A 1930s WPA guide to California – Pasadena Star News
Even Herbert Hoover voters – there are very few on the left – and their descendants admire the creations of the WPA in a time of depression. Progress Management took New Deal dough and employed millions of non-working Americans who built 620,000 miles of road, about 10,000 bridges, electricity, and Tennessee Valley Authority flood control in the 1930s – and, locally, the magnificent Griffith Observatory. .
We remember less Federal Project Number One, which employed tens of thousands of unemployed writers, artists, actors and musicians. Orson Welles, John Houseman and Burt Lancaster started there.
I did it recently – thanks, Pfizer! – to meet my father and his wife in Claremont for the first time in ages, and so we got a Christmas present in the spring: The WPA Guide to the Golden State, a creation of the Federal Writers Program in the 1930s which was surprisingly reprinted by the University of California Press a few years ago with a new introduction by Pasadenan David Kipen, founder of the Libros Schmibros bookstore and lending library in East LA
It turns out that the American Driver Series of which he was a part produced volumes in every state, and it was an extremely popular read nine decades ago, which sold out. Their authors had a lot of time on their hands, and the books were amazingly thorough. Because California is bigger and better than anywhere else, our book is 713 pages long and I’m glad we’re getting to every turn.
These are practical guides – “It is not allowed to collect wild flowers at any time” in our state and while “there are rattlesnakes”, “they are not numerous. Μαύ Black widow spiders are rare. My friend never saw my garage.
Most of the writers mentioned as writers are unknown to me. two became famous: Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth and pioneer musician Harry Parts.
Kipen’s introduction goes to a central event in California life, in the 1930s as it is now: North and South can be like Hatfields and McCoys, uniting under one California banner only if they encounter a real stranger. And he notes that the driver gives “to every corner of the state without the moment”, even if it is only to mention the speed traps of the local police.
Pasadena, a relatively large city in California, gets its own entrance, and the anonymous author was certainly a kind of poet: foliage, and winding roads with flowers. New Year’s Day “young girls who are chosen for their beauty are taken to the streets in elaborate designs, where they sit and fill the crowds with flowers. Citizens forget their dignity to take part in a flower battle. “
San Francisco: “Born from the meeting of captains and gold diggers, it pours over its many hills – three times the seven of Rome”, although the author is nostalgic for a time when the city was not “drowned under a flood of lights” neon. But: “It is still a gay city, polite and dignified, because its gay always wore a silk hat.” Indeed.
Los Angeles: “Known to the ends of the earth as a Hollywood mother, the dazzling daughter who was still sheltered under the family roof has other privileges for fame and fortune.… For some it is a slightly unrealistic setting, an elaborate craft in a movie as they take a first look at the new white buildings shining in the sun between the cobalt sea and the purple hills. To others, “an avenue to walk and see and be seen by the great and the near, a paradise for the autograph collector and the hunter of social lions.”
The same as never.
Larry Wilson is a member of the editorial board of the South California News Group. [email protected]