Car Dealership on Wilshire Blvd

Car dealership on Wilshire Blvd (circa 1937) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library

By Michael Block

Through a grant administered by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, I am helping to research the early history of automobile dealerships in Los Angeles. Scholars have frequently written about “car culture” (especially as it developed in Los Angeles), but they have focused almost exclusively on the roles of manufacturers, drivers, and drivers’ advocacy groups like the Automobile Club of Southern California. History has paid far less attention to the role of car dealers. The car industry in the early twentieth century was similar to the technology sector today: innovation and competition meant that firms popped rapidly in and out of existence. Los Angeles, led partly by its car dealers and partly by heavy demand for cars, wanted to be at the forefront of the excitement. In 1907, car dealers in Los Angeles organized the first car show west of the Mississippi, narrowly beating out San Francisco. In 1917, the chair of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce declared the Los Angeles dealers’ association to be the largest in the country, and claimed that Los Angeles had “more cars than in any other county in the country, and judging by the traffic conditions in Los Angeles, it has more cars per mile of street than New York or any other city.”[1] Despite the excitement at the time, we know very little today about how the automobile selling business took shape in Los Angeles. Part of the project will involve mapping the locations of dealerships (the auto row on Figueroa Street turns out not to have been the first such concentration). My research so far has focused on the collections of the Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

[1] “Reeves Praises California,” Motor West 26, no. 11 (15 March 1917): 13.

Don Lee Cadillac LaSalle in Pasadena

Don Lee Cadillac and LaSalle dealership in Pasadena (circa 1935) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.


Michael Block received his PhD in history from USC in 2011. He is currently a lecturer in the history program at CSU Channel Islands. 

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White Mountain Petroglyphs in the Red Desert, Wyoming

By William Deverell

July 11, 2018

Rock Springs to Daniel.  We stayed last night in a Best Western (“The Outlaw”) in Rock Springs.  Very accommodating, nice pool, warm people.  Architecturally, the strangest motel I’ve ever stayed in.  Everything is arrayed off a large and central courtyard, enclosed, and set up kind of like a convention.  All original construction they told me – ca. 1966 – kind of “mid-century awkward,” but we were well looked after and had a good time.

Just out of Rock Springs, we took a detour I’ve long wanted to take, over to the White Mountain petroglyphs.  Probably between 200 and 1000 years old, carved into a huge sandstone butte pockmarked with holes and caves.  It was amazing.  We were the only ones who’d taken the dirt road out there, and we stayed quite awhile looking at the carvings.  Deer, elk, birds, men, even a mounted man with a sword or lance (which gives it a convenient post-contact date).  The local indigenous people regard the site as sacred – utterly understandable and fitting.  We found ourselves in a kind of hushed reverie out there.  One of the carvings was of a man standing, face forward, and we could stand just where the native artist stood to do it – 100, 200, 500 years ago.

 

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On the way out, we could see the Boar’s Tusk volcanic spire rising from the floor of the Red Desert.  This was surely a landmark for not only the indigenous people, but the Oregon- and California-bound emigrants in the mid-19th century.  I bet it still is for oil and gas workers out here.

Rolling towards Pinedale we hit a rain squall, common in the summers anywhere in the Rockies.  We passed a few Oregon Trail markers – a campsite, a fork in the wagon road – these are always fascinating to me.  I can see them out there – caravans of hardscrabble farmer mostly, generally unprepared for what they faced on this perilous journey that could stretch to five or six months’ duration.  It wasn’t the Indians – the natives knew enough to stay away, for the most part, or to interact only in brief trading sessions.  It was disease, the bad water, the accidents, the stupid gunplay, and the drownings – that’s what got most of them.  I disagree with my colleagues who blip over this chapter in 19th century American history as either too romantic or a story already told over and over again.  There is still so much to learn from the stories of these 200,000 or 250,000 people, shock troops of Manifest Destiny, settler-colonials who re-made history on foot, for good, for ill, and for everything in between.

If you are interested in learning more about this era, let me direct you to the work of the historian Sarah Keyes, who did her doctoral work with us at USC.  See, for instance, her articles “Western Adventurers and Male Nurses: Indians, Cholera, and Masculinity in Overland Trail Narratives,” Western Historical Quarterly<https://academic.oup.com/whq/issue/49/1> (Spring 2018) and “Like a Roaring Lion’: The Overland Trail as a Sonic Conquest,” Journal of American History (June 2009).

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Rain Squall Coming into Pinedale

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Wyoming Territorial Prison

By William Deverell

Headed north into Wyoming.  An eventful day on the road.  Drove north out of Colorado Springs, cut west to hug the mountains above Fort Collins, then punched into Wyoming to make our way to Rock Springs for the night.  Had the road more or less to ourselves, at least until I-80 at Rawlins.  We stopped at the Wyoming Territorial Prison, now a museum.  Well done – the buildings and cells have been preserved, and even the grounds are foreboding.  It is a grim place – as you’d expect – the incarcerated must have suffered year round in the heat and the freezing cold.  They even beat the guards for dereliction of duty.  The site, now run well by Wyoming State Parks, points out the life stories of a number of prisoners: men and women alike, the career criminals, the bank and train robbers, and those who looked simply to have made a few very bad choices.  The prison’s practice of shaving the heads of the male prisoners did not prevent individuality from staring out at us from huge black and white photographs made at booking.

We had a start when we visited the “broom factory.”  The imprisoned worked as master broom makers in a big factory on site, and Wyoming State Parks puts historical actors – who stay silent – in prison garb making brooms as you walk through the factory.  Very effective, even creepy.

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Wyoming Territorial Prison

History and geography roll back on themselves, and prisons keep coming up in our travels.  We drove I-80 through Sinclair, Wyoming.  I’ve noticed it before, but I had never made the connection before.  Population 450 (tops), the landscape given over to a huge array of oil refining equipment.  I’m going to make a reasoned guess that this place is named for Harry Sinclair (of Sinclair Oil, which you can still see at Sinclair service stations in the West). Harry Ford Sinclair got caught up in the notorious Teapot Dome oil scandal of the 1920s, and he served six months in federal prison for witness tampering.  It whacked him and his reputation, for sure, but he proved remarkably resilient (with uninterrupted wealth as a cushion, no doubt), rebounding to a life of leisure in Pasadena until his death in the mid-1950s. Someday I’ll find out which house he lived in, as I bet it still stands.

We are now in Rock Springs – tough railroad town and, like Los Angeles, the site of a horrific massacre of Chinese in the 19th century.

The high and barren landscapes of Wyoming and the spaces and places of greater Los Angeles – linked by all kinds of stories and histories, oil and infamy and violence and racism among them.

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Northern Colorado, Southern Wyoming

By William Deverell

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Kettle Lake, Air Force Academy, summer storm by William Deverell

July 8th.  More fishing, same result.  It feels ok.  It’s the fishing, not the catching.  And the cormorant, the falcon, and the heron seem to be doing just fine.  Today we fished as a summer storm brewed and then let loose.  Cold, heavy, rain – fun and drenching and filled with memories of such storms when I was a kid. Except that now, I think aloud about fires and firefighting and the respite that the rain hopefully brings.

We drove through Colorado City today: the old part of Colorado Springs. Early 20th century home construction, with the occasional 19th century house peeking out at us.  Must have been something back then.  Gold and silver mining booms, some coal, some wealthy tourists, a lot of health seekers trying, in vain, to cure tuberculosis.  A town that tried to stay above the fray of labor troubles in nearby places: Cripple Creek, Victor, Ludlow, Pueblo.  But how could it?  It was all part of the same extractive economy and the colonial politics that accompanied it all.  Colorado Springs was the polite city in the mix, but I suspect that politesse ran only so deep.

Makes me think about these times.  All this call for civility – I am suspicious of it.  It strikes me as a way to blunt democratic rights of assembly, protest, speech.  Whenever I see the call for civility, I want to check the credentials of the supposedly aggrieved.  What is it that they are upset about?  What are they objecting to?  There’s a fine line here, in my view.  My governor on all this is to see when I  — one person, one point of view – side with those I’d usually not side with.  That does happen, and it makes me think hard.  But that doesn’t usually happen.  Most often, I draw a fairly conventional line, and I find myself making solidarity in spirit or voice with the “uncivil.”

The historian Tom Sugrue nailed it, in my opinion, in his recent essay in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/29/opinion/civility-protest-civil-rights.html

This road trip with my son is amazing – it is a fun privilege to be able to drive the West with him, to have the time to talk, listen to lots of Cheap Trick, and see the mountains and canyons.  But these are perilous times: these landscapes are threatened by climate and fire and by policy malfeasance, ignorance, and greed.  The stakes are, in my opinion, higher than the bars that supposedly polite behavior expect.

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Photo by William Deverell

By William Deverell

A low-key day along the Front Range.  We took Grandma with us to fish on the Air Force Academy at the little lakes (big ponds?) that I fished as a kid forty and more years ago.  I got us the requisite permit online, piece of cake.  John was very interested in the high security at the Academy. Long ago, pre-9/11, pre-Gulf I, pre-Gulf II, pre-Afghanistan, in a time that seems now lost, I used to roam the Academy with abandon and teen freedom.  With my military dependent’s ID, I enjoyed access to all the amenities of the base – glorious athletic facilities, fishing ponds, hiking trails, golf courses, bike paths.  Times have changed.  The entrance to the Academy is a militarized checkpoint, complete with gates that can rise up out of the surface of the road as instant roadblocks.  IDs were checked (it helps that Grandma’s ID says, more or less, “wife of a Colonel”) and we were waved in.  Several other sentry boxes are spread throughout the huge base, and we had to show IDs a couple more times.  We tried Ice Lake first.  My friends and I used to walk – Opie Griffith style – to this one on the railroad tracks (I wonder how the Air Force polices that these days, but I am sure that they do).  It’s a small natural lake.  My vertically-inclined son immediately climbed a tree.  Grandma, baseball cap pulled low, sat in the shade and watched her grandson and son try their luck.  No luck.  But fun.  At one point, a guy about my age walked up to the banks and asked me if there were “any fish in this lake?”  “Rumor has it that there are,” I replied.  We chatted.  He was an Air Force Academy graduate, then a combat pilot, now a Southwest Airlines pilot.  A familiar route for Air Force Academy grads fortunate enough to return from war, finish their terms of duty, and find commercial aviation work.  “Did you fly the A-10?” John asked?  “Yes, I did,” he said.  “Is that the Warthog?”  “That’s right.”

He was on the base checking out his new home.  The Academy is now renting out some of its housing to retired officers, something I’d never heard of.  Interesting: makes me wonder about the demographics of active-duty Air Force personnel.  The numbers must be down.  I asked him if he had any obligations to the Air Force for living on base.  “None,” he said, though he said he’d be open to advising the cadets about the service and about flying.  About combat, too, I figured.  “Does he have PTSD?” John asked me.  “I don’t know, John,” I said.  “But I bet he’s had a tough go.”

fishing John AFA

Photo by William Deverell

Later this afternoon, John and I went back to try our luck – the paired Kettle Lakes can be accessed without going through base security, so we cut Grandma a break.  We fished alongside a blue heron – was he laughing at us?  Then the dogs showed up.  Five in all, splashing and dog-laughing in the ponds.  We actually had some interest in our bait – a few hits, a nibble, our bobber pulled the surface once or twice.  John found two dead trout floating at the edge of the water.  He put on his pathology hat – he opened one of them up, took a close look at all the organs, narrated the procedure.  A big crawdad caught his attention at one point, but it proved too wily for him to catch.

The fires continue to burn to the west of us.  There’s some headway in the fight against them.  Tomorrow we aim to fish early, before it gets too hot.  Then we find a climbing gym and may hit the excellent Colorado Springs Zoo to see the grizzly bears (and the trout that they hunt).

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Glenwood Canyon, Colorado by William Deverell

By William Deverell

July 6th.  Glenwood Springs and Glenwood Canyon.  We woke this morning alongside the Colorado River and we stayed with it for a good chunk of our day.  I-70 hugs the river through the spectacular Glenwood Canyon.  It is one of the most beautiful and scenic drives one will ever do.  Rafters, people trying their luck for the river’s big trout, cyclists, paddle boarders, we saw them all.  All through my youth, I can remember biking and driving along this route, and this stretch of I-70 was always (and still is) under construction.  I get it.  The winters are hellacious, and the steep canyon walls (rising a third of a mile straight up) look as though they fall with frightening regularity.  Keeping that railroad, that parallels the river and the freeway, going must be every bit as hard.  We saw a big coal caravan coming through – somewhat ironic, at least to me, given the news yesterday of Scott Pruitt’s fall from … grace?  Fall from somewhere.  Seeing car after car roll by, filled with what the President calls “beautiful, clean coal” makes one think hard about environmental issues, about climate, about fires, about fossil fuels, about the fate and future of the West.

We rolled into Glenwood Springs at noon.  This is a fascinating place – an Old West town made over by hot springs tourism and Rocky Mountain outdoor sports.  With the usual odd admixture of kitsch grappling with historical preservation and some sense of the past.  I knew that Doc Holliday, dentist-turned-killer, had come here to die of tuberculosis.  He’s buried here.  But I’d forgotten or never knew that Harvey Logan, the notorious “Kid Curry,” lies buried here as well.  A cold-blooded outlaw killer, Logan rode with several bank and train robbing gangs, Butch Cassidy’s among them.  In 1904, tracked down and wounded by a posse in nearby Parachute, Colorado, Logan killed himself to avoid capture.  Per capita, the Pioneer Cemetery in Glenwood Springs sure boasts a lot of western killers.

John splashed in the huge, warm pools at the Glenwood Hot Springs.  One pool is heated by waters coming out at 104 degrees – that’s a common air temperature on our trip so far.  Heat is relative – hot springs feel good, and I always want to believe the recuperative promises of them.  But the heat of a scorching summer day is scary – especially these days, especially with all these fires.  The mountain West is extraordinary – but be safe out there.

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Coming through Utah and into Colorado by William Deverell

By William Deverell

John turned to me this morning and said, “the West is up in flames.”  So it is.  We had to be careful about our route today, choosing a less interesting drive so as to avoid the southerly route that would have taken us right into a huge blaze and road closures.  Not that today wasn’t interesting – we hopped over to I-70 from I-15 outside of Cedar City.  I always mention the Mountain Meadows Massacre to John when we go by Cedar City.  That, and the famed Shakespeare Festival, have put this town on the map – once in the nineteenth century for worse, once in the 20th for better.  The canyon country through which I-70 cuts on the long drive to Grand Junction is gorgeous.  But you can feel the heat even inside the car.  And I think we could see the fire smoke from hundreds of miles away.  The West is on fire.  It is minor comfort that today brings news of the resignation of a grifter at the helm of the EPA.  Though I am pleased to see him gone – ignominy ought to stick to him like glue – I can’t think that this one change at the helm will do all that much.  We are in dire straits in the West: it is hot, it is dry, and it is burning.  It is, as the pundits say, the new normal. Fire season is now 12 months long.  Now that we’ve come up with pithy – if accurate – descriptions, we need to think very hard about how to address this – electorally, environmentally, culturally, hydrologically – everything.  I don’t pretend to have any answers at all, other than to say we should be scared and worried and angry.  Our Institute is planning to host a big two-day conference on The West on Fire in a year or so – maybe that can act, in a small way, as a clearinghouse of good history and good information.

Drove through Grand Junction (stopped so John could climb at a cool gym) and on to nearby Palisades.  Peaches and cherries.  We had hoped to find a place to stay the night here, but I think I had forgotten just how small Palisade (“Pali” to the locals, I love it) really is.  We stopped at a fruit stand to load up for the grandparents, and the very nice woman running it pointed out her neighbor’s RV park, complete with lovely standalone cabins rented for the night.  It’s a camper’s paradise: the cabins have beds all ready for you to lay out your sleeping bag (we have one, thankfully).  The woman who sent us over has a big, floppy English Labrador named Belle, and John made fast friends.  They hustled down to the banks of the mighty Colorado, with John throwing stick after stick into the water for Belle to chase.  We’ll drink that water in LA before long, but here we are pretty close to the headwaters of the “Green that becomes the Colorado.”

All this fire, all this heat, all this ignorant denying of climate change: it makes rivers and streams all the more precious, even sacred.  We’ll drive alongside the Colorado a good chunk of tomorrow’s drive, and I look forward to seeing, hearing, and feeling it.

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Coming through Utah and into Colorado by William Deverell