Home Strategies: Class, Race, Community, and Empowerment in 20th Century Los Angeles
They say that “a man’s home is his castle,” but it’s more complicated than that. Real estate developers marketed tract homes in strategically-selected price ranges to profit from land bought low and made valuable by streetcar routes. Industrialists planned housing to secure a labor force. Home-buyers, regarding their home equity as an investment they expected to grow, reacted in alarm to any threat to its value. Neighbors reached beyond their isolated “castles” to form communities, sometimes under challenging circumstances. Houses reflect the coordination of diverse strategies and arouse sometimes conflicting voices. The Southern California Quarterly, published continuously (under this and earlier titles) since 1884 by the Historical Society of Southern California, has touched repeatedly on the themes of housing development, discrimination, and empowerment. In this virtual issue we present a sampling of its contributions on these themes.
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Editor's Note, Continued
The 1880s real estate boom in Southern California attracted upper-middle-class Easterners and Midwesterners who could afford vacations and property speculation. After it went bust and the 1893 depression had passed, large-scale investors, developers, and city leaders realized that advertising only to well-heeled tourists and invalids was short-sighted. Los Angeles needed to attract workers to create a balanced economy. But in an era of increasing labor conflict, they wanted to ensure a docile working class. Housing would be the key.
Robert Phelps’s article on Dolgeville (now part of Alhambra), 1903-1910, traces streetcar magnate Henry Huntington’s successful tracts of Oak Knoll and Oneonta for affluent and middle-class purchasers—white-only, with high minimum home construction expenditures. In 1904, in partnership with felt-manufacturer Alfred Dolge, he opened Dolgeville. Low-cost, semi-improved residential parcels were offered to Dolge’s workers. The idea was that workers who constructed homes there would not dare risk their investment by poor performance or union activism that would get them fired. Dolgeville’s distance from other possible employers would make them obedient workers. But Dolgeville failed because workers were loath to purchase homes that would restrict job flexibility.
By 1911, tract developers offering ready-made bungalows, targeted the working class. Kim Hernandez, in “The ‘Bungalow Boom’,” tracks the profits to be made in mass-produced housing for the working- and lower-middle-classes, some for African Americans, that spread suburbs into sprawl. Connected by a web of streetcar lines, L.A.’s Everyman could afford suburban living and easy access to jobs and shopping while his home’s rising value created family and old-age security. It seemed too good to be true, and for some it was.
In the 1920s, in one of these neighborhoods, white owner-occupants, aroused by the imminent “invasion of Negroes and Japanese” and the extent of white flight, filed a covenant on their deeds pledging themselves and any future owners to never sell or rent to or allow occupancy by “any person other than of the white or Caucasian race.” Many Los Angeles neighborhoods were closed to non-whites, either by homeowner actions like this one or by tract developers who barred specific races and set minimum costs on home-building to ensure racial and class homogeneity. Such restrictions were only declared unenforceable in 1948.
In the oil boom of the 1920s, as Sarah Elkind points out, the meaning of home ownership evinced a divide. Was property mainly an opportunity to profit from mineral rights or a matter of family quality of life? Battles over residential-area oil drilling pitted the two concepts against each other, expressed in protests for and against oil operations.
Little Tokyo had grown up as a center for the Japanese American community, serving a minority scattered to outlying farms, fisheries, and neighborhoods lacking racial covenants. But in 1942, both Japanese immigrants (Issei) and U.S.-born citizens (Nisei) were rounded up by the federal government to be incarcerated for the duration of World War II. Into the vacant stores and apartments of Little Tokyo moved African Americans drawn to Los Angeles by advertisements of plentiful jobs in war industries but barred by racial covenants from most affordable neighborhoods. Little Tokyo became “Bronzeville.” Hillary Jenks sheds light on the tensions and possibilities of a biracial community there in the post-war period as the Japanese internees returned. But the community was decimated by race displacement in 1950 when city officials, viewing the minority area as expendable, employed eminent domain to build a new police headquarters, Parker Center.
The “Dodger War” of 1957-1962 culminated in another case of race displacement as Mexican American residents of Chavez Ravine were ousted by eminent domain for a baseball stadium that city officials had adroitly switched for projected public housing. Whereas oil drilling and the Parker Center project had led some residents to organize protests, most of Chavez Ravine’s settlers left quietly. Only a handful resisted—and were carried out by force, dramatized on television. Cary S. Henderson presents a more nuanced account of their protest and interests than the popular version, set in the context of land-use politics.
In 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement raged in the South, California voters placed Proposition 14 on the ballot to rescind a recently passed fair-housing law. Supporters rarely admitted to racial exclusion motives, emphasizing homeowners’ freedom to sell to whomever they wished. Bruce G. Merritt studies the moral issues that divided a church congregation in Glendale.
Natalia Molina looks at a different form of resident empowerment, which she calls place-making. El Nayarit, a Mexican restaurant in Echo Park, and its owner, relatives, employees, and customers formed a network that shaped their community for generations. Now the recent trend toward gentrification is displacing less-affluent residents and fracturing the community.
Leonard Pitt’s 2004 article offers a rosier view of neighborhood empowerment. After tracing neighborhood formation and resident voices over the course of the twentieth century, he concludes that neighborhood councils fostered by the city as a counter to 1996-2002 secession movements have the potential to empower local stakeholders. Whether that power is used for NIMBY (not in my backyard) and exclusionary interests or for positive community good remains to be seen.
For investment, racial equality, environmental quality, or community motives—housing has been the subject and the source of strategic activism for a long time.
 For this kind of promotion see Jennifer A. Watts, “Photography in the Land of Sunshine: Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Regional Ideal,” Southern California Quarterly [hereafter SCQ] 87:4 (Winter 2005-06): 339-376.
 See also William Friedricks, “Henry E. Huntington and Real Estate Development in Southern California, 1898-1917,” SCQ 71:4 (Winter 1989): 327-340.
 Homeowner entrepreneurialism is also exemplified by the case of Sawtelle, which grew up near the veterans’ center. Cheryl L. Wilkinson, “The Soldiers’ City: Sawtelle, California, 1897-1922,” SCQ 94:1 (Spring 2013): 188-226.
 Bessie Averne McClenahan, The Changing Urban Neighborhood: From Neighbor to Nigh-Dweller: A Sociological Study (Los Angeles: University of Southern California, 1929.
 Shelley v. Kraemer 334 U.S. 1 (1948). See also Barrows v. Jackson 346 U.S. 249 (1953).
 See also Fred W. Viehe, “The Social-Spatial Distribution in the Black Gold Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1900-1930,” SCQ 73:1 (Spring 1991):33-54.
 For another example of cross-racial coalition see Lon Kurashige, “Rethinking Anti-Immigrant Racism: Lessons from the Los Angeles Vote on the 1920 Alien Land Law,” SCQ 95:3 (Fall 2013): 265-283. Freeway routing is another case of racial displacement, as discussed by Gilbert Estrada, “If You Build It, They Will Move: The Los Angeles Freeway System and the Displacement of Mexican East Los Angeles, 1944-1972,” SCQ 87:3 (Fall 2005): 287-315.
 An example of the more simplistic version that has become common wisdom can be found in Don Parson, “’This Modern Marvel’: Bunker Hill, Chavez Ravine, and the Politics of Modernism in Los Angeles,” SCQ 75:3/4 (Fall-Winter 1993): 333-350. See also Don Parson, “The Burke Incident: Political Belief in Los Angeles’ Public Housing during the Domestic Cold War,” SCQ 84:1 (Spring 2002): 53-74.
See also Jordan Scavo, “Water Politics and the San Fernando Valley: The Role of Water Rights in the 1915 Annexation and 1996-2002 Secession Campaigns,” SCQ 92:2 (Summer 2010): 93-116.