A 1930s WPA guide to California – Pasadena Star News

Even Herbert Hoover voters – there are only a few left – and their descendants are amazed at the creations of the WPA from the time of the Depression. The Works Progress Administration took New Deal batter and employed millions of unemployed Americans who built 620,000 miles of road, about 10,000 bridges, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s electricity and flood control – and on-site the magnificent Griffith Observatory – in the 1930s.

The federal project number one is less well known, in which tens of thousands of unemployed writers, artists, actors and musicians were employed. Orson Welles, John Houseman and Burt Lancaster started there.

I recently – thank you, Pfizer! – To get together with my father and his wife in Claremont for the first time in ages and get a Christmas present for spring: “The WPA’s Guide to the Golden State,” a creation of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, published by Magnificent The University of California Press was reprinted several years ago with a new introduction from Pasadenan David Kipen, founder of Libros Schmibros bookstore and lending library in East LA

It turns out that the American Guide Series, which it was a part of, produced such volumes in every single state, and they were hugely popular reading that sold out nine decades ago. Their authors were given plenty of time, and the books were amazingly thorough. Since California is bigger and better than any other place, our book is 713 pages long and a joy to be immersed in at every turn.

These are practical guides – “In our state, wild flowers are never picked,” and while there are “rattlesnakes,” they are “not numerous.” … Black widow spiders are rare. “Fellow has never seen my garage.

Most of the authors listed as authors are unknown to me. two became famous: Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth and avant-garde musician Harry Partch.

Kipen’s introduction addresses a central fact of California life in the 1930s as it is today: Northerners and Southerners can be like Hatfields and McCoys, and only unite under a One California banner when confronted by a true outsider. And he notes that the Führer “gives every unsung corner of the state its moment,” even when it comes to speed traps by the local police.

Pasadena, then a relatively large Californian city, gets its own entry, and the anonymous author was certainly some kind of poet: “A touch of prosperity – the leisurely tenor of a Sunday afternoon – is created by the important buildings, the pretentious houses. generous foliage and the winding, flower-filled streets. “New Years Day“ Young girls chosen for their beauty are elaborately designed to be carried through the streets, sitting and pelting the crowd with flowers. Citizens forget their dignity to take part in a battle of the flowers. “

San Francisco: “Born from the meeting of sea captains and gold seekers, 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 neon lights. ”But:” It’s still a gay city, sociable and dignified, because its gayness has always worn a silk hat. ” Indeed.

Los Angeles: “This dazzling daughter, known to the end of the world as the mother of Hollywood and still protected under the umbrella of the family, has other liens on fame and fortune… For some it is a somewhat unreal set design, an artistic feat on a film lot when they caught their first glimpse of the new white buildings glowing in the sun between the cobalt sea and the purple hills. “For others,” a boulevard to stroll and see and be seen by the great and the near-great, a paradise for the autograph collector and the social lion hunter. “

As it always was.

Larry Wilson is a member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group. [email protected]

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