One of the all-time greatest booster campaigns led to explosive growth in the city of Los Angeles in the early 20th century. Advertisements, brochures, postcards, sheet music, all boasted of the uniqueness of this unknown urban oasis. Publicists preached the glories of the weather, land, and golden opportunities to staid, solid Midwesterners. Soon, they packed their bags and descended on the promised paradise. Tom Zimmerman, author of “Paradise Promoted,” quotes a speech by Clinton E. Miller, representative of the 1918 Los Angeles Realty Board, “Boastful advertising may bring people to a city, but it required something else to make them stay.”
Los Angeles’ booming business and residential construction infected other nearby communities itching to expand their revenues. Other cities began modeling their own efforts after that of their myth-making big brother. Santa Monica crafted a glowing campaign in 1922, drawing new residents and businessmen eager to work and live in this beachside town. Realtors expounded on the beauty and unique features of their home tracts. The city of Alhambra proposed to sell their growing community to the public as well.
Alhambra experienced a construction boom in 1922 and 1923. In the first three days of 1923, over $60,000 in building permits were issued. New subdivisions were opening, and the city began a drive for its own post office. 1922 construction doubled that of 1921. Savvy businessmen and real estate promoters realized now was the time to blare the town’s attributes. On Jan. 12, 1923, a “plan to conduct a comprehensive publicity campaign setting forth the advantages of Alhambra” was inaugurated at the Elsueno Hotel at a dinner of the Alhambra All-Year Club. More than 300 prominent citizens met Jan. 27 and launched an “all-year publicity campaign designed to place Alhambra, its climate and advantages prominently before the nation… .” Over $12,000 was raised in their race to $20,000 to fund this drive.
In February, the group began buying ads in Los Angeles newspapers to wax rhapsodic over the “gateway to the San Gabriel Valley.” They hoped to tell “The story of Alhambra, a name which conjures up the tradition and romance of old Spain, from its romantic beginnings to its present marvelous and no less romantic development as a commercial, industrial and home center… .”
Everything was exploding in the city. Home construction failed to keep up with demand, while sewers were being installed, schools were constructed, churches rose, roads were paved, buslines began operation, banks appeared, and the city promoted Moorish architecture in its public buildings.
Organizers created a radio program broadcast by KHJ on March 15, sponsored by the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce. City history wove throughout the program, which featured jazz bands, soloists, and readings by the young and old alike, including “Master Tyrone Power, eight years of age,” performing a reading of “George Washington.”
The city secured $25,000 more in June to continue the breakout campaign, and bought more airtime on KHJ on the evening of Oct. 8. Jim Scullin, secretary of the Alhambra Business Men’s Association, compiled a six-hour program broadcast from the roof of the Times Building featuring the jazzy “Chuck” Erbe’s Orchestra of Alhambra, opera and folk song solos, instrumentals, and “Funny Happenings in Alhambra.” As The Times reported on Oct. 9, “A booster song, “Alhambra,” by Burns and Gualano, was also nicely rendered by Karl Keller and should certainly bring fame to the town whose businessmen entertained so delightfully last night.”
The group distributed free copies of the song, which contained the chorus: “In California, There is a town that I love, In the vale of Gabriel, With smiling skies up above, Senoritas adorable, Lend their charm to thee, They can all be found in Alhambra, The town of my golden dreams.”
Composer and publisher F.F. Gualano was an attorney in Alhambra who became a police judge in Monterey Park in 1927. Later, he served as city attorney before running for Superior Court, becoming a defense attorney in the early 1930s and later appointed a justice of the peace.
Alhambra experienced its moment in the sun, before Angelenos moved on to the next burgeoning community. Los Angeles and environs gleefully danced during the jazz-mad 1920s,before dark times crashed around them in the late 1920s.