What questions are you considering thanks to your summer reading list? In After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame (Angel City Press, 2018), Lynell George asks the big questions, “How do you want to contribute to the story of the city? How do [you] want to influence and shape history?” Her vibrant and personal work walks through the L.A.(s) of her life and memories – from the scents of the city in 1971 through today’s interplay of language, gentrification, and displacement (and the intertwined realities of ethnicity, race, and class). Her “cul-de-sacs of fading memory” invite one to consider how place is both location and time and how Angelenos are a living museum of the city. Change is reality. Yet for those feeling lost or a sense of dislocation, how might we collectively work to “launch” the L.A. of the future that delivers promises of respect, of context, and of a sense of belonging? Which historical realities must be investigated to generate positive change for L.A.’s next episode?
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.” 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.
 “Reeves Praises California,” Motor West 26, no. 11 (15 March 1917): 13.
Michael Block received his PhD in history from USC in 2011. He is currently a lecturer in the history program at CSU Channel Islands.
By Carlos Francisco Parra
At the close of the 2010s, Univision KMEX Channel 34 and Telemundo KVEA Channel 52 regularly competed for the highest ratings among all television viewers in Los Angeles according to the Nielsen ratings service. KMEX and KVEA’s high ratings — beating the long-established big three English-language networks — speaks to the demographic growth and vitality of the Spanish-speaking Latino American communities of the greater Los Angeles region. The ratings bonanza currently enjoyed by the local Univision and Telemundo stations is a dramatic counterpoint to the relatively humble but significant technical origins of Spanish-language television in the U.S. and in Southern California more than half-a-century ago.
The first Spanish-language TV transmissions in the Southland occurred as the result of transnational broadcasting developments in the Mexico-U.S. border region. One of the most significant investors and proponents of Spanish television north of the border was Emilio Azcárraga Vidaurreta, the founder of one of the first TV stations in Mexico and the dominant partner in a network he formed through an alliance with his former competitors, Telesistema Mexicano (now Televisa). Azcárraga Vidaurreta recognized an opportunity when he started XETV Channel 6 in Tijuana as a means of serving San Diego-area TV viewers. As the first TV station in northwestern Mexico, XETV began broadcasting in April 1953 primarily in English and was financially successful among San Diegans, who only had XETV and one other TV channel to choose from at the time. Channel 6’s success compelled Azcárraga Vidaurreta to launch Tijuana’s XEWT Channel 12 as a Spanish-language station broadcasting his Telesistema programming to attract Spanish-speaking TV viewers not only in that Mexican border town but also in the San Diego area.
Encouraged by XETV and XEWT’s reception, Azcárraga Vidaurreta attempted to enter the larger U.S. market by distributing popular Telesistema shows to U.S. broadcasters. The Mexican media magnate found a willing partner in Raoul Cortez, a Mexican immigrant who in 1955 founded KCOR Channel 41 in San Antonio, Texas as the first Spanish-language TV station in the continental United States. Cortez, who had also founded the first full-time Spanish-language radio station in the U.S. southwest, welcomed the Telesistema’s programming to fill Channel 41’s airtime. Although popular among Mexican San Antonians, KCOR Channel 41 operated at significant financial losses and struggled to stay on the air due to Anglo advertisers’ indifference. Again recognizing a rare opportunity, Azcárraga Vidaurreta worked with his longtime U.S. business associates to purchase the station from Cortez in late 1961. Relaunched as KWEX Channel 41 in February 1962, the San Antonio station became the U.S. flagship of the new Spanish International Network (S.I.N.). With momentum building, the group of transnational investors set about tapping the largest Spanish-speaking audience in the border region: Los Angeles.
When the transnational S.I.N. investors — which included Azcárraga Vidaurreta’s long-time U.S. associates such as XETV’s general manager Julian Kaufman — set their sights on Los Angeles, they faced the challenge of starting a brand new TV station in a format that most TV sets at the time could not reach. In early television history, TV broadcasters were limited to transmitting their programming on channels 2-13 in the very high frequency (VHF) signal band; channels 14 and beyond (such as KCOR/KWEX Channel 41) broadcast on the ultra high frequency (UHF) band could not be accessed by early TVs without an expensive converter box. While not all U.S. cities had the gamut of VHF channel allocations used, Los Angeles – as the entertainment capital of the world – had all of its VHF channels claimed by the early 1960s. In L.A., as throughout the rest of the nation, investment in a UHF station was considered a foolish waste of money.
Nevertheless, the S.I.N. business partners pressed on and received Channel 34 as their UHF signal assignation under the call letters K-M-E-X (Mexico), a call sign which clearly asserted the new station’s origins as well as its intended audience. Julian Kaufman, experienced in the technical and advertising challenges of running XETV for a U.S. audience, served as KMEX’s acting general manager throughout the summer and fall of 1962 as its facilities were built. As KMEX’s transmitter went up on Mount Wilson and its studio offices were built across the Paramount studios in Hollywood, Kaufman went about informing Angelenos about the need to purchase UHF converter boxes for their TV sets. Through coverage in La Opinión, the principal Spanish-language newspaper in the region, as well as the Los Angeles Times, KMEX got word out about the impending arrival of California’s first Spanish-language station. Throughout the summer of 1962 local papers throughout the region used the KMEX launch as a marketing technique to encourage consumers to purchase UHF converter boxes. By the time KMEX was ready to debut, various electronic stores and TV parts shops reported a significant increase in UHF converter purchases. Contests and street-side UHF conversion demonstrations held in predominantly-Mexican American neighborhoods by KMEX staff helped prepare viewers for the arrival of la televisión en español in L.A.
After months of excitement, KMEX Channel 34 beamed onto the Southern California airwaves for the first time with a live ceremony on Sunday, September 30, 1962. Fernando Escandon read the first comments ever aired on KMEX: “Muy buenas tardes señoras y señores, KMEX Televisión Canal 34 inicia en estos momentos sus transmisiones” (Good evening ladies and gentlemen, KMEX-TV Channel 34 is now beginning its broadcasts). The half-hour dedication ceremony was attended by Academy Award-winning actress Rita Moreno, Mexican Consul Luis Orci, L.A. Mayor Sam Yorty, and City Councilman Edward Roybal, the first Mexican American on the L.A. City Council since 1881. Afterwards KMEX aired a two-and-a-half hour newscast of President John F. Kennedy’s state visit to Mexico City earlier that summer followed by bullfighting and pre-taped performances from Mexico’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. Volumes of Telesistema Mexicano programming, sent north daily by Azcárraga Vidaurreta, bolstered the station’s early programming. The initial opening KMEX made in the UHF band significantly encouraged the development of other L.A.-area UHF stations such as KCET Channel 28 which debuted two years later.
Much has changed in the TV landscape of Southern California since KMEX Channel 34 first went on the air more than fifty years ago. As a sign of the Latino community’s growth, KVEA Channel 52 hit the airwaves as the second full-time Spanish-language station serving the L.A. area in 1985 in the new Telemundo network, threatening its counterpart’s dominance of the L.A. Latino market. KMEX Channel 34 itself has changed, having since become one of the most important stations in the Univision network, the successor entity to S.I.N. The historical development of Los Angeles’s Spanish-language media is a rich odyssey that greatly reflects the role of the U.S.-Mexican border region’s transnational movement of people and ideas in the formation of community identity and cultural institutions.
By Carlos Francisco Parra is working on his Ph.D in the USC History department.
By Elizabeth Logan
In case you are still sorting out dessert, we offer pie recipes from the 1951 church cookbook of the First Evangelical United Brethren Church. Church history places the congregation’s roots in 1884 Los Angeles in the Fireman’s Hall on Main Street. The church moved to its first sanctuary in 1887 at 718 S. Olive and then to the corner of 12th and Hope Streets in 1904. The denomination served the city’s German American families – many of whom were migrants from the mid-west. Even as late as the 1950s, the church featured a German language service at their location at the corner of Washington and Van Ness. Merging with the United Methodist Church in late 1960s, the history of their congregation serves as a reminder of the diversity of religious practice in Los Angeles and supplies us with a pretty great apple pie recipe at the bottom of the page.
Elizabeth Logan is the Associate Director of the Institute on California and the West
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.
On the occasion of 150 years since architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth (June 8, 1867), ICW reached out to Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times, for some thoughts.
ICW: Commemorations such as this allow us to ask questions about influence and legacy. In this case, how can we think about distinct pre- and post-Wright periods in American architecture? Can you give us a sense of that?
CH: Pre-Wright is marked by a slow search to establish an authentic American architecture, an effort that really picks up in the work of Wright’s mentor Louis Sullivan, the Chicago architect he called his “Lieber Meister.” Wright takes Sullivan’s ideas about ornament, form and function, which were hugely influential but largely contained to the late 19th-century Midwest, and expands them in place and time, working all over the US and in Japan and across a staggeringly long career. To oversimplify a bit, Wright’s work is a sustained negotiation between a desire to express a domestic architecture and staying in conversation with — not wanting to appear outpaced by — experiments in European modernism. His career lasted so long and he was so prolific — especially at the beginning and the end of his working life — that any time you talk about before and after you also have to acknowledge how long the “during” was. His established his own firm in 1893; his last great building is the Guggenheim Museum, completed (posthumously) at the end of 1959.
ICW: A few buildings notwithstanding, we don’t generally associate Wright with Southern California or Los Angeles. Should we?
CH: We should. The work he did here in the early 1920s — mostly experimental concrete-block houses with pre-Columbian ornament — helped Los Angeles get a better sense of itself, its cultural and architectural identity. It pointed the way to a regional architecture that wasn’t Spanish (more on that below), that didn’t rely on European precedents. It was different from anything being done here at the time and also radically different from anything Wright did before or after.
ICW: Why have we missed the connections or the relationship, Wright and Southern California?
CH: Mostly because his time here was short. When he set up an office on Fountain Avenue in January 1923 he thought maybe he’d be here for good. LA was booming. But by the end of that year he’d given up on that dream. A number of potential projects — some of which were maybe pipe dreams from the start, like the massive Doheny Ranch — had fizzled out. He was not getting along with his son Lloyd, also an architect and the construction supervisor for some of the LA houses. Most of the concrete-block houses didn’t work out quite as he’d planned, in part because of their experimental structural system. He designed a house in Montecito early on his career and then returned to LA near the end of it for a couple of small projects. Those were flybys. But in the 1920s he was trying to really ground his architecture in Southern California, trying to reinvent himself as a West Coast architect.
ICW: Los Angeles in the 1920s must have seemed caught between provincial and would-be metropolitan, especially to someone with Wright’s eye. What did he think of the place?
CH: His opinions were inconsistent — since he was — but tilted negative. After he left he dismissed LA as a “desert of shallow effects.” But it also sparked something in him, elicited work as inventive and singular as he’d produce anywhere. And he sympathized with the provincial in any case — he was from a close-knit, rural Welsh Wisconsin family that was suspicious of cities. He never quite shook that attitude.
ICW: Who did he know here and with whom did he associate?
CH: His son Lloyd arrived earlier and was for a time the head of the design department at Paramount. Lloyd helped him make contacts. Aline Barnsdall first wanted to build her house in Northern California; once she bought land on Olive Hill he had a steady source of LA income. He was better at making connections in the right social circles when he was younger, as an up-and-coming architect in Chicago. By the time he got to LA he was middle-aged and reeling from the 1914 murder of his mistress Mamah Borthwick.
ICW: His LA time is coincident with his Tokyo work? Any connections between here and there that are especially interesting or germane?
CH: The timing is mostly during the Tokyo work, and just after. It’s the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that gives him a key commission at a lean period in the middle 1910s and brings him regularly to the West Coast for trips across the Pacific. His work here is influenced by Japan but the hotel is also shaped by his rising interest in the architecture of the Americas, defined broadly. Especially pre-Columbian.
ICW: Do you know if he made any connections to the way Los Angeles boosters had become so attracted to Chicago at the time? In other words, LA wanted to do, 1900-1950, what Chicago did, 1850-1900. Did Wright sense that?
CH: He must have, though he was too cynical, too much of a curmudgeon and too vain to join a campaign promoting anything but himself. He saw Los Angeles as the future but also as refuge, a place to hide out and reinvent himself. That contradiction can be seen in his LA work, which is historicist and experimental at the same time, looking backward and forward in a way that has confounded some critics and historians, who were used to dividing 1920s architecture rather neatly into avant-garde and revivalist camps.
ICW: How did he change Los Angeles?
CH: I’ve been working through this question — not just to write the Times piece marking the anniversary but in helping develop a forthcoming KCET Artbound documentary on Wright’s work in L.A. I think you could make a case that his houses here paved the way for the particular success of the major civic and cultural landmarks of the middle and late 1920s — the Central Library, City Hall, Wiltern, etc. Those projects were eclectic and revivalist without being slavishly Spanish Colonial Revival, a style Wright disdained. He planted the seeds for that, for an approach that broke equally from the Bauhaus, the Mission and his own early work.
As architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Hawthorne also writes a weekly column about architecture in Los Angeles. The 1920s photo of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House (above) was taken by Julius Shulman and is courtesy of USC Libraries.
The month of April is synonymous with taxes. We spend hours, days, and even weeks sorting through the paper trail of our financial identity, condensing a year’s worth of work into a federally approved formula. Taxes are an inherent part of life; so, in an era in which the crossover between art and life is a given, what might the crossover between art and the United States Tax Code look like?
“Two Things You Can Count on—Art and Taxes,” appeared in the June 1974 issue of LAICA Journal. The opening lines of the two-page spread, read:
Lowell Darling: “Dudley, can you tell me where you’re from?”
Dudley Finds: “Dollars, Texas.”
In the text, California-based artist Lowell Darling interviews his alter ego, Dudley Finds. The mock-interview is the concluding segment of Darling’s five-year tax project, initiated when the IRS classified Darling a hobbyist rather than an artist engaging in a trade for profit, thus disallowing his proposed income tax deductions for art material expenses. This 1969 denial kicked off Darling’s career as a non-profit public artist bent on proving his artist status to the IRS, all while displaying no documented monetary profit.
To realize the project, Darling corresponded with politicians and federal agencies regarding proposed artworks, stamping the letters he received in response with: “ARTIST’S PROOF.” He established the fictional Fat City School of Finds Art (FCSOFA), placing his alter ego, Dudley Finds, as the founder and dean of the imaginary institution and distributing over 50,000 free MFA degrees—the school counts among its famous graduates John Baldessari and Ray Johnson. Darling realized pro bono site-specific installations up and down the West Coast; he was interviewed by numerous media outlets (television, radio, newspaper); and in 1973, he was awarded a grant by the federally funded National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Only in 1974, and with the assistance of then-UCLA law professor Monroe Edwin Price, was Darling reclassified by the IRS as an artist displaying a profit intent. Thus, he was allowed, finally, to deduct the cost of materials from his [lack of] income. This change in classification was not the result of revised tax laws or increased recognition for conceptual art. Darling posits that having a lawyer argue his case, and having his work reproduced on the cover of Art in America, were significant factors in this revised status. While this may very well be the case, ultimately, the deciding factor was the NEA grant, not because of its associated prestige or federal backing, but because it allowed Darling to display one all-important element on his tax forms: profit.
Thus, to conclude the tax project, which involved forays into correspondence, installation, and performance, Darling displaced the discussion, turning it away from himself (the subject of the IRS audit) and instead shifting it towards Dudley Finds, complicating the matter by discussing his financial identity under a name that both was and was not his.
This blog post is taken from ICW’s Doheny postdoctoral scholar Monica Steinberg’s ongoing research into the agency of imaginary artists in Los Angeles.