Thursday, March 31, 2011

El Pueblo La Reina de los Angeles

Los Angeles A-Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County. / Leonard Pitt and Dale Pitt. University of California Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0520-20530-7. 605 p. illustrations, maps, bibliography, tables, appendices pages 573-598.

What would a great city like L.A. do without adoring fans? If Facebook shows any indication, the city’s page there boasts over 4 hundred thousand “likes”… How many of those virtual visitors can claim to know that the area, according to the authors, has a 10,000-plus-year history? It’s the details found in the book’s almost 2000 entries that give visitors an edge when it comes to fascinating facts.

Los Angeles today reveals a history of commerce and industry. Looking closely at its neighborhoods you’ll get a sense of what mattered most to the people who’ve structured the physical place, the architecture, freeways, towns and municipalities. And from its multi-layered culture, see who influenced realistic and romantic notions of this western city.

In Los Angeles A-Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County, the authors organized and compiled data alphabetically around general topics, specific topics and biographies. The book offers brief and concise treatment of subject matter for both the city and the county named Los Angeles. Summaries, though dense with specificity and proper names, give an introduction and the terms as seed for more research, either online or in printed publications.

One way to benefit from the alphabetical format of the book is to look for general topics: see “adobe”, “Africans”, “aerospace industry”, and “archives” for instance. Entries for “ethnic groups” show specific detail such as populations in cities around Los Angeles, its demographics and U.S. Census data, previously published data from the Los Angeles Times and other publications. Even the word “growth” is included as an entry, after “grocery industry” and before “Gruen, Victor…” (architect). The encyclopedia is populated with biographies of authors, bandits, builders, mayors, publishers and many more who’ve affected popular impressions of the city. It indexes topics that have been the subject of newspaper articles for several decades in the later 20th century. Most entries are names of places, persons, animals, plants, objects, land forms, concepts and terms indicative specifically of this city. Referencing a general topic like “architecture” does not produce a list of styles but is attenuated to a chronological architecture in sections, significant of political change. These began around the time of the city’s incorporation and continue to the present: from 1781 until 1848, from 1848 to 1900, from 1900 to 1945, and since 1945. Something I didn’t know is that “Dingbat style” is a term coined by an architect while a professor at UCLA to describe a typical, although abbreviated, apartment architectural style.

The authors’ choice of illustrations, photographs, maps and tables accompany some of the entries so that most pages provide visual information. To that end thematically there is a preponderance of portraits from the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century. This lends a historical, perhaps even romantic quality to the encyclopedia, befitting to the popularly held sense of the place that began as a Spanish pueblo, became “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula”, (see Wikipedia) and now known simply as L. A.

Los Angeles may be quantified in tables and characterized in illustrations, but the synthesis of data and factual information available in this encyclopedia provides a uniquely detailed view. The Appendix features a chronology almost yearly from 1781 to 1996, incorporation dates for cites and unincorporated areas of the County, and 1990 census data for each named city or area in Los Angeles County. Although the data is now 20 years old, general trends are apparent from the information. In the ensuing passage of time between the book’s publication date and now, changes have occurred especially for associations and organizations that have expanded, or no longer exist. The authors’ choice of entries might also be appended should a second edition be published. Otherwise, the book remains one reference point of access to the City of Angels.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Sea Wolf Navigates Print, Film

Jack London, published by L C Page and Company Boston 1903; available at

Jack London's SNARK, and the filming of his story, The Sea Wolf, were featured in The Compass Rose article by Bill Olesen.

Jack London and Southern California
The Sea Wolf

The termination in Australia of a proposed world cruise aboard the SNARK seems to have ended Jack’s ocean yachting ambitions. At the same time, the need for recouping health and fortunes probably filled the vacancy created by that disappointment.

A professed socialist who appeared to believe that money was designed to circulate freely, London was often pressed for cash even during those years of his greatest affluence. Consequently, having spent much of his literary earnings on philanthropy and the expensive projects of building the SNARK and his Wolf House at Glen Ellen, the possibility of a new and hitherto untapped source of revenue had definite appeal.

In 1902, The Electric Theater was the first motion picture house to be opened in Los Angeles. No doubt the same happened in other cities at that time, but for Los Angeles it could be called prophetic. The first “movies” were produced on Long Island, N.Y., but the climatic advantages for outdoor filming in southern California soon became apparent, and the industry began to move in.

Two old sailing vessels, the barkentine FREMONT (1850) and the barque ALDEN BESSE (1871), lying in San Pedro, were the original seagoing props for movie-making when needed. Studios sprang up wherever a warehouse or similar structure of sufficient size could be found, apparently anywhere between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

The motion picture industry gained momentum rapidly, and by 1911 production companies were actively seeking the film rights to published works which were usited to their needs. Overtures to Jack London for such rights apparently were initiated in 1911 by Sydney Ayres, representing various principals at various times. Tentative agreements and assorted proposals along with failure to meet the deadline on production dates resulted in cancellation of contracts, and consumed much time. Consequently, it was not until July of 1913 that Jack and Charmian arrived in Los Angeles by train with the object of formalizing a firm contract.

Due to the previous negotiations referred to herein, it was inevitable that litigation would ensue, and not exactly to the advantage of London. At this stage, Frank A. Garbutt, a wealthy and successful Los Angeles businessman, elected to enter the motion picture field and swiftly concluded a deal with London to produce The Sea Wolf.

Garbutt proceeded to negotiate a settlement with the litigants and promptly hired Hobart Bosworth to produce the film. Bosworth displayed unusual ability by managing the entire operation, including direction and starring as Capt. Wolf Larson of the schooner GHOST.

The film, which ran to seven reels and a record for those days, was made for a production cost of $9,000. Released by the Bosworth Co., the thunder was stolen somewhat by the simultaneous release of a half-length version made by the original contractor, but the superiority of the Bosworth film overcame this disappointing incident. The result was a successful, super-colossal epic for the silver-screen, and the firm establishment of another irrefutable link between Jack London and Southern California.
-- Bill Olesen
"Jack London and Southern California", an article by long-time Museum volunteer Bill Olesen was presented on the front cover of the Autumn 1991 issue of The Compass Rose, a newsletter of the Friends of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, published between 1981 and 1996.

Explanation of terms used:
Compass Rose:

A term used in navigation, it refers to “1… a circle divided into 32 points or 360 degrees numbered clockwise from true or magnetic north, printed on a chart… as a means of determining the course of a vessel or aircraft. 2. a similar design, often ornamented, used on maps to indicate the points of a compass” … from p. 300 of the 1966 edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

Writer Jack London's yacht, SNARK, was a schooner, a "vessel rigged with fore and aft sails on two or more masts" (from the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, second edition, 2005, p. 495. Though SNARK did not return to California following a voyage to Australia in 1907, it remained the object of romantic inquiry in literary and maritime history for many years. This week's post features a selection from Bill Olesen's article.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See books in collection in our online catalog.

More new book titles in the Library can be viewed in the Library at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum or online at
New books and pamphlet this month!