Promoting Greater Los Angeles as the Last Frontier Through the “Southern California Tourist,” August 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A core component of any boom period in a given region is the marketing and publicity efforts to “boost” that area.  In greater Los Angeles, boosterism was perhaps unparalleled anywhere in the United States, fueled by such agencies as the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which devoted enormous resources towards the promotion of the region.

Not as well known and apparently short-lived at the end of the 1920s when another major boom period was long underway in the area was the Southern Califonria Tourist Information Bureaus, Inc., which published the monthly Southern California Tourist.  Today’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the August 1927 issue, which was the eighth number of the second volume (meaning the first issue came out at the beginning of 1926.)

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The images here are from the Homestead’s copy of the August 1927 issue of “Southern California Tourist,” a publication of the Southern California Tourist Information Bureaus, Inc., which appears to have been active for only a few years.  

The bureaus’ headquarters was in the busy commercial core of downtown Los Angeles at Spring and 5th streets with major branches in Long Beach, Santa Monica, and two locations in San Diego.  Claiming a circulation of 20,000, with individual issues at a price of ten cents and $1 for yearly subscriptions, the firm stated that it distributed copies to steamships, railroads, major hotels and apartment buildings, at news stands, and other venues in the region.

This issue had a feature promotional article about Pomona, denoted as “The Ideal City” and “the place where you’d like to live.”  Undoubtedly the feature came about because of the efforts of that citrus center’s chamber of commerce and, as was so often the case, the text claimed “no community is more favorably situated with even climate, picturesque mountain scenery, abundance of pure water, and easy access to markets.”

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The piece continued that the “Pomona Valley is famed for the fine quality of its oranges and lemons, which are the greatest souce of the valey’s abundant resources” along with other agricultural products.  It went on to observe that 8 in 10 residents owned their homes and that there were twenty-six religious dominations in the city of about 23,000 (it is a little over 150,000 now) while other amenities were touted.

Another featured place was Laguna Beach, described as “The Gem of the Pacific” and highlighted as having “a setting that has no equal on the Pacific Coast, and, possibly, in the world.”  After continuing that “words fail to describe,” the unnamed author tried anyway, despite stating that artists and writers had tried, too!

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It was observed that Laguna had such an allure that it was “drawing people from the four corners of the earth” because of “the finest climate in the world” and “all the comforts of living, with good roads on which to travel and the assurance that you will be surrounded with beautiful homes.”  The accompanying photo showed the crescent-shaped coastline with hardly any sign of development, a far cry from the busy beachfront of today.

Much of the issue provides thumbnail sketches of cities, towns and communities throughout Southern California, with all of the expected paeans and tributes to the attractions and amenities expected in a booster publication.

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Greater coverage, not surprisingly, was given to Los Angeles, the “Metropolis of the Southland,” and the folks at the chamber of commerce’s Publicity Department did not disappoint in their ability to promote the city:

Los Angeles in notable among cities of the world for its beauty, its magical growth in population and commerce, its happy, energetic people and their vision in planning for the future.

Yet, it was, in the next sentence, said to be “one of the most typical American communities in the land today.”  Angelenos, it was claimed, “come from the best elements in various sections” of the country and “many have had success elsewhere” while “all bring judgment gained from past experiences.”

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The interesting angle continued: “Every State in the Union has proud sons and daughters taking active part in the development of the young metropolis on the western shore of their country.”  In education, finance, the arts, the sciences “and plain straightforward work,” these new arrivals “are of inestimable value.”  Whether they came from “staunch old New England,” “the chivalric South,” “the substantial Middle and Central states,” or “the Western states of pioneer days,” all were “making modern history on the Pacific Coast, the last frontier.”

The piece ended abruptly by stating, “one could easily write a book about Los Angeles.  This is but a brief chapter.”  Whether this was so or not, the text is remarkable on several levels for its statements, such as “magical growth,” as if there was little or no planning, or how its residents only came from “the best elements” of other portions of America, or the idea that Los Angeles was “the last frontier.”

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A key section in the publication was “Suggestions for the Visitor” subtitled “What to See, Where to Go, What to Do.”  Among the listings was a “Trip to Pasdena,” although a “Trip to Pasadena” might have been even better!  The route passed through the Plaza area and nearby neighborhoods, denoted as “Little Mexico”, before moving through an industrial area to the northeast, and to alligator and ostrich farms along with Lincoln Park and the Selig Zoo (recently renamed Luna Park) in Lincoln Heights, before heading to Pasadena.

Among the local attractions was the Raymond Hotel in South Pasadena, the Oak Knoll residential section, the Huntington Hotel, Millionaire’s Row on Orange Grove Avenue, the Rose Bowl, and Busch Gardens along the Arroyo Seco, among other attractions.  The return to Los Angeles focused on a route through Garvanza and Highland Park along the arroyo to Elysian Park, the remains of the Los Angeles oil field, and through the Broadway Tunnel (long gone now) under Bunker Hill and back to downtown.

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Another featured trip was to Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the beaches, including fine residential areas to the west, the 42 film studios in Hollywood, and the homes there and in Beverly Hills of many film stars, sixteen of which are named, including ones still well-known today like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks along with largely forgotten ones like Dorothy Phillips, Ernest Torrance, and Pauline Frederick.  The return trip from Santa Monica, Venice and Ocean Park included Culver City film studios like M.G.M. and those owned by Cecil B. de Mille and Hal Roach and a view of the West Adams neighborhood of old (meaning 30 or 40 years!) mansions

More film studios were included in a trip out to Mount Lowe above Altadena and Pasadena via a route that went up Cahuenga Pass through where Paramount (easily the largest of the main studios of the era) and First National held sway.  From there, travelers  would go up Glendale and along what is now the 2 Freeway to where “the aristocratic Flintridge Estates” in modern La Cañada-Flintridge was situated.  Crossing the Arroyo Seco and “over Devil’s Gate Dam,” which can no longer be done, visitors could head to the famous Mount Lowe and its famed inclline railway, a change to cars that wound further up the mountain sides, and to the terminus at the Mt. Lowe Tavern.

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Other trips were to San Diego and “Tia Juana” (covering two days) and to Riverside and the “Orange Empire” along the foothills of the San Gabriels.  Unfortunately, there was a reference to passing, on the way east from the Los Angeles, the “old mansion of P.O. Pico, California’s last Mexican Governor,” rather than to the home of “Pío” Pico, last governor of Mexican California.

Another essay covered the California missions, the “historic landmarks of the past,” and quoted from John Steven McGroarty, a journalist, poet, and playwright, whose Mission Play was highly popular from the early 1910s to the end of the 1920s.  McGroarty wrote of “a great story—this story  of the Franciscan enterprise of a century and a half ago which resulted in the building and establishment of this marvelous chain of Mission structures.”  He also highlighted the architecture “peculiarly their own” as composites of other styles from Greece, Rome, and Spain (including Moorish influences), but made no mention of the native peoples of California and their plight under that system.

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The original owner of this copy had a particular, but unstated, interest in the well-known Carthay Circle Theatre, which has been highlighted on this blog previously, with colored pencil notations on the cover identifying the three locations the theater was mentioned in the publication, including a short essay that recommended that “every tourist interested in Romantic California could well make a visit” to it.

This was because, in addition to being a movie house, the building also featured artistic renderings that purported to show the history of the state, including the “Spanish Dons,” the Gold Rush, the Pony Express, and other elements.  Exhibits featured relics of “old” California, including a stagecoach, part of a flagpole from the Monterey Customs House, and other aspects.

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Also of note are a few pages of listings of the populations, altitiude, and distance from Los Angeles of dozens of cities and towns in Southern California and it is striking to see how thinly populated many of these places were a little over 90 years ago compared to now.  Huntington Beach had 6,000 people and is pushing 200,000 now; Newport Beach had only 900 residents and is about 87,000 today; Inglewood was listed as having 24,000 and has about 110,000 now; and Corona with 6,200 people in 1927 is approaching 170,000 today.  These are just a few examples locally, with Phoenix among further-out cities—it had under 30,000 residents then and has ballooned to 1.6 million.  Bakersfield was a little smaller than Phoenix in 1927 and has about 350,000 today.

A publication like this naturally relies heavily on advertising to defray costs, so there are many ads, much of which have a palpable connection to tourism, though there are some, like an announcement of a lawyer’s change in offices; one for an insurance company; or another for a health food beverage, that are not directly tied to the topic.

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In all, Southern California Tourist is a very interest documents about 1920s greater Los Angeles, including marketing and promotion, boosterism, tourism, and how at least some people in the region thought of the seemingly endless potential for development in the “new metropolis.”

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