Modern Metropolis: Los Angeles Since 1848

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Professor Eric Avila ( Hist M155/CCS M183

T.A.: Bernard James Remollino Royce 190

Office: 7357 Bunche Hall Tu/Th. 2pm--3:15pm

Prof. Office Hours: Tu. 12:30-2pm; Th. 3:30-5pm Winter 2018

T.A. Office Hours: 10am-1pm, Bunche 2149

Modern Metropolis: Los Angeles Since 1848

  • What makes Los Angeles Los Angeles and not New York, Chicago or Miami?

  • What are the major historical patterns of urban development in Southern California and might they constitute a paradigm of twentieth-century urbanism?

  • Does Los Angeles present a unique historical paradigm of urban development or does its’ growth model a larger pattern of urban development in the early 21st century? 

These are some of the ‘big questions’ that historians of Los Angeles grapple with and they will guide our analysis this quarter as we explore the history of the city since 1848, emphasizing the relationship between politics, economic and culture within a regional and historical framework. Rather than understanding the history of Los Angeles for its own sake, we will survey the city and its past as a case study for understanding the dynamics of power in the making of cities, considering what constitutes power, who has it and who does not.  Key themes to be addressed this quarter include the tension between nature and culture; the nature of community formation within a decentralized urban region; the historical significance of Los Angeles to a) the U.S. West, b) the American city, and c) the global economy; the relationship between public institutions and private enterprise; the interactions of diverse social groups; and the rise of Los Angeles as the seat of the American “Culture Industry.” 

There will be substantial readings in this class (three books and several articles). The midterm is scheduled for the sixth week of class and it will cover readings and lectures up through week 5. The final exam is a take-home exam and it is due on Monday, March 22, by 4pm.  It will provide an opportunity for you to choose one among three broad questions, in which you will generate an original creative argument drawing upon specific historical examples from readings and lectures.  

Course Requirements:*
Midterm (in class, BRING BLUE BOOK) 40%

Take-home final exam 60%

*An extra credit assignment will also be available towards the end of class, which will count towards 2% towards your course grade
Readings:   Texts available @ ASUCLA Textbooks, Ackerman Union, with the exception of a few articles that will be available for download on the class website.
Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land (HISTORY TEXT)

D.J. Waldie, Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir (AUTOBIOGRAPHY)

Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust (NOVEL)
Schedule of Lectures and Reading Assignments:


Week 1

Tu. 1/9: The Long Mexican American War

Th. 1/11: City for Sale: Los Angeles and its Boosters


Mike Davis, “Sunshine or Noir?,” from City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles

McWilliams, Southern California, Chapters 1, 2, 3, & 4 (pp. 3-83)


Week 2

Tu. 1/16: Railroads, Harbors and Aqueducts: Imperial Los Angeles

Th. 1/18: Streetcars and the Origins of Sprawl in southern California


William F. Deverell, “The Los Angeles ‘Free Harbor Fight,” California History, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Spring 1991), pp. 12-29.

McWilliams, Southern California, Chapters 5, 6, & 7 (pp. 84-137)
R. L. Sagarena, “Building California’s Past: Mission Revival Architecture and Regional Identity,” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 28, No. 4 (May 2002).
Week 3
Tu. 1/23: “The Better City”: Los Angeles During the Progressive Era
Th. 1/25: Los Angeles and the Automobile


Eve Bachrach, “Why We Can’t Agree on William Mulholland,” Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 8-10.

Deverell and Sitton, “Forget It Jake: Searching for the Truth in Chinatown,” Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 3-7.
McWilliams, Southern California, Chapters 8, 9, & 10 (pp. 138-204).
David L. Ulin, “Take It: Mulholland Gave Water and a Motto to Live By,” Boom: A Journal of California, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 28-37.
Week 4
Tu. 1/30: The Rise of Hollywood

Th. 2/1: Religion in the City of the Angels


McWilliams, Southern California, Chapters 11, 12, & 13 (pp. 205-272).

David Karnes, “The Glamorous Crowd: Hollywood Movie Premiers Between the Wars,” American Quarterly Vol. 38, No. 4 (1986).
Phoebe Kropp, “Citizens of the Past?: Olvera Street and the Construction of Race and Memory in 1930s Los Angeles,” Radical History Review, 09/2001, Issue 81.
Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust, Introduction, Chps. 1-15.
Week 5
Tu. 2/6: The Noir City: Los Angeles and the 1930s
Th. 2/8: Race, Redlining and the Geography of Racial Inequality


Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust, Chps. 16-27.

McWilliams, Southern California, Chapters 14-17 (pp. 273-370).
Week 6

Th. 2/15: Martial Metropolis: World War II and its Impact on Los Angeles


Eric Avila, “Chocolate Cities and Vanilla Suburbs: Disneyland, Film and the Cold War Suburban Imaginary,” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Nov. 2004), pp. 3-22.

Greg Hise, “Home Building and Industrial Decentralization in Los Angeles: The Roots of the Postwar Urban Region,” Journal of Urban History, Vol. 19, No. 2, February 1993, pp. 95-125.
George Sanchez, “’What’s Good for Boyle Heights is Good for the Jews’: Creating Multiculturalism on the Eastside During the 1950s,” American Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Sept. 2004), pp. 633-661.
Week 7
Tu. 2/20: The Political Culture of Homeownership in Southern California

Th. 2/22: Los Angeles Enters the ‘Big League’: The Dodgers Move West


Becky Nicolaides, “Where the Working Man is Welcomed”: Working Class Suburbs in Los Angeles, 1900-1940, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 68, No. 4 (Nov. 1999), pp. 517-559.

D.J. Waldie, Holy Land

“Acknowledgements,” Chps. 1-133.

Week 8
Tu. 2/27: Disneyland, White Flight and the Rise of Orange County

Th. 3/1: An Ecology for Architecture


D.J. Waldie, Holy Land, Chps. 134-316.

Week 9
Tu. 3/6: The Age of the Freeway

Th. 3/8: LA and Sixties


Eric Avila, “The Folklore of the Freeway: Space, Identity and Culture in Postwar Los Angeles,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicana and Chicano Studies, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 15-31.

Mike Davis, “Fortress L.A.,” in City of Quartz, pp. 223-263.

Week 10

Tu. 3/13: Guest speaker: Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky

Th. 3/18: Conclusion: From Cowtown to Global Metropolis

Wendy Chang, “Diversity on Main Street: Branding Race and Place in the New ‘Minority-Majority’ Suburbs, Identities 11/2010, Vol. 17, Issue 5.

Mike Davis, ‘The Case for Letting Malibu Burn,’ Ecology of Fear
Paul Ong and Evelyn Blumenberg, “Income and Racial Inequality in Los Angeles,” in Scott and Soja, eds. The City, pp. 311-335.

FINAL PAPERS DUE:  Monday, March 22, by 4pm through TURN-IT-IN.COM.


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