University of Missouri that led to the resignation of the school’s president and the Ferguson uprising of 2014 that helped spark the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the plenary provided a loose … [Read more...]

The Valley Paradox: Gentlemen Farming and Immigrant Labor in the Creation of San Fernando Valley

Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" remains perhaps the quintessential neo-noir. Set in the 1930s, the movie depicts Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs awash in property disputes, farmer unrest, and water battles, overseen by a shadowy municipal structure that appears rotten from corruption. The movie's fictionalization of early California's land use fights and water disputes remind viewers of the geographical and economic diversity of Los Angeles County. Urban, suburban, and rural all at once, today's suburban icons -- Orange County and San Fernando Valley -- remained largely rural in these early decades, and though envisioned as predominantly white enclaves, each displayed greater human … [Read more...]

From Bus Riders Union to Bus Rapid Transit: Race, Class, and Transit Infrastructure in Los Angeles

In episode four of the much maligned season two of True Detective, writer Nic Pizzolatto made an odd reference to one of Los Angeles' more notable moments of transit conflict. As a bevy of cops and the doomed trio of detectives walked into a hail of gunfire and official cover up, behind them dozens of Angelenos picketed city transit service reminiscent of the Bus Riders Union in the early 1990s.  Judging from the demonstration the issues aggrieving ridership remained much the same: overcrowded buses, poor service, and a failure to serve working Angelenos.  When nearly all the protesters end up dead as the nearby police raid  goes so very wrong, one … [Read more...]

Who Were the Monte Boys?

“Law And Order Monte Boys Style” is the title of a chapter in one of the more recent histories of El Monte. Those six words capture the popular stories associated with the men of the nineteenth-century township. Any written history of Los Angeles County has to at least mention the Monte boys. Their involvement with “the repression of crime” is characterized variously as the work of righteous citizens, frontier-savvy former Texas Rangers, or all-too-eager vigilantes. From the 1850s through the 1870s and perhaps beyond, if there were bandits to be caught, murderers to be punished, or horse thieves to be hanged in the county, the men from Monte seemed always to be on the scene. Their … [Read more...]

The Light Rail Conundrum from Los Angeles to Atlanta: LRT in the 21st Century

In a recent study examining the efficacy of light rail (LRT) and modern bus rapid transit (BRT), University of Sydney transit experts David Hensher and Corinne Mulley concluded that the preference for light rail over BRT and other bus systems rested on an ideological preference more than actual service. “The main point is that the enthusiasm (almost blind commitment) for LRT has caused many to overlook the potential for more cost-effective bus-based systems and even simpler improvements to bus services that do not require dedicated right of way,” the two researchers noted. Hensher later told CityLab writer Eric Jaffe, apparently paraphrasing a former Mayor Los Angeles, to the public “buses … [Read more...]

Educating Compton: Race, Taxes, and Schools in Southern California’s Most Notorious Suburb

[For more on Compton and its complex demographic change see an earlier ToM piece, "Compton as the Bellwether for Urban America"] "I want [my children] to have more success in life," Ismenia Guzman told an L.A. Weekly journalist in 2010. "I want to change the cycle ... I want them to have more than I have," Guzman, mother of two, one a first grader at Compton's McKinley Elementary and the other a student attending Watts Charter High School, succinctly summarized the goals of Parent Revolution as it attempted to reform Compton's troubled grade school. 1 Parent Revolution, a product of the Los Angeles Parents Union, organized disgruntled Compton parents frustrated over McKinley's poor … [Read more...]

The Gonzo Vision of Lana Del Rey

I do not know for a fact that Lizzy Grant, the canny songwriter behind Lana Del Rey, secretly earned an American Studies degree at SUNY-Geneseo, but all the evidence points in that direction. Lana Del Rey is, of course, the pop ventriloquist act who burst onto the scene in 2012—a ginger-haired gun moll with big hoop earrings, a moody disposition, and a lavish taste for 1960s torch-song atmospherics. Del Rey is a character invented by Grant: a full package of image, attitude, and sound that results in a familiar yet singular image. Indeed, her brand is that of the femme fatale in its most frankly Platonic form. Grant’s bio reads like an uptown-downtown hipster inversion of Jack … [Read more...]

¡La Lucha Continua! Gloria Arellanes and the Making of a Chicano Movement in El Monte and Beyond

“So we moved here to El Monte, and I remember all the neighbors were white,” recalled Gloria Arellanes in a 2011 interview conducted by the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.[1] “Eventually white flight came about and they started moving out to the Covina area, San Bernardino area.” This was extremely different from East Los Angeles, where she was born in 1941. Growing up in El Monte was not easy, she explained. Unlike East Los Angeles, where ethnic solidarity and family had sheltered her, in El Monte, discrimination and racism were omnipresent. It was not uncommon for her to hear disparaging comments about Mexicans: “that we were lazy…We’re dirty. In those days…[Y]ou couldn’t … [Read more...]

Pain and Pride: Five Rapid-Fire Reflections on a Big Weekend of “History in Action”

(This post is part of our ongoing attempt to “live-blog” our participation in community-based history in South El Monte and El Monte. For an overview of this effort, click here, and for our first dispatch, click here). If you’re still feeling it on Wednesday morning, it was probably a heckuva weekend. I’m sitting in the El Monte Public Library, where I’m only just beginning to process the whirlwind of community history that took place here and in South El Monte on Saturday and Sunday. The weekend consisted of two events organized by the South El Monte Arts Posse (SEMAP): “City of Achievement,” which focused on the city of South El Monte and was hosted by the city’s Senior Center, and … [Read more...]

Live-Blogging Public History, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collaboration

Hey, internet! We’re Daniel Morales and Nick Juravich, a pair of grad students in history from Columbia University who have just landed in South El Monte and El Monte for two weeks, and while we’re happy to escape the freezing Northeast, that’s not why we’re here. We’ve come under the auspices of the South El Monte Arts Posse, an interdisciplinary arts collective founded by our friends. In their hometowns of South El Monte and El Monte, they’ve launched an award-winning community-based history and archiving project called “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and ElMonte.” Faithful readers of ToM will be familiar with East of East, but for those who aren’t, a brief … [Read more...]