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

The Two Sides of Los Angeles                               Daniel Ahn


John D. Weaver was born in Washington D.C. and attended Georgetown University, College of William and Mary, and George Washington University. After college, he worked for the NRA and, two years later, he moved to work for the Kansas City Star. After serving in WWII, he moved to Los Angeles to be a writer. Weaver has written numerous books, short stories, articles, and book reviews. He died in 2002 at the age of 90.



John D. Weaver¡¦s Los Angeles: The Enormous Village (1781-1981) chronicles the growth of one of the largest, most productive cities on Earth which, as Weaver describes, is ¡§the most American of all American cities.¡¨1 Weaver familiarizes the reader with the city using humor, irony, and affection while still presenting an accurate, valuable history of Los Angeles.

The book begins with the native civilizations of the Los Angeles area. The early Angelinos¡Xthe common name for residents of Los Angeles¡Xlived peacefully in the area in brush huts and traded with the inhabitants around them until Don Gasper de Portola led a Mexican expedition north into California in order to set up a mission system. With Spanish settlement, the area evolved into what the natives called the Pueblo. California was completely isolated from the Atlantic; for example, they had no idea George Washington had died until an American ship arrived three years after his death. Because of this isolation, Los Angeles was able to develop into a unique city free of outside influences.  The Pueblo grew and in 1835 was declared a city and a capital for the Mexican territory, but gained an early reputation of being ¡§a den of thieves¡¨ with horrible roads, gloomy houses, drunkards and gamblers.2 Even though the grimy reputation was largely well-earned, the area was prosperous and continued to grow very quickly. The progressive nature of the Angelinos is shown in their early concern with law, city development, capital punishments, and humanitarianism. However, technologically, Angelinos were caught off guard by the transcontinental railroad that was constructed in1869. The Angelinos were still using animal carts. The city, which had been utilizing Native American labor, now saw an upsurge in Chinese immigrants. In 1871, violence exploded when White citizens rioted to ¡§avenge¡¨ the death of a Robert Thompson. Nineteen Chinese were killed and the courts showed obvious racism when all indictments were reversed in appeals. Los Angeles was something of a mystery to Easterners who heard of murderous rioters and fertile land that yielded amazing fruits. The conscious Pueblo tried to reform with new laws to improve life but visitors were still disgusted by the dirty water, shocked by whorehouses, gamecocks, peddlers, mule-teams, farm wagons and a horrible sewage stench.

In 1874, Los Angeles had around 12,000 residents and Colonel Harrison Gray Otis ¡§had taken fancy to Southern California ... (¡¥fattest land I ever was in¡¦).¡¨3 With its astounding growth and rich, fruitful land, the city showed the potential to be a great city. Thanks in large part to Colonel Otis, Los Angeles resisted socialist changes and trade unions and remained an ardent open shop city. However, observers noticed the narrow crooked streets that got muddy in rain, overcrowding, and an overall dullness which the city tried to negate by building a new courthouse, city hall, high school, public library, two theaters, electric street lamps and street railways. By 1886, there were 40,000 inhabitants in a three mile radius, and in 1891, there were 87 miles of paved streets, 78 miles of cement sidewalk and plans for new parks and a better sewage system. In the 1890s, the old culture of the Angelinos was being swept away by the four-story buildings and the Anglo-Saxon street names. Los Angeles was also the direct opposite of its northern counterpart, San Francisco. Whereas San Francisco was liberal, worldly, Catholic, and believed in trade unions, Los Angeles was conservative, provincial, Protestant, and believed in laissez-faire. San Francisco was expected to be the commercial, financial, and industrial center of the American West until Los Angeles decided to begin a 24.5 million dollar river. The aqueduct would be 233 miles with 142 tunnels, needing 5000 workers and a new 120 mile railroad. When it was completed in 1913, the city also annexed the San Fernando Valley to add 280 square miles. From 1900 to 1910, the population of Los Angeles expanded to 319,198 and saw the construction of Pacific Electric¡¦s trolley cars, creating the greatest mass transit system at the time. Industrially, the city became a significant source of oil and movies. Five hundred oil wells set off the ¡§Black Gold Rush¡¨ and even though all but one of the California oil companies had collapsed by 1867, it was still a tremendous source of oil. Los Angeles also became a hotspot for moviemakers. Movies cost about 500-3000 dollars to make and boasted a customer base of about 4,000,000. Eventually, only five companies controlled the movie industry, while the customer base had grown to about 20,000,000. By 1917, movie making became the fifth largest industry. During this time, Los Angeles was known as the most impregnable fortress of pure capitalism and strikers were determined to organize. 9,500 members in 85 unions organized and began to gain ground until a bomb blew up the Times building, killing twenty people. Two strikers were found guilty and were sentenced to prison. The tragedy effectively destroyed the city public¡¦s interest in these trade unions.

Because the Owens Valley aqueduct supplied the city with much needed water, neighboring areas in need of water were eager to be annexed by Los Angeles. In 1900, the city was 43 square miles, but by 1923, it had 391.61 square miles. Real estate was a big part of California¡¦s economy and affected other industries as well. When the real estate market crashed in 1914, 15,000 skilled mechanics left the state, greatly affecting the manufacturing industry and the lives of construction workers. Still, in 1920, the population was 575,480. Social trends also went through changes in the early 1920s: parental authority was greatly decreasing and a husband¡¦s authority was also weakening. The movie industry was a 1.5 million dollar a week industry and the city became a city of celebrities. Newcomers to the city were immediately approached by hustlers who offered to take them on a tour of the city and point out landmarks. The price of land was skyrocketing--in 50 years, the prices rose 164,900%. The city was referred to as ¡§an extreme among [a] nation of extremes.¡¨4 The Aimee McPherson case distracted the city for a while and then in spring of 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris, landing squarely on every headline in L.A. In 1926, Bill Mulholland was in charge of constructing the St. Francis Dam, which doubled the Owens River¡¦s storing capacity. However, on March 12, 1928, the dam collapsed and twelve billion gallons of water killed 400 people. In October of 1929, construction on a $1,500,000 Los Angeles Stock Exchange began and a week later, the stock market crashed.

The stock market crash had a relatively small effect on Los Angeles. In 1920, the city was the tenth largest in the nation with 576,677 people, and by 1930 it was the fifth largest with 1,238,048 people. This growth was largely attributed to the city¡¦s open shop policy; however, the extreme growth also led to a concern for the water supply. The city began another expensive project to get water from the Colorado River, 242 miles to a reservoir and another 150 miles to the city. The incredible population growth also meant that newcomers were always surprised by the amount of diversity, and, as one person put it, the city was like ¡§a dark, crowded section, hot and thick, as full of mysterious ingredients as chili con carne, and as quick to burn.¡¨5 For the 1932 Olympic Games, L.A. constructed a million dollar Coliseum that could seat 105,000. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a yellow signal alarm set off blackouts and Japanese internment. Seventy-two hours after the attack, 316 Japanese, 73 Germans, and 11 Italians were locked in jail. The racism that was also directed at Mexicans was so severe that Hitler¡¦s radio station quoted the Los Angeles sheriff¡¦s office on their description of Mexicans. The law was locking them up based on flimsy evidence. Violent mobs and even the army were attacking them. By 1950, Los Angeles became the third largest city in the world. It was the number one smog city. The Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and won the 1959 World Series giving the city a new life and revitalizing its energy. On August 11, 1965, six days of burning and looting killed 34, wounded 1,032, and saw 3,952 people arrested. Tom Bradley, an African American, becomes mayor of Los Angeles in 1973 and stayed mayor for twenty years, the longest tenure for any Los Angeles mayor. Los Angeles was, and is, a mixture of skyscrapers and hovels, faded elegance and unwanted decay, violence and life.

Weaver strives to show an intimate description of his city from the perspective of an Angelino using ¡§solid research, unfailing perspective and, above all, his humor, irony and affection.¡¨6 To accurately describe the city he knows, Weaver relates national and global events to events in Los Angeles¡¦s history. For example, Weaver notes that in 1900, spectators went to the Tournament of Roses, Boers were in South Africa, Americans in the Philippines, a bicycle cost $35, and people could buy Ajax tablets or French Female Pills. The book chronicles the growth of a small Spanish settlement into one of the largest cities in the world.

John Weaver was an Angelino since 1940 and has seen the city evolve. He believed that the promise of a mass transit system was a very important factor in the outcome of mayoral elections as it was one of the major topics. In fact, Weaver saw transportation in general as a large part of life¡Xeverything from mass transit systems, transcontinental trains, horseless carriages, to ships. He supports capitalism and feels it is superior to socialism in its ability to produce. Through the use of anecdotes, Weaver gives examples of life in Los Angeles, and when he isn¡¦t using anecdotes, he uses statistics to show solid evidence of the city¡¦s growth and evolution. Weaver loves all that is Los Angeles, the good and the bad. For example, he describes the movie makers that moved into the city as ¡§a party of drunken convention delegates¡¨ but he also acknowledges that they ¡§had become as important to the local economy as drilling for oil.¡¨7

The book is often recommended to visitors of the city but some feel that, like most Los Angeles books, the book does not actually tell the story of Los Angeles. John Caughey said that ¡§for strangers it will be an illuminating introduction, to old timers an eye-opener.¡¨8 Newcomers with little experience with Los Angeles see nothing but a strange, quirky city that is loud and complex, but Weaver has effectively drawn a picture of the Los Angeles Angelinos love so dearly. Jack Smith called it ¡§the indispensable book on Los Angeles, set apart from the usual frivolous view of the city.¡¨8 Weaver discusses more of the grimier details of the city like the mob violence, and the ghettos rather than glorifying the glitz, like Hollywood. However, Eric H. Monkkonen of the University of California, Los Angeles, criticizes Weaver¡¦s lack of a ¡§unifying thesis or analytical perspective.¡¨9 Monkkonen notes that Weaver makes points without elaborating on their meaning and neglects to really point out the factors that make Los Angeles different from other cities. He does acknowledge that Weaver includes ¡§anecdotes about local events¡K facts concerning growth and politics¡Kand he conveys a sense of ¡K economic forces important in shaping the city¡¨ but without real analysis, Weaver¡¦s humor, wit, and sarcasm are poor alternatives. 10

The book introduces the reader to Los Angeles very well. By using the current events of the time and its many anecdotes, young readers can better understand the dynamics that make Los Angeles what it is today. Meanwhile, those that have been living in Los Angeles can look back and put everything into perspective. By chronicling the entire history of the city into one concise volume, readers can easily see how events spawned more events and the evolution of the city took place. The book is a neat history of Los Angeles, organized chronologically with descriptive stories of the city¡¦s history. It accurately shows the mood of the time and the importance of all the events that take place. Nuances are effectively covered and their effects on L.A.¡¦s history are connected by strong examples. A reader can feel almost affection for the city after reading Weaver¡¦s carefully written book and his observations are interesting: ¡§ironically, both black Angelinos and¡K Chicanos¡Khave long been segregated¡Kin a city founded by black and brown colonists.¡¨11 The book was written for those with a scholarly interest in Los Angeles.

Even though in its early years, the Pueblo had minimal contact with the Eastern United States, once the New Englanders began immigrating, many aspects of their lives came with them. The first movie makers in L.A. came from the East, and now Los Angeles is the film capital of the world. New Englanders also brought the first slaves into the area, no doubt affecting the development of the city. Also, the transcontinental railroad that started on the eastern seaboard greatly affected the economy of Los Angeles and allowed for a much better transportation system. Unfortunately, outside Americans also brought with them an idea of racial supremacy and social prejudices. The descendents of the early Angelinos were being segregated, hated, and beaten by the ¡§civilized¡¨ white man. New Englanders were also partly responsible for the destruction of the city¡¦s culture. For example, the mayor felt some of the street names would ¡§prove very troublesome to newcomers from the East.¡¨12 However, it must not be forgotten that the Americans propelled the City of Angels into the technological period.

California is considered a very unique place and Los Angeles is considered the extreme among extremes, so there¡¦s no surprise that there are things in Los Angeles distinctive from the rest of the country. The McNamara trial condemned two unionists to prison for the bombing of a building. ¡§For socialism and for organized labor¡¨ the trial was ¡§a most bitter blow.¡¨13 Thanks to this trial, Los Angeles remained ardently apposed to anything other than its open shop system. Los Angeles was also a melting pot of different ethnicities in which whites, blacks, Asians, Mexicans, and Europeans all lived in close contact with each other, sometimes resulting in racial tension that could escalate into violence. The author sees Los Angeles¡¦s importance as the prototype of a super city and its amazing ability to produce. Its skyline is punctured by soaring skyscrapers and the city is technologically advanced. The highway system is an international example of effective means of transportation. The city is a prime example of the necessary ingredients of a great city; however, Los Angeles is also an example of some of the worst aspects of civilized life. Overcrowded ghettos, inadequate water supply, unmanageable trash and sewage, crime are all products of overpopulation. In a more literal sense, Los Angeles is important because of its production. After World War Two, California was responsible for the best source of agriculture, for more fish than Boston, for more furniture than Grand Rapids, was second only to Detroit in automobiles, second to Akron in tires, second to New York in garments, steel, and for more tonnage in ports than San Francisco. Los Angeles is not only an example of the best and a warning of the worst, it is also materialistically important to our country.

Weaver¡¦s book takes all the aspects of the city and combines it into a giant cohesive story that is a combination of different elements, just like the city. Rarely has a book so effectively conveyed the atmosphere of Los Angeles¡Xair filled with ¡§optimism, hopefulness, and courage.¡¨1



1. Weaver, John D. Los Angeles: The Enormous Village (1781-1981). Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1980 9

2. Weaver, John D. 21

3. Weaver, John D. 42

4. Weaver, John D. 94

5. Weaver, John D. 117

6. Smith, Jack. Los Angeles Times. March 1981

7. Weaver, John D. 117

8. Smith, Jack

9. Monkkonen, Eric H., Rev. of Los Angeles: The Enormous Village,1781-1981, by John D. Weaver. Pacific Historical Review May 1982: 213-214

10. Monkkonen, Eric H.

11. Weaver, John D. 184

12. Weaver, John D. 49

13. Weaver, John D. 78

14. Weaver, John D. 197