By Dan Johnson
The Skid Row Reader is an experimental adult literacy textbook created to nourish reading skills in students who are recovering from a host of afflictions that contribute to chronic homelessness. Created as a response to inadequate and out-of-touch teaching materials, the effort is built around themes of history, perception and context that center students in a sense of social geography and shared experience. The text encourages “digressive learning.” Each chapter is conceived as a launching point for personal association, discussion and an exploration of corollary topics rather than the imposition of a rote lesson. Contributors include Patricia Nelson Limerick, Michael Lesy, David Shields, Sam Sweet, D. Randall Blythe, Liz Goldwyn, Daniel Levitin, Erik Davis, Larry Harnisch, Terry Stevenson, Max Felker-Kantor, Jonathan Gillette and more.
The Skid Row Reader is online at http://skidrowreader.com and in the depths of social media at https://www.facebook.com/SkidRowReader/.
By Tom Carroll
Dropping out of Harvard sets you on a certain path. For Charles Fletcher Lummis, this choice would be the first of many idiosyncratic decisions in a life crisscrossing America. Starting in Massachusetts and ultimately ending in Los Angeles—Lummis would be a poet, a writer, a librarian, an editor, a flamboyant dresser and a Native American rights activist. At 25, he walked from Ohio to Los Angeles, keeping notes and falling in love with the “Southwest” (a term he claimed to have coined). This passage would color how he thought about the West and instill a driving need to preserve rapidly fading Native American culture. His amassing of artifacts, photographs, and general knowledge would culminate in his founding of the first museum in Los Angeles, the Southwest Museum. Lummis dove headfirst into life—wide-eyed and excited—finding the beauty and wisdom in corners of America.
Creator and host of the popular YouTube series “Tom Explores LA,” Tom Carroll is a journalist currently studying at USC.
By Erin Chase
Today marks the 79th anniversary of the death of architect Sumner P. Hunt. One of the most influential architects in Southern California, Hunt was responsible for designing major public buildings in Los Angeles including the Raymond Hotel, the Southwest Museum and the Automobile Club headquarters downtown. But it was Hunt’s original design for the iconic Bradbury Building that is perhaps the most well-known and the most mysterious. In 1892, Hunt was hired by Lewis Bradbury to design his namesake building, but legend has it that Bradbury was unimpressed with Hunt’s design and he turned the project over to George Wyman, a draughtsman in Hunt’s office to complete it. To this day it is still undetermined what part, if any, Hunt had in the final look of the building.
Erin Chase is Assistant Curator of Architecture & Photography at The Huntington Library. Her great-great grandfather, architect A.W. Eager, was in partnership with Sumner Hunt from 1899-1908. Photo of the Bradbury Building at 304 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, is courtesy of the Library of Congress.
By Brian Frehner
Born in 1856, Edward L. Doheny headed west shortly after high school graduation, worked as a mining prospector throughout the region, and eventually arrived in Los Angeles. One day in 1892, he asked a passerby by what was the black tarry substance dripping from his wagon and was told it was brea, Spanish for “tar,” that it came from the Westlake Park district, and would be used for fuel at a nearby ice plant. This encounter prompted Doheny to partner with Charles A. Canfield, a colleague he met while mining in New Mexico, and together they leased a tar pit where they dug a pit in search of oil near Glendale Boulevard and Second Street in downtown Los Angeles, just south of Echo Park. Although this initial well did not greatly enrich the men, it prompted Doheny to continue searching for oil. He drilled eighty-one additional wells in Los Angeles that produced 350,000 barrels. Guided by a geologist’s map, Doheny traversed the state to stake claims, dig wells, and open new fields. These efforts greatly enriched him and placed him atop an expansive California oil industry.
Brian Frehner is an Associate Professor of History at University of Missouri, Kansas City
A photo of the original plaque, which was broken at the 1941 centennial ceremony at the Workman House. Image courtesy of the Homestead Museum.
By Paul Spitzzeri
With a glass plaque mounted on a door at his home, now part of the Homestead Museum in City of Industry, William Workman commemorated the arrival on the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico of what is commonly known as the Rowland-Workman Party on November 5, 1841. For the British-born Workman the date was memorable because it was Guy Fawkes’ Day, an English holiday. For us in Los Angeles 175 years later, we should remember the arrival of approximately 65 Americans, New Mexicans and Europeans as part of a westward movement that included the arrival in northern California of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party the previous day and which preceded the American invasion and seizure of Mexican California just five years later.
Paul R. Spitzzeri is the Museum Director for the Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum
By Peter Collopy
On November 2, 1891, classes began at Throop University—the school that would become Caltech—in a rented building in downtown Pasadena. Founder Amos Throop was a Universalist preacher and abolitionist politician who made his fortune in lumber and real estate in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles, where he bought orchards and farms, in 1880. His school offered courses in literature, music, art, elocution, stenography, typewriting, and law—with only six faculty. Throop University had trouble recruiting students, so its trustees renamed it Throop Polytechnic Institute in 1893 and reorganized it to train Pasadena’s youth, from elementary school through college, for factory work in an industrial society. Although namesake Amos Throop passed away in 1894, over the decades that followed Throop Polytechnic Institute formed alliances with influential scientists—astronomer George Hale, physicist Robert Millikan, and chemist Arthur Noyes—and reinvented itself again as a pioneering science and engineering university, renamed the California Institute of Technology in 1920.
Historian Peter S. Collopy is the University Archivist at the California Institute of Technology.
Photo courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as part of the “Then and Now” series.
By Matthew H. Hersch
The motley assortment of graduate students and amateur rocket enthusiasts looked like it came straight out of central casting: Texas-born mechanical engineer and socialist Frank Malina, imaginative Chinese émigré Hsue-Shen Tsien, enterprising undergraduate Apollo Smith, self-taught chemist and occult enthusiast Jack Parsons, along with his childhood friend and protector Edward Forman, among others. Their obsession was space travel, and particularly the liquid-fuel rocket, which Robert Goddard had invented only ten years earlier.
After the first members of the group were chased out of the laboratories of the California Institute of Technology when their rocket experiments became too explosive, they found slightly more success, and even more explosions, in a remote patch of the San Gabriel Mountains, where they tested a small rocket motor on Halloween, 1936. The men called themselves the “Suicide Club,” but Malina’s faculty advisor, leading aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán, suggested they find a different name. Eighty-one years ago, the institution now known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory formed out of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at Caltech. Incorporated into NASA in 1958, JPL continues to do pioneering work in space exploration, which wouldn’t have surprised Frank Malina at all.
Matthew H. Hersch is an Assistant Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University.