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SunbeltRising - 1By Michelle Nickerson

When Darren Dochuk and I convened the Sunbelt Rising conference in 2008, it was because we thought that the Bush-era political economic climate and recent scholarly developments demanded that we bring people together to rethink the importance of the Sunbelt as a twentieth- and twenty-first century region. In fact, the success of the conservative movement and our own research on the American right originally inspired a conference on “Sunbelt Conservatism,” but the burgeoning research on growth liberalism, civil rights reform, and the Global South caused us to expand the political scope while reaching intentionally towards economic themes. For the same reasons it made sense to be interdisciplinary, so four of our thirteen writers are political scientists: Sylvia Manzano, Daniel HoSang, Lyman Kellstedt, and James Guth.

For the presentations (which would ultimately be published) we wanted work that represented much needed updates on the region, so we chose authors who addressed the following: expansion of prisons and state power, the Latinoization of politics and economic life, the advancement of private and commercial property interests, migration of people and capital across the borderlands, growth of the energy sector and its impact on the Navajo, frostbelt to sunbelt migration, and the nexus of evangelical Christianity and capitalism.

We had two gatherings that year—at the Huntington in the Fall of 2008 and at Southern Methodist University in the Spring of 2009. In addition to generous funding and hospitality from ICW, we were part of an annual conference series sponsored by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU that develops presentations into essay volumes.

Our first meeting on that Friday in September assembled us into one of the Huntington’s Ahmanson classrooms for the first round of workshopping. Having read the first draft of each other’s essays in preparation for the event, we subjected them to sustained forty-five minute critiques. On Saturday, the scholars gave presentations to a lively audience in the Overseers’ Room. I have memories of a fantastic crowd—professors and students from the region sharing space with the curious public that often turns out for Huntington scholarly events. Our plan was to keep the presentations short, with four in one panel, which turned out to be perfect since it invited substantial audience participation. There were great discussions; and we left Pasadena energized and brimming with notes for our revisions.

Sunbelt Rising BookSeven months later we reconvened in Dallas for the repeat conference at SMU. Looking back, I realize that Darren and I demanded a lot from our scholars to make them meet twice, but the intensity of our September Huntington meeting made the Texas work session fun. I remember watching presentations by historians, bleary-eyed from margaritas the late night before. The multiple drafts forced by these gatherings, moreover, pushed our project swiftly along its schedule.

We are very proud of the volume it generated, ultimately published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2011, called Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Place, Space, and Region.

Michelle Nickerson is an Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago.

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Studio portrait of Aldous Leonard Huxley (circa 1942) from the Edwin Hubble Papers archived at the Huntington Library.

By Peter Richardson

On this day in 1894, Aldous Leonard Huxley was born into a prominent family of writers, scientists, and physicians. He studied literature at Oxford and established himself as a successful novelist, poet, and journalist. A member of the Bloomsbury Set, he also befriended D.H. Lawrence and later edited his letters.

Huxley’s fifth novel, the dystopian Brave New World, appeared in 1932. It was both a jab at the earlier utopian works of H.G. Wells and a complex response to the fast-paced, unreflective, and technology-obsessed mass society that Huxley saw around him. Brave New World brought him even more notoriety, but his outspoken pacifism alienated him from his British peers, and he decided to move to the United States.

In 1937, Huxley and his family arrived in Hollywood. Like many established writers, he considered the film industry a reliable source of cash. As David King Dunaway documents in Huxley in Hollywood (1989), he and his wife Maria led a busy social life that included Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, Grace and Edwin Hubble, Gerald Heard and Christopher Isherwood, Igor Stravinsky, J. Krishnamurti, Jake Zeitlin, Anita Loos, and Greta Garbo. Huxley’s film credits included Pride and Prejudice (1940), but he also worked on Madame Curie (1943) and Jane Eyre (1944). His film career collapsed in 1952 after a cover story in Counterattack, a right-wing magazine, described him as a Communist dupe.

Intrigued by the links amongst drugs, consciousness, and art, Huxley persuaded British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond to dose him with mescaline in 1953. The Doors of Perception (1954) recounted Huxley’s experience on that day. Reviewers panned the book, whose title echoed a passage from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but Huxley was unfazed. He continued to trip several times a year for the rest of his life, and his book spread the word about the virtues of psychedelic drugs.

After Maria Huxley died in 1955, Aldous invited therapist Laura Archera to his home to guide a mescaline experience. Their relationship flourished—in part over their shared interest in hypnotism, psychedelics, and spirituality—and they married in 1956. Like Maria, Laura had romantic relationships with women, and the newly married couple bought a home in the Hollywood Hills close to Virginia Pfeiffer, her longtime friend.

In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with cancer, but he managed to finish Island the following year. Frank Kermode called it “one of the worst novels ever written,” but along with Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, Huxley’s fiction chimed well with the rebellious spirit of that decade, especially on college campuses.

In 1962, Huxley accepted a teaching position at the University of California, Berkeley, but his health declined quickly the following year. He died in Los Angeles the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His former daughter-in-law noted, “As he got older, I think he became more and more available … By the time he died, he was very young.”

Peter Richardson coordinates the American Studies and California Studies programs at San Francisco State University.

Los Angeles City Water Company

The Los Angeles City Water Company headquarters sits just above the Plaza in this photo (circa 1890s). Photo courtesy of the Historical Photo Collection of the Department of Water and Power, City of Los Angeles.

By Tom Sitton

Here we are on July 20, the 149th anniversary of an important date in the history of supplying many of us with the necessary wet resource that kept Los Angeles growing. For on that date in 1868 the Los Angeles City Water Company received its thirty-year lease to provide the city’s residents with nature’s gift by operating its water system.

That event followed a number of years in the mid-1800s, when early water providers faced many difficulties in building crude infrastructure to distribute water from the Los Angeles River and other sources to thirsty Angelenos. By 1868 city officials were desperate for help, and three entrepreneurs offered to solve their problem. Although there were many critics of the final lease agreement, the city leaders saw no other solution to their dilemma and a majority of the common council agreed to a thirty year lease for distribution of the city’s water.

Conflicts between the city and the company began soon after the firm took over, as its directors fought to reduce their annual rent payments to the city, reneged on building promised infrastructure, and even challenged the city’s ownership of the water. While the company amassed generous profits from the business, residents complained of bad service, high rates, slimy water and low pressure. As the Los Angeles population boomed in spurts in the 1870s and 1880s, the protests became louder with the transformation of the area from primarily agricultural to commercial and residential.

By the time the lease period was ending in 1898, public outcry against a renewal of the lease had crystalized with a demand for the city to take over its water system. The lease became a major issue in the 1896 city election in which opposition candidates were successful. The new council members began negotiating, but the sales prices demanded by the company and the city were far apart and ended up in arbitration that still did not solve the problem. The council decided to build the city’s own infrastructure for distribution instead of purchasing the company’s system, which would leave the firm with pipes, pumps and such, but without water. Several lawsuits ensued and a compromise was finally worked out — the city took over the company’s property in 1902, almost four years after the lease had expired.

The transfer of ownership of the city’s water system from private entrepreneurs to the city was an example of the early reform sentiment in Los Angeles that would increase during the early Progressive era movement that was sweeping the nation at this time. The municipal ownership drive of urban reformers was a key ingredient in progressivism, particularly in owning natural resources and other necessities for residents. Los Angeles would soon have full control of its water supply and eventually its electrical, harbor, and airport services as it does today.

So Happy Anniversary, Los Angeles City Water Company, and thanks for your contribution to the early history of Los Angeles growth and its environmental and political history.

Tom Sitton is History Curator, Emeritus of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. For more on the Los Angeles City Water Company see books by Ostrom, Fogelson, Hundley, Karhl, Mulholland, and Soifer.

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FIGURE 1: Mount Lowe’s Incline Railway courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library (circa 1923).

July 4, 2017 marks the 124th anniversary of Mount Lowe Resort and Railway’s opening. Nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains, Mount Lowe Resort and Railway boasted a death-defying incline railroad (FIGURE 1) that “was the first mountain incline railway powered by electricity” (Zack 2004:81), a zoo, a bowling alley, a post office, a miniature golf course, a fox farm, and an observatory. Over 3 million tourists from all over the globe visited the attraction during the 43 years it was in operation, and it was considered “the most popular single tourist attraction in California at the turn of the century” (Seims 1992). Mount Lowe Resort was built by the eclectic, self-titled “Professor” Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and his business partner David J. Macpherson, a Cornell trained engineer. Lowe went bankrupt trying to maintain the resort, and eventually Pacific Electric Railway purchased it and maintained it until its closing in 1936.

Like many Mount Lowe followers, I first learned of the site during one of my many hikes in Angeles National Forest as an undergraduate at Occidental College. Bits and pieces of Mount Lowe Resort and Railway have been left behind on the landscape, including railroad beds that have been transformed into hiking trails, foundations of the resort, the resort’s “Echo Phone,” a fountain, and a painted seating area for lovebirds.

Though initially attracted to Mount Lowe’s glitzy past, I became intrigued with what was being ignored in contemporary discussions of the resort. A few years after encountering Mount Lowe, I was able to combine my interest in Southern California’s history with archaeology as a Ph.D. student in Anthropology at Stanford University. After interviewing local historians interested in Mount Lowe’s history and reading published accounts of the resort, I decided to look at the forgotten elements of Mount Lowe, honing in on the people who worked on the famous incline railway.

Census data, historic maps, newspaper articles, and information contained in the resort owners’ (Pacific Electric Railway) employee magazines provided documentary and photographic information on the resort’s employees. I discovered that Mexican immigrant laborers were employed by Pacific Electric Railway to repair the railroad, and that they were housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions at Mount Lowe. Mount Lowe’s employees lived in what were known as “section houses,” with “section” referring to a portion of the railroad employees were charged with repairing. Though the section house was designed for one family, Mount Lowe’s section house housed, on average, four families between 1910 and 1930. An October 1920 work order notes that the section house’s “toilet facilities are very unsanitary,” with “County Health Officers” requesting that Pacific Electric Railway “install septic tanks and sanitary plumbing.” It took the company 8 years and a complaint filed by the Los Angeles County Health Department to install the required sanitary plumbing.


FIGURE 2: Pacific Electric Railway article depicting camp nurses and inspectors (Carr 1921).

I also discovered that Pacific Electric Railway’s employees of Mexican heritage were specifically targeted for reform programs. The company hired Anglo-American women to change what they perceived as ethnic-, racial-, and class-based defects, and to assimilate Mexican men and women into Anglo-American culture (FIGURE 2). Anglo-American reformers sought to change what Mexican immigrants ate, wore, and consumed. Reformers ensured compliance with these expectations by physically inspecting section houses (Carr 1919) and offering demeaning demonstrations on proper bathing and bed-making. If section house residents met a “certain standard of cleanliness each week,” they were “rewarded with free passes to Los Angeles for shopping and pleasure trips” (Elliott 1918:152). If, however, they were “careless about observing the rules,” wrote Pacific Electric engineer Clifford Elliott, they were “disqualified from receiving any such free transportation” (1918:152).


FIGURE 3: A team of volunteers and students excavating at Mount Lowe Resort and Railway.

I decided to investigate the material culture of Mount Lowe’s Mexican immigrant employees and how they responded to reform efforts and corporate paternalism. With the help of local historian Brian Marcroft, I located the foundations of Mount Lowe’s section house that housed its Mexican immigrant railroad workers. Excavating in the blazing heat of Angeles National Forest for two summers (FIGURE 3) revealed new information regarding the lives of the section house residents. The archaeological data suggest that the workers were fairly compliant with reformers’ requests. We found several sets of matching white ceramic sets, which many middle- to upper-class Americans interpreted as symbolizing “purity and virtue” (Fitts 1999:8). The Mexican immigrants’ ceramic collection would not only be seen as an attempt to project literal and spiritual cleanliness, but also would be perceived as a reflection of the workers’ class standing. Upper-class Americans typically owned numerous sets of ceramics, including wares that featured colorful patterns. Only 4% of the Mount Lowe’s workers’ ceramics exhibited polychromatic design, placing them squarely in the lower class when it comes to ceramic consumption.

Though children were absent in the 1910, 1920, and 1930 Census schedules, they do make an appearance in the archaeological and photographic record. A photograph from a local historian’s private Mount Lowe collection documents what appears to be the Mexican railroad workers eating with four children and one infant. During our excavations of the section house, numerous toys were recovered, including a miniature porcelain tea set (FIGURE 4), marbles, and a headless porcelain “Frozen Charlotte” doll (FIGURE 5) found within the same archaeological context as pencils, chalk, and pencil lead. These objects could have served multiple purposes, including as part of Pacific Electric Railway’s reform efforts and as children’s playthings. At an urban reform cooperative in Boston, reformers using miniature toys to teach female immigrants how to be domestic servants. Toys were used to train them how to keep up “with the housekeeping standards desired by middle and upper class women” (Spencer-Wood 1987:23-27).


Other items found during excavations challenge reformers’ portrayals of workers as illiterate and disinterested in education. Writing implements were found in the section house, suggesting that the workers were literate, or at least working towards literacy. Manual Gamio, a prominent social scientist of the time, similarly observed that individuals of Mexican heritage were bringing American-made goods into Mexico, such as books and typewriters, in record numbers during the mid-1920s (1930:19).

Archaeology has thus helped to broaden our understanding of how migrant laborers responded to cultural assimilation efforts. The story of Mount Lowe Mexican immigrant railway laborers and their families likewise reveals that migrant labor has been central to Southern California’s tourism and entertainment industry since the late 19th century.

Works Cited:

Carr, Viva M.
1921 Camp Welfare. Pacific Electric Magazine, January 10, 5(8).

Elliott, Clifford A.
1918 Home Attractions Keep Track Laborers Satisfied – Solving the Labor Problem by Providing Free Section Houses With All Conveniences, Land for Gardens and Chicken Raising as Well as Free Transportation to Amusement Places for Their Employees and Families. Pacific Electric Magazine, July 27:150-52.

Fitts, Robert K.
1999 The Archaeology of Middle-Class Domesticity and Gentility in Victorian Brooklyn. Historical Archaeology 33(1):39-62.

Gamio, Manuel
1930 Mexican Immigration to the United States: A Study of Human Migration and Adjustment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Seims, Charles
1992 National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. Property Name: Mount Lowe Railway, Angeles National Forest. Gresham: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

Spencer-Wood, Suzanne M.
1987 A Survey of Domestic Reform Movement Sites in Boston and Cambridge, Ca. 1865-1905. Historical Archaeology 21:7-36.

Zack, Michele
2004 Altadena: Between Wilderness and City. Altadena: Altadena Historical Society.

Stacey Camp is an historical archaeologist who specializes in the archaeology of the late 19th and early to mid-20th century Western United States, with a particular emphasis on immigrant experiences in Idaho and California. Camp is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Campus Archaeology Program at Michigan State University.

By Bill Deverell

Bill and John DeverellThis summer marks the fifth year that my son John and I will drive from Pasadena to Jackson, Wyoming, so that he can spend a week at the wonderful Teton Science School learning about the ecology and environment of the Rocky Mountains. This year, like 2016, will see us on the road for a long time. We have cleared our calendars in favor of wide-open spaces, snack packs in the car, historical markers, and motel swimming pools.

Today was day one. We know this route well. Out of Pasadena early enough to dodge most of the Vegas-for-Fourth-of-July traffic on I-15 North (traffic was oddly light today). Up and over the Cajon Pass, with its beautiful vistas and engineered freeway and adjacent railroad tracks with their impossibly long trains snaking up and down the mountain. I can’t drive this without thinking of the 19th century railroad finding its inexorable way to Southern California, its natural resources, goods, and markets.

At the top of Cajon and on toward hardscrabble Hesperia and Apple Valley, with local hints about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans inscribed on signs and roads, everything baking in the July heat. Las Vegas, eventually, though we roar by without so much as a stop to put a quarter in a slot machine. We’re headed to St. George, Utah, 100 miles from Las Vegas, not far over the state line of Nevada and Utah – with that sliver of Arizona to cross first, near the Virgin River Gorge (more water this year than the usual just-damp condition of years past).

We made St. George by mid-afternoon. Red sandstone cliffs as sentries surround this quaint city of about 85,000, which has been around since the start of the Civil War, when Brigham Young sent LDS pioneers here to grow cotton. We stay at the same motel each year – a good free breakfast, people are friendly, and there’s a little pool. We stay in St. George for a couple of reasons. We feel like stopping by the time we get there. There’s a fascinating silver mine ghost town just to the north, near where we’ve hiked and looked for indigenous petroglyphs in the past. The Fourth of July is celebrated with a small-town exuberance (high school bands, bean bag toss, three-legged race, that kind of thing). And they have a great community pool with a huge outdoor tubular water slide. We’ve hit the pool and slide already today. Tomorrow is the Fourth and we get to hang with the locals for the day. I’ll listen carefully to hear if I can glean information about this part of the Great Basin’s perspectives on the current state of the Republic.


Millard Sheets, Angel’s Flight, c. 1931. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Art Museum.

Sometimes a career strategy built around ubiquity is as successful as one built around the avant-garde and high achievement. So it was – and is – with Millard Sheets, an artist and architect who was born on this day in Pomona in 1907. Sheets is remembered today, mostly in southern California, mostly because he did so much work in so many parts of Los Angeles than because his work was great.

Sheets is probably best known for his architectural and decorative designs, such as mosaics, for about 50 southern California banks. A good example is a present-day Chase Bank at Laurel Canyon Drive and Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, for which Sheets designed a decorative tile mosaic that is still in place. Many similar decorations survive today. They are familiar more as reflective of a certain post-war white California optimism than as Sheetses.

The story is much the same at the new Marciano Art Foundation, which opened this spring as a venue for the display of Paul and Maurice Marciano’s private art collection and related temporary exhibitions. (The Marciano brothers are the founders of Guess Jeans.) The building they chose for their project, the 1961 Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Blvd. In Los Angeles, is a Sheets design. (The Marcianos’ own architect, Kulapat Yantrasast, updated the space for the Marcianos’ purposes.) Sheets’s building is stiff and quirky without being innovative or clever.

As an artist, Sheets is best known for two related paintings: Angel’s Flight, a 1931 picture of an invented scene informed by downtown Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood that is now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and its cousin, Tenement Flats, a 1933-34 riff on the same geography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Angel’s Flight is successful mostly as a belated address of cubism, a once cutting-edge movement that was over 20 years old by the time Sheets addressed it here. The painting, which takes its name from an inclined plane railway that Sheets did not show, features Bunker Hill’s steep stairs and the working-class apartment buildings that surrounded them. In Sheets’s treatment, the buildings revolve around the stairs at unlikely angles that recall rather than advance experiments performed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the hilly French town of L’Estaque. As historian Sheri Bernstein has noted, by 1931 Bunker Hill was populated mostly by poor immigrants, yet Sheets shows only white people. Sheets surely knew that before Bunker Hill was a working-class immigrant neighborhood, it was a fashionable home for Los Angeles’s wealthy. He mashed up then and now, eliminating present-day truth in the process.

The SAAM painting is a step backward, both literally and metaphorically, from the LACMA canvas. Sheets is done addressing cubism. Here he looks up at apartment buildings from the bottom of Bunker Hill. Angel’s Flight is still absent. Drying laundry, hung on wires, organizes the composition as much as the buildings do. Again, with possibly one exception, the women and children in the picture are all white. Sheets had sanitized a hard life and made it pretty enough that Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung this picture in the White House. Here, as ever, Sheets’s work engaged the past and the present just enough to help his viewers see only what they wanted to.

Tyler Green is an award-winning art journalist and the producer and host of The Modern Art Notes Podcast, America’s most popular audio program on art. He is writing a book (UC Press) on Carleton Watkins, the greatest American photographer of the 19th-century and arguably the most influential American artist of his time. The Huntington is home to one of the most important collections of Watkins’s work.

MindMatters_POSTERWhen we convened at the Huntington Library in 2009 for a conference on the history of technology in California and the West, we were glancing backwards from a shifting vantage point. Sure, we could look back at transformational infrastructures and the way in which they transmitted power – both literally on the state’s long distance power lines and massive dam projects, and figuratively via the Los Angeles traffic plan and the work of the RAND corporation. We could look back on humbling histories of technological hubris and failure – as with the Helmand Valley Dam Project in Afghanistan. We could see how innovations of the past turned desolate spots into hubs, as with the clocks in the ground somewhere outside Barstow, California, that control many of our GPS devices. We read old technologies as romanticizations of the past – just take a look at San Diego’s Panama Exhibition or the Golden Gate Bridge administrators’ long fight against a suicide barrier, but also discussed historical fantasies of technological futures – such as those of 1970s Californians, fragile and easily usurped when out of place.

As our group broached questions about the relationship between technologies and their place in the West with a good amount of eclecticism, we had one thing in common though: None of us had any certainty about the future trajectory of technological change. I hope Patrick McCray, our expert on the history of technological futures, would agree with me that past eras of rapid technological change coincided with a stronger sense – however false – of what the future would hold. If the continuing developments and disruptive innovations of the digital age have taught us anything, it is that we need to constantly ask new questions about what technologies do to societies, cultures, and identities, who builds them, and what we gain or lose in the process. All the more reason, then, to reference Minds and Matters today and develop new questions out of those we raised then.

Professor of History at Cal State Fullerton, Dr. Volker Janssen was ICW’s postdoctoral fellow from 2008-2009. In addition to participating in the conference, Janssen edited the book that followed the conference, Where Minds and Matter Meet: Technology in California and the West -which is available through the University of California Press.  He shared this brief update:

After some years, I hope to return to the field of technology history with a jointly hosted conference in Washington D.C. with the support of the German Historical Institute and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin next spring. There, I hope to revisit a fairly humble technological infrastructure that nonetheless put wheels on a number of transformational popular movements of the mid-century: the interstate bus.