SERIES – Harry Golden on LA Smog & Sprawl

PART ONE: Excerpted from “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” by Harry Golden, circa 1960. harry_small

“The City of Los Angeles lies in the flat part of a huge saucer. The Indians, who prowled and hunted in this saucer long before the arrival of the white men, called it, “the place of everlasting smoke.” Long after they had broken up their hunting camps, the smoke from their fires would hang over the saucer. Today Los Angeles is enveloped by a smog from the factories which makes the eyes sting and produces a rasping cough. Eventually, however, they will dissipate this smog – as soon as Los Angelenos muster the courage to stand up to the oil and rubber industries which produce it. Right now these industries pay over a hundred million dollars in taxes, but the day is fast coming when the citizens of the city will no longer tolerate this blemish, a hundred million or not.

Because Los Angeles will one day have 25 million people. It is inevitable. Even now it is the phenomenon of mid-twentieth-century America. It has been described as two hundred suburbs in search of a city, but this is only because Los Angeles is the new frontier. The reason writers have not made literature out of this fantastic city is that they associate the frontier with the wide-open spaces, Tonto, and the six-shooter. They have not yet realized that there is an urban frontier, too. Los Angeles in 1960 is the perfect symbol of the urbanization of our civilization.”

THOUGHTS: Unfortunately, even though we did fight to get those World War II era factories to stop pumping smoke into the air… we still live in a smoke crater with some big ozone issues. But as far as the quality of air particulates we’re breathing, the people of Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti, Birmingham and Detroit have it worse than we do. So do the people of Fresno and Bakersfield, for that matter. Truth is, the air quality in Los Angeles today is actually significantly better than it was in the 1960s. And thank God, our population is nowhere near 25 million people yet! I cringe at the thought.

People around America *still* love to use that “suburbs in search of a city” quote about L.A. Fact is, the phrase was originally coined by Dorothy Parker – but she said Los Angeles was only 72 suburbs in search of a city. (We’ve grown since then.) As any local knows… it doesn’t even seem a reasonable goal to reduce the vastness of what Los Angeles offers down to something that fits the stereotype of a single-minded metropolis, though. Rather, Los Angeles often feels more like a small world with many different countries nested inside of it. There are a variety of independent heartbeats here… not just one. Many of us love that about it, but in some ways, perhaps that’s our problem. That vastness is what makes Los Angeles still seem like a barbaric, untamable frontier to people from more easily digested and categorized places, which in turn makes it a far cry from a “perfect symbol of urbanization of civilization.” By sheer size, it seems too overwhelming to be palatable. Such opinions probably won’t be changing any time soon, but a few more Dorothy Parker quotes come to mind: I don’t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn’t trueand “I shall stay the way I am because I do not give a damn.” :)

Coming Soon… PART TWO: Harry Golden on LA’s Heritage Clubs

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One Response to “SERIES – Harry Golden on LA Smog & Sprawl”

  1. Mad_Science says:

    Odd that he’d refer to LA as a frontier of urbanization.

    I’m no LA historian, but post-war LA was more of a frontier of suburbanization (suburban sprawl, really). It was built around the idea that we could all live in suburban subdivisions with large green lawns and take our cars on superhighways to wherever we needed to work.

    Why build a skyscraper when there’s some farmer’s orange grove that you can buy for half the cost?

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