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¡§When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

From National Underdog to National Leader     Nam Le


Kevin Starr is an American historian, best known for his ¡§California¡¨ series which chronicles different time periods of the state. A graduate from Harvard University, Starr works as both a writer and traveling lecturer, primarily speaking at various UC campuses. Serving a two-year stint in West-Germany for the United States Army, Starr holds the rank of lieutenant. In the ten years between 1994 and 2004, Starr worked as the California State Librarian. Consequential to his accurate historical recitations, Starr was recently awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2006



In his book, The Dream Endures, Kevin Starr writes about California at the turn of the 19th century. He writes of the social, cultural, and economic changes in Californian cities¡Xand California as a whole¡Xexperienced. As a whole, California ultimately, ¡§achieved a direct connection with the best possibilities of themselves and the society they were seeking to create.¡¨1 Throughout the book, Starr concerns himself primarily with the intersection of social and imaginative experiences, both public and private.

In the early twentieth century, an atmosphere of calm and relaxation permeated California. Californians pursued entertainment and recreation outdoors as opposed to museums. The ¡§Golden State: brought in a large portion of its revenue from internal and external tourism. This was a direct consequence of the rise of the middle class, whose progressive spending, ¡§had discovered its first premise¡Kin the automobile.¡¨2 With the availability the Pacific Ocean, the beach became a source of recreation along the coast of Southern California. As such, various developers and companies began erecting luscious beach resorts. However, California was not only known for its numerous resorts, beaches, and sunshine. In Northern California, college-based towns were established. Despite this fact, other towns and cities started off as art towns: for example, Herbert Bolton established a library of art. The University of California Berkeley soon gained prominence as Professor Oppenheimer helped establish the school as a top competitor in theoretical physics. As a city, Berkeley depended upon the university for its ambience and personal identity. Northern California was also active in athletics as well, going beyond to even establish various sports as national pastimes. Though today football is a national pastime and sport, it was incidentally a match in California that made it so. Academic and athletic rivals, Stanford University and University of California Berkeley engaged each other in a highly anticipated, publicized, and nationally followed game; it was because of this game that California, and consequently America, accepted football as its national sport. California subsequently spawn various organizations focused on environmental issues. Artists from all over congregated in California, with such painters as William Keith embracing the vast openness of the state and paint the scenic landscape of Northern California. Artist colonies developed in the 1930s, many of which remained isolated and apart from the rest of society. One of these colonies, Carmel-By-The-Sea, was a flourishing colony of isolationist artists that emerged in the 1930s. These artists preferred isolation and quaint simplicity, a lifestyle that California¡¦s vastness allowed. Also, while the rest of the nation rushed to modernize and industrialize, California¡¦s unsettled territories allowed for the aged customs of ranching a continued existence. Astronomical development and study also took flight in California during the early 1900s, especially in, Pasadena. Initially agricultural, Pasadena became the center of science and humane learning, ultimately establishing the California Institute of Tech and the Huntington Library. It was at the California Institute of Tech that Albert Einstein was able to test and verify his own theories with the help of Pasadena-based scientists.

            In 1931, San Diego prospered despite the Depression. A sea-based city, San Diego was an objective of the United States Navy, who worked to build and develop a naval base there, ¡§pumping millions of dollars into construction projects.¡¨3 To this request the city agreed, joining the network of naval ports as a matter of economic security and policy. Within the San Diegan area, Alonzo Horton began establishing different settlements in hopes of promoting more migration into the area; he achieved this goal, as thousands of people began settling in the San Diego area. With the influx of new comers, San Diego consequently developed a network of tourist-greeting hotels, most notably the Hotel del Coronado. Culture also shaped the San Diego experience; the city established itself as a place of beach-recreation and relaxation. For example, the Kneipp Sanitarium offered spa treatments for all those who required it. Spiritualism was also rich and active within the, which had a vast establishment of churches and religious communities. However religious, San Diego was also rich in education¡Xsporting an established public system¡Xalong with art academics, theatres, and communities. A notable art community was the Theosophical Community, a center for serious artistic pursuit. Between 1900 and 1920, numerous debates were held over how San Diego should develop as a city, some preferring a more urban environment why others preferred a more suburban and progressive feel. This is evident in the Mayoral Elections of 1913 and 1917, with George Marston wanting to implement Progressive programs while Louis Wilde calling for a Los Angeles plan. Though Wilde is elected, he consequently receives little success in his two terms as mayor. As in the north, environmental awareness existed in San Diego, with the city granting the Balboa Park a generous donation of trees and shrubs. From this, the Park Improvement Committee was established while environmentalist Kate Sessions instituting an annual Arbor Day celebration. Now in San Francisco, the city¡¦s leader¡XMayor Rolph¡Xwas a progressive follower that reformed the city and implemented many systems of public works. Under his leadership, San Francisco became a profitable and notable market and manufacturing center, ultimately acting as an important center for commercial exchange for Chicago and Hong Kong. So active and strong was the San Franciscan economy that companies were even able to flourish during and throughout the Depression, a rare thing during that time period. A progressive city, San Francisco was active in personal reform and the institution of public works¡Xheaded by the WPA. As such, San Francisco also hosted a strong public education system, as well as an active and diverse religious scene. The two prominent religions of the city was strict Judaism and Roman Catholicism; surprisingly, practitioners of either religions¡Xin their respective communities¡Xwere able to coexist peacefully, a sure sign of San Francisco¡¦s religious tolerance and liberalism. However, San Francisco also had a prominent nightlife, with restraints, bars, and nightclubs being established; consequential of this was an increase in prostitution and crime. With the rise of San Franciscan nightlife, the city also had a rising number of both district attorneys and writers and columnists. As such the writing community boomed, with the city offering a western commune for eastern-based writers. Artists and musicians of stature also had a special place in pre-war San Francisco, having available to them an active community of music and art thanks to active commissioners. By the end of the 1930s, San Francisco remained on the forefront of banking, manufacturing, foreign trade, art, and culture. In the south, LA hosted elements of both an urban city and suburban layout. Though Chinatown was essentially nonexistent in LA, a large Japanese population congregated within the city, establishing Little Tokyo, the largest overseas population of Japanese. Contrary to San Francisco, LA was hit enormously hard by the Depression; as such homelessness plagued the city while soup kitchens were prominent. The Depression caused the LA to become extremely liberal and Democratic, open to reform and progressivism. In spite of this, the Hollywood business district began expanding outwards, working steadily to restore the city back to its previous status. Like the Chinese had been in San Francisco, Mexicans, Blacks, and Asians were restricted to certain districts, with the Mexicans being subjected to repatriation and removal from county relief rolls. With the establishment of ethnic districts and racial discrimination, blue collar and lower middle class communities were established, most notably South Central LA. In these communities ethnic minorities were subjected to poor conditions and faced little hope of economic mobility. Throughout the nation, race riots, mob killings, and job discrimination brought an influx if blacks venturing to LA in hopes of ownership and freedom. However these hopes were unfortunately farfetched, as the black newcomers were still excluded from jobs. Consequently, LA became a breeding ground for criminals and individuals desperate to earn some money; this in turn lead to a perfect environment for lawyers and public defense attorneys.

            Throughout the early decades of the 20th century, photography achieved a special intensity in California. Carleton Watkins, a photographer, achieved an epic level of perception and presentation that fixed photography as the premier art from of the coast. Between the 1920s and 30s, photographers Edward Weston and Ansel Adams renewed photography in California by capturing fleeting milliseconds of perception in a portfolio of images that could preserve images. In 1932, there was a gathering of photographers in the Bay Area, all of who sought to liberate photography from standard and past styles; the photographers who gathered here became known as the Berkeley Circle, or Group f/64. They introduced the idea that photography should have no idea except the idea of itself. Watkins brought photography to the mainstream, capturing images of the Guadalupe Quicksilver Mine and Yosemite, as well as documenting the rise of the nineteenth century San Francisco. Ansel Adams, a native San Franciscan and environmental supporter, developed the notion that visualization involved the full and complete integration of the photographer, the object photographed environmental conditions, and the photographer¡¦s visualization of a print he wished to see, together wit his emotional response. Adams captured stunning images of Yosemite and the High Sierras, and ultimately acted as the spokesman for Group f/64. Numerous photo books, such as Seeing California with Edward Weston and California and the West, proved that the Golden state had a sort of heroic simplicity within its landscape. In the 1920s, Post-Impressionism exploded upon the art scene, providing the public with mystical views of nature and landscape. Watercolorists also became prominent, connecting with people, architecture, and urban settings. Now supported by federal programs, Mexican muralists recounted the history of the state with a Mexican accent while sculptures flourished indoors and out. With the art revolution at hand, a new Californian image was being formed, with many artists being influenced by foreign styles. In the 1930s, Hollywood was full of achievement, so ¡§many great films [being] produced in rapid sucession;¡¨ it was the putting out of these movies that helped the public distract itself from the throes of Depression.4

            Literary fiction thrived in California due to its lack of historical association. Writers felt dropped into a void that deconstructed more elaborate modes of language. In the 1930s, California fiction was noticeably dissenting and radical from the traditional writing methods, which were generally ¡§novels of sociological sweet and grandeur.¡¨5 Now with the coming of war, disturbed Californians found themselves unwilling to set aside the value of personal ethics and human culture. Former president Hoover sought to archive WWI and its aftermath to avoid another war through a better understanding of culture. With the initiation of WWII, whole generations of artists and intellectuals sought refuge in metropolitan Southern California, which fueled europeanization of Hollywood. German and French communities consequently formed, themselves producing immensely skilled contributors to society. These new immigrants brought to Southern California creativity, rituals, and protocols of daily life.

            In The Dream Endures, Kevin Starr essentially claims that from the beginning of the 20th century, California has acted as the leader of reform and change, influencing everything from architecture to art and culture. With every chapter, Starr writes of how the entire nation was influenced by everything in California, emulating trends and looking to the state as an example; such as the Stanford v. Berkeley football game, which ¡§signaled the coming of age of a football culture.¡¨6 He cites the reason for California¡¦s immense influence as its relative newness and inexperience as a state, consequently acting as a meeting place for all others from different states. This position of his is evenly supported and validated, through concrete examples

            Starr looks at each newly important place where Californians lived out this relaxed lifestyle, from Los Angeles, to the Bay Area. He evenly covers the emergence of rich urban life in each aforementioned area, chronicling everything, from economics to religious emergence. As for historiography, Starr writes from a New Left point of view. This is because he brings up the causes for inner-city crime within California, citing the inherent segregation of communities and mistreatment of minorities as the reason for slums. He writes of how ¡§with race riots, lynchings, and the rise of the KKK¡KAfrican Americans found themselves exlcluded from...jobs.¡¨8 This provides a reason from the rampant crime that followed, along with the rise of ghettos and slums.

            Starr proves himself an adept historian and storyteller, garnering the praise of reviewer Ann Parker, who says that, ¡§Starr¡¦s explanation of artistic, literary, musical, and architectural trends¡Kgives a thorough but easily readable portrait.¡¨9 From this, the reviewer paints the book as once being very accessible and easily read. In another article, Kirkus Reviews writes of how Starr provides ¡§a panoramic account of the Golden State during the turning-point years before America's entry into WW I.¡¨10 From this, the reader derives the notion that in his book, Starr touches upon every aspect of the Californian spectrum, from the broadest of topics to unknown characters.

            The book is an excellent example of the social and cultural history of California at the turn of the last century. The fact that Starr allows for the viewing of the stirrings of uniqueness in the social and cultural evolution of California allows the reader to emerge themselves within the ¡§Golden State¡¦s¡¨ essence. As his purpose is the accentuate California¡¦s nation-wide impact, Starr writes of how, ¡§The Depression¡Kwas a mass experience, and it required a mass medium, film, though which to¡Kassuage the fars and release the [nation¡¦s] anxieties,¡¨ which ultimately shows how California-established foundations reached out to the rest of the nation.11 All the book¡¦s thirteen chapters are evenly developed and written, which consequently gives the reader a sense of balance and continuity.

            In the first forty years of the 1900s, the things that occurred in California were distinctive and different from everything else because as a state, California had only just begun establishing itself. Prior to the twentieth century, California had only be known for the Gold Rush. However at the turn of the century, cities such as San Diego began further developments while Hollywood found itself at the forefront of entertainment and media. Also, California as a whole experienced an influx of immigrants from every part of the world who ¡§brought with them¡Ktheir creativity.¡¨12 Consequently taking influences from these people in both architecture and arts.

            Starr believes California to be important to the rest of the country that California stood as the nation¡¦s example for dress, architecture, media, and architecture. This idea is reflected with the emergence of Hollywood as a national influence, sustaining, ¡§powerful and direct contact its audience [to] play¡Ka significant role in the subliminal and public life of the nation¡¨13  With every movie it produced, Hollywood captured and mesmerized the entire nation, in turn controlling what style of media was shown.

          Throughout the book, Kevin Starr continuously proves himself a skilled writer, historian, and storyteller. Coupling concrete facts with interesting stories of notable individuals researched, ¡§in the California History Room of the California State Library¡K[to the] Central Library of Los Angeles Public,¡¨ Starr is able to maintain a consistent and engaging narration.14 By evenly analyzing the various aspects of each region, Starr creates a sense of continuity and easy progression within the reader¡¦s mind.



1. Starr, Kevin. The Dream Endures. 2. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

2. Starr, Kevin, 45.

3. Starr, Kevin, 4.

4. Starr, Kevin, 91.

5. Starr, Kevin, 244.

6. Starr, Kevin, 285.

7. Starr, Kevin, 36.

8. Starr, Kevin, 178.

9. Parker, Ann. 1. Sacramento: Reed Business Information, Inc, 1997.

10. Reviews, Kirkus. 1. United States: United States Kirkus Associates, 1997.

11. Starr, Kevin, 245.

12. Starr, Kevin, 396.

13. Starr, Kevin, 244.

14. Starr, Kevin, 429.