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S U N SH IN E

OR

NOIR?

(later General) Harrison Gray Otis, was so impressed that he appointed Lummis city editor. When Otis greeted the footsore Lummis, Los Angeles was just a backcountry town (the 187th largest in the 1880 Census) tributary to imperial San Francisco, with little water or capital, and no coal or port. Wrhen Otis died thirty-five years later, Los Angeles was the biggest city in the West, approaching a million inhabitants, with an artificial river tapped from the Sierras, a federally subsidized harbor, an oil bonanza, and block after block of skyscrapers under construction. Unlike other American cities that maximized their comparative advantages as crossroads, capitals, seaports, or manufacturing centers, Los Angeles was first and above all the creature of real-estate capitalism: the culminating speculation, in fact, of the generations of boosters and promoters who had subdivided and sold the West from the Cumberland Gap to the Pacific. The first boom occurred a few years after Lummis’s arrival and brought one hundred thousand fortune- and health-seekers to Los Angeles County. After the collapse of this railroad-engineered land rush, Colonel Otis representing the toughest of the new settlers - took command of the city’s business organizations on behalf of panic-stricken speculators. To revive the boom, and to launch a reckless competition with San Francisco (the most unionized city in the world), he militarized industrial relations in Los Angeles. Existing unions were locked out, picketing was virtually outlawed, and dissidents were terrorized. With sunshine and the open shop as their main assets, and allied with the great transcontinental railroads (the region’s largest landowners), a syndicate of developers, bankers and transport magnates led by Otis and his son-in-law, Harry Chandler, set out to sell Los Angeles - as no city had ever been sold - to the restless but affluent babbitry of the Middle West. For more than a quarter century, an unprecedented mass migration of retired farmers, small-town dentists, wealthy spinsters, tubercular schoolteachers, petty stock speculators, Iowa lawyers, and devotees of the Chautauqua circuit transferred their savings and small fortunes into Southern California real estate. This massive flow of wealth between regions produced population, income and consumption structures seemingly out of all proportion to Los Angeles’s actual production base: the paradox of the first ‘postindustriaP city in its preindustrial guise.

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