California Studies Association

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Selling Southern California to Anglos: an Article and a New Book

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The topic of how, beginning in the 1870s and 1880s, southern California was marketed to Anglo immigrants has been treated in a recent article and a new book.

The article, “Not just a Golden State: Three Anglo ‘Rushes’ in the Making of Southern California, 1880-1920,” by Glen Gendzel, assistant professor of history at San José State University, appears in the current (Winter 2008-09, Vol. 90, No. 4) issue of Southern California Quarterly, published by the Historical Society of Southern California.

The book is Paradise Promoted: the Booster Campaign that Created Los Angeles, 1870-1930, by Tom Zimmerman, published by Angel City Press of Santa Monica (2008).

In his article, Prof. Gendzel makes the point that while the Gold Rush in northern California is typically viewed as California’s “foundational event,” southern California was settled by well-to-do Anglo immigrants who came in three “rushes” of their own: the “health rush,” the “land rush,” and the “orange rush.”  These booms were not only bigger than the Gold Rush, but they also resulted in the the south becoming the larger population center, with important impacts on culture and demographics as well.

Tom Zimmerman has based his lavishly illustrated book in large part on his own collection of ephemera from the era of boosterism, starting in 1870.  While the book, as its publishers say, may be a “must for every Southern California-lover’s coffee table,” Mr. Zimmerman has also written an extensive text (and helpfully explanatory captions for the illustrations) in which he describes not only the history of but also the techniques used in the various promotional campaigns that actualized the three “rushes” identified by Prof. Gendzel.  By extending the scope of his book through the 1920s, Mr. Zimmerman also identified a fourth rush, namely one focusing on industry, or, rather, “clean industry,” as promoted by the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.  Mr. Zimmerman also carries his narrative into the 1930s, when the Depression caused the local establishment to stop recruiting immigrants and led to the rise of labor and other social movements.

The only quibble I might raise about both the article and the book, is that neither mentions the impact of the oil industry in the region during the era studied.  Southern California was, after all, one of the world’s largest producers of oil in the early 20th century.  I suspect that the roughneck image of the oil industry does not jibe well with Prof. Gendzel’s argument about the impact of genteel, middle-class immigration, nor the promotion of clean industry that Mr. Zimmerman describes.

But having said that, both works are informative, and in the case of Mr. Zimmerman’s book, the pictures really are worth putting on a coffee table.

I also want to mention that I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Mr. Zimmerman on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, sponsored by the Santa Monica Conservancy.

–Frank Gruber

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