Monday, August 22, 2016

History Keepers: Anton Wagner’s Los Angeles, 1932–33

Looking from Wall Street between 8th and 9th Streets, 1932
Los Angeles: 1932–33 by Anton Wagner, PC 17, California Historical Society

They are Los Angeles’s history keepers. They research, organize, store, repair, and care for historical artifacts and make them available to us online, at exhibitions, through publications, or in their homes. This summer, from August 5 to August 27, the California Historical Society celebrates Los Angeles’s history keepers with an exhibition at the historic El Pueblo National Monument.

A series of blogs brings our online visitors a sample of objects in the exhibition. Here we feature the work of Anton Wagner, who visited Los Angeles from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Wagner’s ancestors resided in Los Angeles since 1890 and were actively involved in the city’s affairs.

Los Angeles: 1932–33 by Anton Wagner
History Keeper: California Historical Society

In 1932 a young German PhD student arrived in Los Angeles. Anton Wagner wanted to determine how this American city and its environs had become a booming metropolis of two million people from a small, dusty mid-nineteenth-century town.

Mission San Fernando, Date Palms, Adobe Wall, 1932
Los Angeles: 1932–33 by Anton Wagner, PC 17, California Historical Society

During his penetrating investigation, Wagner researched the region’s history, critically examined its geography, interviewed its civic and business leaders, and covered the area of greater Los Angeles on foot. His comprehensive and illuminating study—most likely the first to present the geographical-historical development of an American metropolis—was published in Germany in 1935. The book—translated as Los Angeles: The Development, Life, and Form of the Southern California Metropolis—contains only a small number of the 400-plus photographs Wagner took to help document his findings.

Cover (left) and Interior Page, Map of the Greater Los Angeles Area (right)
Anton Wagner, Los Angeles: Werden, Leben und Gestalt der Zweimillionenstadt in Südkalifornien (Leipzig: Bibliographisces Institut, 1935)

In today’s downtown Los Angeles, Wagner would find 8th and Wall Streets the center of the commercial flower market—nothing like the residential bungalows he captured in the panorama above. But to him, it was not just the character of the landscape that had made Los Angeles an “insatiable city,” it was also the people. The two were inextricably linked. Still, could he have imagined, while traversing the city in the early 1930s, the phenomenal growth that would occur by the close of the decade, when the population increased by more than a quarter million?

Anton Wagner, Looking across Pershing Square from 6th and Olive Streets, 1932
California Historical Society

Pershing Square TodayCourtesy

History Keeper: California Historical Society
The California Historical Society holds one of the state’s top historical collections, revealing California’s social, cultural, economic, and political history and development through books and pamphlets, manuscripts, newspapers and periodicals, photographs, fine arts, costumes, prints and drawings, maps, and ephemera. At our headquarters in San Francisco and our outposts at the University of Southern California and the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, we hold millions of items in trust for the people of California. 

Exploring Anton Wagner
Anton Wagner’s photographs will be available online through the CHS website this Fall. On October 15, CHS archivists will speak about Wagner’s work at the LA as Subject Archives Bazaar at the University of Southern California. Over the next two years, the California Historical Society, with partner organizations, will explore the relevance of Wagner’s work to the study of American metropolises today and his legacy to Los Angeles.

An exhibition by the California Historical Society and LA as Subject
Presented in partnership with El Pueblo Historical Monument and the El Pueblo Park Association
August 5–27, 2016
El Tranquilo Gallery & Information Center
634 N. Main Street (entrance on Olvera Street, W-19)
El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles, California
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 am–3:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 am–4:00 pm

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