I’m starting a new feature on my site and I’m calling it “Three by Three”.
Three great websites, three great books. That’s it.
The focus? History, geography, planning, architecture, and other things that fall into my roundhouse of urbanology.
I’m going to start with America’s Second City (apologies to my own sometimes home of Chicago)
Here goes nothing, Los Angeles.
Books of Note:
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Federal Writers Project sent out-of-work writers and other types scurrying over America to document folkways, foodways, back alleys, shipyards, street corners, and so on. The guide to Los Angeles is by far one of the best documents of the city during this period and it’s fun to take around a walk around Los Angeles.
Conversations about cars and Los Angeles generally turn to how horrible the traffic is on I-10/I-5/fill in the blank. Well, how did things get this way in the first place? Author Scott Bottles does an excellent job looking at the history of urban transportation and the Rise and Rise and Rise of the Automobile in the 20th century. Simply put, it is a read that narrates the history of one key part of the built environment in Los Angeles.
So Kevin Starr’s book about Southern California in the Roaring 20s is about more than Los Angeles proper…but then, hasn’t Los Angeles always been about More Than Just the City Limits of LA? Of course it has. It’s a broad, sprawling, socio-cultu-archi-jazzy-history, with chapter titles like “Boosting Babylon: Planning, Development, and Ballyhoo in Jazz-Age Los Angeles”. It does not disappoint.
Sites of Note:
Who was doing what when and where? These maps produced by the Works Progress Administration answer all of these questions, and as such they are quite a dream for an urban studies type. This wonderful site was created by the USC Digital Library, and with 345 maps, you’ll be back more than once. It’s the kind of thing that might inspire a new hard-boiled Raymond Chandler-esque story, a master’s thesis, or a bit of urban exploration.
This is a tremendous collection from UCLA, and it’s got many of the usual (and unusual) suspects: Rose Bowl floats, the “World’s Fastest Man”, and an honest, if depressing, clutch of photographs under the subject heading "Abandoned Children". There are over 5000 images here, and these are the types of items that bring the richness of the city’s history to life in a fashion that is alternately dramatic and just downright commonplace.
I like to eat. I also like to read about culinary history and the Great Old Restaurants of the Past. So when I heard about this collection, I knew it would make the cut. The dedicated staff members at the Los Angeles Public Library have digitized images from over 6800 menus from around the area and placed them right here. You can search around by keyword, cuisine, and date. Warning: I wouldn’t look at this culinary cornucopia while you’re hungry.