California Dreaming

Some great comments on Steve Sailer’s site:

* Steve Sailer: I’ve lived on and off in L.A. since 1958. I figured out while I was still in high school that most people in Los Angeles think it was at its peak when they first can remember it, either as a small child or as a transplant.

Assisted by the countless movies filmed here, Los Angeles has a profoundly nostalgic culture. Nebraska-born director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways) pointed out the the main appeal of living in L.A. (besides the weather) is the history…

Consider L.A.’s favorite sportscasters as evidence that deep down, Angelenos hate change.

Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers from 1958 to 2016.

Chick Hearn was the voice of the Lakers from 1961-2001, calling 3,338 consecutive Laker games over 1965-2001.

* The other thing that the Californian dream was that it was not just white but very WASPy. It seems to me that California was much more old stock than the big East Coast cities. In a way it was a last stand of old stock America in a big urban setting.

* I first visited California in the early 80s as a teenager who had never left the flat lands of the midwest. I was blown away by the mountains, the beauty of the coast, the glass-smooth roads and the overall cleanliness of the place.

After having lived there from 2008 to 2020, I can say it’s going downhill fast. Homeless living under overpasses; graffiti on the road signs; dry brush everywhere because no one can afford to water anything; confiscatory tax rates and draconian regulations on business.

I’m convinced the only reason the government of CA never changes is because they keep replacing those of us who know what CA used to be, and know what the rest of the country is like, with foreigners who find CA to be perfectly fine compared to the shit holes they fled.

* Nobel Prize winning physicist and founding president of Caltech, Robert Millikan, called LA in the ’40s “the westernmost outpost of Nordic civilization . . . [with] a population which is twice as Anglo-Saxon as that existing in New York, Chicago or any of the great cities of this country.”

Having said that, it was a different kind of WASP or founding stock culture than that of the East Coast. It was more middle and working class, as more established and upper-middle/upper class WASPs back east generally weren’t enticed or compelled to move far west to the deserts of southern California. There were always many evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant churches in LA and Socal unlike WASP areas in the Northeast that tended to be dominated by Mainline Protestants.

This class and cultural difference was why Socal was favorable towards middle/working class aspirations, but probably also responsible for the underlying hokeyness and middlebrow, superficial, anti-intellectual culture of Socal that persists.

* “California was mostly Irish and white trash.”

This is true of the white populations in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. One side of my family, Irish and Scotch-Irish, migrated from Texas in the 1930s looking for work. An “Okie” dialect, which is indistinguishable from a Texas twang, is still prevalent in the white working class clusters in Fresno, Stockton, and Sacramento. Most of the white trash stayed in the valleys.

* Sailer: San Francisco was more post-Puritan New England highbrow than L.A.

The U.S. learned about how great the San Francisco Bay area was from Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 book Two Years Before the Mast. Dana was a Harvard student who’d signed up as a sailor.

L.A.’s gentry tended to be well-to-do Midwesterners who moved out for their health.

SF was more elitist, LA more egalitarian.

* Charlotte Allen: Don’t knock Olvera Street. Olvera Street is great. I’m a Southern California native (Pasadena), and I never fail to visit Olvera Street whenever I’m back in L.A. visiting family or whatever. It has it all: adobe houses from the early 19th century–the time of the missions–a beautiful old church, a lovely, tree-shaded plaza, great Mexican food at restaurants that have been there since forever, and wonderful Mexican tchotchkes for sale that are not made in China (Day of the Dead figurines, etc.). It is also unabashedly religious: a big cross, Our Lady of Guadalupe everywhere, Las Posadas as the big festival. The ACLU has not gotten to Olvera Street. Sure, it was set up in the 1930s as a tourist attraction for Anglos, and when it was growing up, it was derided as cornball and phony-baloney–who’d want to go there? But now, nearly 100 percent of the “tourists” are actually Mexican-Americans from L.A. They love it. The place is always packed.

Did you know my husband? Don Allen, student-body president, Hawthorne High, class of ’63? Grew up on 120th Street, in a house his father built himself after WW2. Everything but the plumbing and wiring. The Wilsons lived a few blocks away, and Dennis Wilson was in Don’s class. Hawthorne was a working-class paradise back then–before they widened 120th Street (Don’s old house is now a rental dump) and tore down all the little businesses on Hawthorne Blvd. to build that ghastly monstrosity of a shopping mall that failed almost immediately and is now a huge, lurking ghost-hulk that continues to destroy the street. Hawthorne today isn’t quite as decrepit as it looked in Pulp Fiction, and some of the little neighborhood-y side streets are quite pleasant with their little houses now entirely occupied by Mexicans. Since it’s not far from the beach, the climate is quite pleasant: about 10 degrees cooler in summer than downtown L.A. I don’t know why Hawthorne hasn’t been “discovered” as a gentrification locus, as it’s not that far south from Beverly Hills. I’ve always said that we ought to retire there, except for the generally grim socioeconomic scene in California. In fact, we stayed in Hawthorne (so close to LAX) on a family visit this June–at a Hampton Inn on Imperial and Acacia, the site of Andy Lococo’s Cockatoo Inn, where Jack Kennedy had a tryst with Marilyn Monroe. Did you ever eat there growing up? It was Hawthorne’s premiere restaurant, where the Lions Club and the other civic clubs used to meet. Imagine: the Lions Club meeting in a mafia-run operation.

* Sailer: Presumably, when Jake Gittes was an LAPD officer he was involved in some seemingly low-level corruption in Chinatown that had a tragic outcome, such as a beautiful prostitute that he loved being murdered without anybody being brought to justice for the crime, which drove him out of the LAPD and into being a cynical private eye.

That’s my most Chandleresque interpretation.

Does anybody else have a theory of Jake Gittes’ backstory? (I’ve never seen the sequel “The Two Jakes.”)

* Cali’s golden years were clearly the 1950’s and early ’60s (As were America’s).
By the ’70s and ’80s it was mostly running on fumes and by the 1990s it was clear things were amiss when for the first time in history more Americans were leaving the state than arriving. The triple whammy of the LA riots, the Northridge quake and the OJ imbroglio certainly scared a lot of people off. Concurrently, mass immigration (which Californians valiantly opposed in the 1990s)* drove up the cost of housing for regular Americans and made swaths of the state unpleasant rundown foreign colonies; it’s still mostly OK for Americans who could afford $800K for a 650 sq. ft. bungalow 3 miles from the ocean, but for regular middle-class Americans folks the “CA dream” is another nice thing they can’t have anymore b/c of immigration and PC.

* I was in Southern California in the early 80s and it was really nice. It had peaked however and ugly urban sprawl had already covered up the hills and there wasn’t a much open coastline south of LA. The summer weather is or was, to me, the best in the world, especially in the coastal zone. A few hours of gloom in the morning followed by that fantastic sea breeze later made July days just about perfect.

* The nostalgia goes back a long way. Raymond Chandler, writing in the 1940s, has his narrator making some bitter comments about how LA used to be a nice little town just after the first war, with small houses in their own plots and a cozy bohemian feel. So either nostalgia is a universally-held emotion or else California has been going downhill so fast and so badly that wherever you stand it always looks better in the past.

* I visited California in the late 1970s, and it was already overcrowded and too expensive back then. I was shocked by the poverty of my father’s friend, a UCLA professor. He and his family were living in an expensive slumlike apartment without even a dishwasher, and he was wearing broken glasses because he couldn’t afford to get them fixed. His car got stolen a month after we visited. At that point, I knew California was a very bad deal.

My Dad, who lived in flyover land and who was not making a large salary, could nonetheless afford a house, could afford to get things fixed, and we never locked the cars because there was no car theft in our small town.

* As Quentin Tarantino pointed out in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, LA in the 60s seemed both absolutely perfect and yet still a place on the rise and still unknown. A man could go out there and buy a new home at a good price with plenty of space, find a good wife, live in great weather, have a two-garage household to grow 5 kids while having a lifetime job.

Or he could lout about and have wild open hippie sex with the dozens of fresh-off-the-farm, newly-birth-controlled, trusting, thin, attractive, still-near-virginal white blond women dressed in next-to-nothing who had trekked out there to either be movie stars or join hippie communes. All while getting high on weed, alcohol, and LSD.

In either way, it must’ve been paradise until the Manson family and the race riots hit town.

* I first visited California in 1980; it struck me as an entire state run like a summer camp. But this article is making me think about what I meant by that.

For one thing, the tone of the place was relaxed. Relaxed dress codes, relaxed people, fewer rigid requirements. More like vacation than work.

The weather reminded me of summer, especially summer in places like northern Michigan. Low humidity, pine or cedar scent, blue skies, cool nights, warm days. The places you’d visit in the summer in the midwest were northern summer towns, vacation towns that thrived on offering easy, relaxed living.

Also, not crowded. When I was a child in the 1960’s, cheap air travel had destroyed the summer tourism industry; many people flew south for their major vacation in winter. For me, it just made summer even more relaxed, and less crowded.

Who wouldn’t want that, practically year-round?

So, white people started describing it this way, portraying it this way, kind of like you’d talk about heaven or Eden, in religious awe.

Other people around the world saw these portrayals, and sure enough, thought they’d come and try it. And buy parts of it. And move in. And breed.

And that was the end of that.

* I think the best way to understand California is that it was time shifted, where everything happened FASTER (starting with the gold rush). California went through the same stages that America went through, but it went through them more rapidly. It is now ahead of America on the timeline.

It was the explosion of suburbia after the advent of the automobile, the agricultural explosion, the industry, the settlement of WASPy whites followed by other ethnic groups. The influx of immigrants, the slow encroachment of Leftists, evolving from liberty-loving free-thinkers to Leninists. The conservative snap back with Ronald Reagan, followed by the slow victory of the Marxist locust swarm.

California — started later than the rest of America, went zooming past it with some of the highest potential that America ever head, ended up where America is headed.

* I grew up in the San Diego area. A large contingent in those days were Midwesterners (like my parents) who had ended up in San Diego via the military (mostly Marines and Navy but there were army bases there in WWII and some of them stuck around too). My father was the first to show up and promptly brought his parents out here from Iowa, soon to be followed by most of his brothers and sisters (my mother’s family followed a similar course). A big draw was the weather. Midwestern weather varies from miserable to barely endurable. I well remember my Minnesota-raised mother’s opinion of snow: “When you’re a kid, snow is fun but when you’re an adult, it’s just a pain in the neck.” Her Norwegian father had a similar opinion: “If I’d known there was a California, I never would have stopped in Minnesota – forty years of shoveling walks!”

* We arrived in the early sixties when I was an adolescent, and the place was indeed paradise, I literally attended the Beach Boys’ high school and it was everything you would imagine.
Except for one thing. The air during warm months could be like an alien planet. I remember one summery morning waiting for a bus on Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) and watching the visibility looking down the street shrink block by block into a cloud of brown smog. On that bright sunny day you could barely see more than a block.
Young people today note the gasoline stench from restored 1960’s collector cars and I tell them to imagine what it was like when every car around you on the street was putting that out.

A friend says:

Although Los Angeles was major metropolis before WWII, it really exploded in population after the war. Even now, announcers often remark during outdoor winter events, especially the Rose Bowl, about how wonderful the weather is. Literally millions of persons, including many soldiers traveled through and stopped in Southern California during WWII and immediately afterword and decided to make it their home. It was easy for Millikan to call it an outpost of Nordic civilization, and that may have been true as far as where political and economic power was concentrated, but L.A. always had a significant population of Mexican descent, and then in the aftermath of the war a higher percentage of the population was black than is true today. For the most part, due to restrictive covenants, they were in separate neighborhoods and out of sight and out of mind from someone like Millikan. L.A. had a fairly large Japanese Community and Chinese as well.

Anyone who looks at the history of the city from the turn of the 20th century but not in the nineteenth, can see that Jews had a significant population and had interests in retail, banking, movies and real estate.

I did love L.A. but that was based on my having a pretty happy childhood. I remember when we used to burn our trash in backyard incinerators and remember even after they were banned, the horrible smog. It was impossible to engage in any protracted physical exercise without your lungs aching. As someone who hiked in Griffith Park or swam in public or friends’ pools, this aching lungs when taking a deep breath is a vivid memory. Back through the 1960’s it was plenty smoggy in Hollywood, but nothing compared to the San Gabriel Valley. I didn’t understand how anyone could live in Pasadena. Now that the air is clear it is highly desirable, but it wasn’t then.

What made L.A. different is that there were a lot of vacant lots. The infill with houses and apartments had not been completed.

The 65 riots were in Watts, but the 1992 riots got to me. All these beautiful neighborhoods were significantly damaged by the rioting. It takes a lot out of a person and it took a lot out of me to see what I thought were stable and safe neighborhoods gutted and looted. This was my beautiful city that had only improved since I returned after college. We had five term black mayor.We had hosted a successful Olympics games. We had an entire cultural renaissance with films, theater, art and music. We had the best ethnic cuisine variety. Wonderful neighborhoods and even a growth of artists lofts and events at downtown warehouses. And of course, clean air. And then the riots. The city may have bounced back with few physical signs of the riots, but for some people like me the riots betrayed the promise of the city and in some way, tore out my heart. It is very hard for me to explain this to persons who moved here years later what it was like when it happened….

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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