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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Angie Chau and Andrew Lam at the California Historical Society

Thursday, August 9, 2012, 6:00 p.m.

Join local authors Angie Chau and Andrew Lam for a reading and discussion on Vietnamese American identity and literature and California.

This is a free event at the California Historical Society, but please RSVP at

The San Francisco Chronicle described Angie Chau's Quiet As They Come as "a powerful mix of tragedy and kindness, of miscommunications and all-too-painful empathy, which bound together are a resonating homage to many an immigrant." Released by IG Publishing in 2010, Quiet As They Come was a Finalist in First Fiction for The Commonwealth Club Book of the Year Award and a Finalist in Fiction for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award.  

 Andrew Lam is a writer and a co-founder of New America Media. Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora has won the Pen American "Beyond the Margins" Award in 2006, and was short-listed for "Asian American Literature Award”. East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres was published in October 2010 and listed as top ten indie books by Shelf Unbound magazine. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Happy Birthday to the 110

News flash:  We’ve heard from readers that the 110 actually opened on December 30 (see this Caltrans announcement  It appears that a section of the freeway connecting Orange Grove Avenue with Avenue 40 opened on July 20.  Let us know if you can shed any new light on the history of the  110.

The first freeway in California was opened in July of 1940.  The Writer’s Almanac website had this shout-out to Southern California’s 110 on its July 20th birthday:  “Known as the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the Pasadena Freeway, or simply "the 110," it was also the first freeway — a high-speed, divided, and limited-access thoroughfare — in the western United States. It runs for just over eight miles and connects Pasadena to Los Angeles.

Today, the Arroyo Seco Parkway remains much as it was in 1940, even though it wasn't designed for the speeds that motorists travel today: There are no acceleration and deceleration lanes, and drivers must go from the on-ramp speed of five miles per hour up to the freeway speed of 55 in a short and hair-raising distance. It was intended to carry about 27,000 cars a day; today, it sees closer to 122,000. But it's still the most direct route from Pasadena into downtown LA.”

The photograph from our collection is from circa 1950s.

---Wendy Welker, California Historical Society Archivist

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Getting Lost in Los Angeles

Comparing Northern California to Southern is as similar as comparing apples to oranges. Yet, when it comes to praise, Los Angeles tends to get the short end of the stick. All people can think about is Hollywood, celebrities, and traffic. But Los Angeles has much history, culture, ethnically diverse people, and hidden beauty to offer. You only need patience and an open mind to find it. Here’s my small guide for you to discover the hidden treasures Los Angeles has to offer in its present day and glorious past.

If you enjoy flavor then go to Echo Park. Mexican food in Los Angeles is the real deal. It cannot be argued otherwise: There is proof in its history. Just take a look at Olvera Street, located in the heart of historic Los Angeles. Originally known as Vine Street, it was renamed in 1877 after Augustin Olvera, who was Los Angeles’ first county judge. After the 1920s the thriving community began to degrade. Christine Sterling, with her wealth and vision, saved Olvera Street from its decrepit path towards doom. She foresaw a lively market, and thus it came into being in 1930, which is still flourishing today. When you find yourself hungry in Los Angeles, here is a tip: Don’t be afraid to try the street food! Trust your instincts. If it smells good, chances are it will be great. (This applies only to the non-tourist districts.)

Women Tortilla Makers in Olvera Street, 1930

 Another argument is that there isn’t enough nature in LA. There may very well not be enough, but there certainly are oases within the city. Why not take a hike through Griffith Park all the way up to the Observatory while contemplating its strange history? Previously a Spanish settlement, Griffith Park was called Rancho Los Feliz. As landholder Don Antonio Feliz was dying he supposedly agreed to give the land not to his family but instead to Don Antonio Coronel. As the story goes, once Feliz’s 17 year old blind niece found this out, she put a curse on the land as well as upon Coronel, the lawyer and the judge. Because of the curse she immediately died. Coincidentally the judge was shot and the lawyer passed early too. Well, the story isn’t all too true. Horace Bell fabricated the niece’s blindness, her early death, and quite possibly the curse for a newspaper. But misfortune has followed landholders ever since and the curse is something to blame.

View from the Planetarium at Griffith Park, 1934

The founder of Griffith Park didn’t end up with the best of luck either. The land was bought by Griffith J. Griffith, of Whales, in 1882. He first opened an ostrich ranch on present-day Griffith Park to attract fashionable people who were looking for feathers. Mainly, though, he wanted to show off his land. On December 16, 1896, he donated 3,015 of his acres to create the public park. Influenced by European parks, Griffith realized that to be a great city, there needs to be a great park. (Today the park contains 4,210 acres.) Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well for Griffith or his wife. While vacationing he believed his wife was conspiring with the Pope to poison him. He later shot her, though she survived. After that incident Griffith fell from fame. But at least one great thing came out of his purchase: An amazing piece of land can be admired today for its green and quite nestled within bustling LA. While you’re there, check out Trails CafĂ© and get an avocado sandwich packed with sprouts and cheese on whole wheat bread. You can’t get more Southern California picturesque than sitting on a picnic bench beneath enormous shady trees, with lemonade, a veggie sandwich and the 405 freeway within reach.

Picnic Tables in Griffith Park, 1920

Another great outdoor space with copious amounts of history is Echo Park Lake. Most people tend to overlook it as a manmade wonder. In the 1860s Echo Lake was built as a reservoir to provide drinking water. Obtained from the Los Angeles River, water travelled down a path that crossed through Los Feliz. Mayor Henry Hazard foresaw Alvarado Street as a popular boulevard that would connect people from Westlake (today’s MacArthur Park) to Echo Park Lake and Elysian Park. In 1885 Echo Park Lake and boathouse were completed. Unfortunately a year later the Times wrote, “There has perhaps been less talk, newspaper and other, about his park than about any other, and it does not seem, thus far in its existence, that it were worthy of much." Throughout the century the park’s popularity fluctuated.  During the final days of WWII Echo Park Lake became a destination for weekend outings, picnics, and toy boat festivities. From 1944 to 1950 the construction of the 101 freeway put a damper on the park’s momentum. It sliced through the playground and many of the homes that were situated near the lake. Disrupting the community lifestyle that the park provided meant less accessibility for residents to walk to the park. Before the 101 was built, Echo Playground had a fountain, basketball and tennis courts, croquet and sports fields, an outdoor gymnasium and a walking path within its grassland. It flourished in its heyday. The Pacific Electric Red Car was a main source of transportation, running alongside the park, until 1955. Echo Park even once had a beautiful Spanish library from 1928 that was demolished by the city in 1974. As you can see, Los Angeles is screaming with history that would have been a treat to witness back in the day.

Boys Launching Boats on Echo Lake for Boat Tournament, 1930

After its charming mid-century era, Echo Park sadly went into a downward spiral. With population surplus and immigrant families landing in Echo Park, the Lake has been a difficult place for Los Angeles to maintain. In 1971 The Los Angeles Times printed an article titled “Which Way for Echo Park – Inner City Oasis or Slum?” summing up that the park was at a tipping point. Finally, by 1980 activists deemed a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone upon the Victorian and craftsman style homes. For the park’s 100-year anniversary in 1995, Echo Park was given serious consideration for improving its green space. That same year the Echo Park Historical Society was created to protect the lake and create a safer environment. By 2013 Echo Park will be integrated back with its community and visitors will then be able to catch a glimpse of the icon it once was, and still is today.   

Yes, LA has problems. As do all cities. But that doesn’t mean that we should withhold respect when we compare it to other cities.  I once was speaking with a reputable urban planner in San Francisco. I asked him if I should focus my concerns on Los Angeles—the sprawl, the traffic, and the waste—instead of on a city that is already environmentally aware. He laughed and said, “You need to get up here.”  That was it. No debate or profound thoughts about why it would be beneficial to work in a city that needs help the most. You need to be here. I understand that being surrounded by likeminded people is always encouraging to get work done. But I can’t let all the other problems be set off to the side because they are harder to fix.

Living in the state of California, we are lucky to have it all. And we really do have it all. San Diego has its laidback beach vibe. Orange County is comfortable with breath-taking scenery. Los Angeles is a pocket of cities within cities, which makes it fantastic for exploring. Santa Barbara is a luscious mountain landscape painted on sand. Further up the coast includes numerous cozy-coastal and inland farm towns that I cannot begin to list. Driving up the 101, it if feels like the state’s growth can’t be stopped. It goes, and goes, and keeps going past hundreds of curvy miles and straightly paved roads through deserts, beaches, forests, farmland, suburbs, and average-looking cities. Everything we ever could want is in at our front door.  We can just as easily hop on a plane and be transported from SF to LA in one hour. So when people decide to dislike Los Angeles because they had a single bad experience or are not familiar with it, next time they can look in the right places—the lesser known and undiscovered landscapes—to  see the vast wonders  Los Angeles truly offers.  

Words by Andrea Dumovich--Guest concierge for the California Historical Society

(All images are provided by the USC Digital Library which is part of our online research collection.) 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The 1930s Scrapbook: Vintage Photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge

Saturday, August 18, 2012, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. 
(timed entry, reservation required)

Join us for a very special afternoon examining vintage scrapbooks and photograph albums chronicling the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.  In connection with our ongoing exhibition A Wild Flight of the Imagination: the Story of the Golden Gate Bridge, this event allows visitors to view the pages of albums featured in the exhibition and to view additional, rarely-seen material from the archives of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, San Francisco Public Library, and California Historical Society.  These intimate photographs provide firsthand accounts of the bridge under construction, many taken by the people who built it.  Historians and archivists from the participating institutions will be on hand to discuss the collections. Vintage photography enthusiasts and those fascinated by the bridge will enjoy this opportunity for up-close viewing.  Due to the delicate nature of the material, this event will have timed entry and requires a reservation.

Please register at for your selected viewing time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Special Viewing and Reception of the California Historical Society Collections at the University of Southern California

W. Herbert Allen's family in a Tourist automobile, ca.1900, 
California Historical Society Collection at USC, CHS-13005
Saturday, July 21, 2012, 2:00 p.m.

Special Viewing and Reception of the California Historical Society Collections at the University of Southern California

Join us for a special viewing and reception in the Doheny Memorial Library. The California Historical Society collection at the University of Southern California includes over 20,000 photographs from the Title Insurance and Trust Company and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce (LAACC), along with the records of LAACC documenting the development and promotion of the Los Angeles region.

Event begins at 2pm in the Friends Lecture Hall, Room 240
Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California
3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA 90089

This is a free event, though reservations are required.
RSVP to or 415.357.1848, ext. 233.

*Parking is available at Gate 3 on Figueroa Street and McCarthy Way for $8 for the day.