Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
Los Angeles mounted a festive reenactment of its founding, with people taking the roles of padres, soldiers and settlers. On the gaily decorated steps of City Hall, officials told tales of the city’s past: Mrs. Leiland Atherton Irish on the Mexican-Spanish period; Marshall Stimson on life from 1850 to 1900; former Mayor George E. Cryer on 1900 to 1947; and Mayor Fletcher Bowron on the city’s future.
A Times editorial said: “Speakers, if they are in a boastful mood, truthfully may say that no community in the history of the world has shown progress and development comparable to Los Angeles and Southern California, particularly in the last generation.
“The fame of our climate, our flowers, our fruits, our seashores and our mountains has spread to the farthest crannies of the world. Probably Hollywood is the American community best known behind the Iron Curtain. Los Angeles is a magnet which exerts its drawing power far beyond the sea.”
But even as it was engulfed with civic pride, The Times could not entirely minimize the city’s problems: Smog, crowding, lack of housing, traffic and crime.
“No reader of The Times is without personal knowledge of the housing shortage and the problem of traffic congestion…. In some parts of the city at certain hours, automobile traffic moves at snail’s pace and when the journey’s end is reached, the new problem of finding parking space arises. And the difficulty cannot be surmounted by leaving the family car at home and using the tram or bus—they get caught in traffic jams too.”
“Even the seashores and the mountains, our great boast, are so crowded over a holiday that a trip to them is becoming an ordeal. Schools can hardly accommodate the pupils. With all the vast increase in industry and payrolls, the relief and unemployment costs mount intolerably. Once Los Angeles had the reputation of being a community where the cost of living was moderate. It is now one of the highest in the nation.”
The pages of The Times reflect even further challenges that the city barely recognized: The new no-deposit, no-return bottle and everything it symbolized; pesticides with DDT; trash incinerators; 12 miles of coastline south of the Santa Monica Pier closed in the middle of a summer heat wave because of sewage from the Hyperion Treatment Plant; schools so old and crowded that when Union Avenue Elementary burned down, a parent wrote to The Times expressing relief because the building was a firetrap and she was afraid to send her children there. And racial segregation enforced by law and custom.
As The Times noted on the city’s 166th birthday:
“We have not had time to plan the city’s future. If we are to prevent Los Angeles from growing entirely out of control, we must lose no time in looking ahead and fitting together the discordant pieces which form our community.”