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.

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