California as America (TAH2)

May 2011

Teaching American History second cohort (TAH 2) celebrates their last seminar on May 21, 2011.  This ended the yearlong portion of seminars that started in August 2010 and will conclude with an educational two-week trip to important historical sites along the Eastern United States. 

Photographs and essays by Gilbert Estrada, Ph.D.

                  TAH 2 is History!               

It is with great pride and pleasure that we say congratulations to our California as America (TAH2) cohort two teachers who completed the Teaching American History seminar portion in May.  The last part of their history training is a two-week trip to important historical sites on the East Coast led by local historian and TAH partner Michele Zack, our valuable content provider.

For two weeks our K-12 teachers will be able to march through historic sites they have only read about in books, heard in lectures, or seen in photographs.  The trip will begin on June 24 in the historic Boston core, with highlights that include a walking tour of Salem, a visit to the USS Constitution, and a trip to Concord and Lexington where the shot heard around the world was fired.  TAH2 Cohort 2 teachers will also spend two days in New York City.  Zack’s personal friend, the famed urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson, will lead the group on a private tour and host them at his home for an evening BBQ.  Our TAH2 colleagues will also have the opportunity to meet other TAH teachers from northern California before their final site visits in Gettysburg, Washington D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.   

“I loved it.  It was a great program, I looked forward to coming here every month and I wish I could come by more often,” said TAH 2 graduate Cynthia Chavez-Molina, 3rd Grade Instructor at Birney Elementary School in Pico Rivera.  Chavez-Molina, who is so excited about the program she submitted an application to join an additional TAH program, is also looking forward to the East Coast trip even though she will be leaving her two and a five year-old sons behind.  But not to worry, her husband has agreed to babysit and has even put Skype on her cellular phone so she can stay in close visual contact with all her loved ones.


Other TAH2 participants shared a similarly profound experience during the TAH2 school year.  “It is a privilege to have outstanding presenters; they are the most high-quality presentations that I have ever had the privilege of receiving and this is throughout 26 years of workshops in our districts,” said Bertha Abrams, 6th Grade Instructor within the El Rancho Unified School District. 

“This is [a] very, very wonderful opportunity.  For history teachers it is a boost, a shot in the arm, we come back to our classroom every week re-energized and we want to put that energy into our students.  The love of history that we have can only come through to our students if it’s generously in us.” 

While this marks the completion of TAH2, ICW and the Teaching American History team are also currently working with TAH3’s first cohort, and planning for other cohorts.  History never ends at ICW, as an unending dialogue with the past, present, and future continues.  That is the seed the Institute on California and the West tries to provide: “e pluribus unum,” through many, one; through California, America. 

On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone at ICW as this is my last month with the Institute.  I was able to earn my doctorate from USC in May 2011.  See you in the archives.

(Congratulations, Gilbert!)

ICW aerospace postdoc, Matthew Hersch, explains the importance of aviation to the growth of Southern California.

The Origins of Southern California Aviation


Before setting off into the sunset of the TAH2 program, Cohort 2 teachers listened to an informative discussion of Southern California's aviation history by Matthew Hersch, ICW Aerospace Postdoc, at their last Thursday meeting.  Teachers were also treated to a sneak peek of the aerospace exhibit Hersch will soon be spearheading at The Huntington Library.  Hersch's presentation drove home the social and cultural importance of the aerospace industry.  He passed out a magazine that specifically showed how people would live in outer space.  Although this may seem like a fanciful science-ficiton movie, millions of dollars and some of the country's best minds did all they could to make sure "the final frontier" was filled with American domiciles. According to those NASA officials, aerospace engineers, and technology savants, it was not a dream; it was inevitable.  Aerospace officials still believe it is.

What is of bigger consequence to Southern California history was the crucial role aviation played in the development of the City of Quartz.  In the decades following the Wright Brothers triumph at Kitty Hawk, Americans began to use piston-engine airplanes with greater frequency and Hersch compared early pilots to a modern celebrity status.  Popularized by its sheer technological panache and the glamour of pilot celebrities like Charles Lindbergh, Will Rogers, and Amelia Earhart, passenger air travel boomed over the next several decades.    


Los Angeles joined American passenger aviation when Western Air Express offered their first airline service in 1926.  This was quickly followed by the development of the largest passenger airport in Los Angeles on 640 acres of former bean and barley fields in Inglewood, a site chosen from 27 possible Southern California locations.  In 1928, Los Angeles International (LAX) was completed.  Hersch demonstrated through images the great success and popularity of the local air events like the 1928 National Air Races, which attracted 200,000 guests from across the region.  By 1932, Douglas Aircraft Company, whose owner had visited the 1928 air races, was established at Mines Field.  Northrop and North American Aviation followed in 1936.  After more successful air races in 1933 and 1936, Southern California aviation boomed.  From a pre-war time employment of 7,500 employees, that figured jumped to 160,000 at the height of the war years.  During this period, ship and aircraft production in the harbor area was a 24 hour/day operation that manufactured some 15 millions tons of war products.  As a whole, Southern California was responsible for more than one-third of the 40,000 planes produced in the U.S. 

Those who attend the upcoming aerospace exhibition at the Huntington Library, which has been planned for approximately one year, can expect a bazaar of aerospace artifacts, photographs, and manuscripts.  A simulated engineer’s desk, an “ashtray with cigarettes” symbolizing long hours of engineering work, and plenty of plane and aerospace models will be employed to capture the rise of aeronautical engineering as a profession, and what is commonly referred to as the golden age of aviation.  Also on exhibit will be rare photographs and hard-to-find artifacts that required many hours of research.  For more information on the forthcoming Huntington Library-ICW Aerospace exhibit visit the ICW and/or Huntington Library website.  In fact, you can take a sneak peek of the exhibit by visiting the Huntington Library – Collecting Aerospace History website (links are listed at the end of this month’s blog).

Professor Peter Westwick of USC lectures on the nuclear proliferation of the Cold War at TAH2 Cohort 2’s last Saturday seminar.


The Cold War: “Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.”

On Saturday, May 21, TAH2 Cohort 2 teachers enjoyed their final TAH seminar presentation by USC Assistant Professor of History Peter Westwick, who examined the nuclear proliferation, destruction, and the international tensions of the 50-year Cold War.  In his presentation entitled “Science and Technology in California,” Westwick explained how the now well-known friction with the Soviet Union enacted a Cold War policy of “containment” by the U.S. Government.  The Soviets, Westwick argues, did not have such a policy because they believed the USSR was the peaceful nation.  Only the aggressor nation, the United States, needed global attempts to “contain” a purported foe. 

Although the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviets, the United States has found a new enemy in radical Islamic terrorists. Tactics learned during the Cold War continue in the War on Terrorism.  One of the lasting effects of the Cold War was the creation of the National Security State, a 24/7-global intelligence gathering machine like the NSA, NRA, and CIA, that has the capability to intercept any method of communication in North America and most of the globe.  And where do all these intercepted phone calls, messages, and documents remain before, during and after their analysis by the U.S. government?  They’re archived as part of the National Security State.  Westwick estimated that there are more than six to eight billion classified documents stored “somewhere” in the country.  That’s greater than the holdings of the entire Library of Congress and Westwick claimed that more than 250,000,000 pages of classified documents are added every year.  During our current economic crisis, the cost for storing billions of classified documents can be a significant financial strain.  That is, the Cold War manifestations of the National Security State are not cheap.

In addition, the domestic paranoia that infected nearly every sector of American society has been well studied through the lens of Republican Joseph McCarthy, who led a national crusade to rid the federal government of communist spies and sympathizers (the list of guilty parties has been proven to be a complete fabrication, from its beginning).     

What is of greater significance and more lasting as a legacy of the Cold War is the nuclear weapons proliferation that threatens our global security.  If only a fraction of the total number of nuclear weapons were set off, it would probably leave most of the planet uninhabitable.  During the Cold War, many nations had a nuclear proliferation program.  As the country that developed and dropped the first atomic bomb, the United States needed to transform a significant amount of its territory into a massive industrial project.  For example, part of the manufacturing of plutonium took place at a two million-square foot plant in Oakridge, Tennessee, while the enrichment of uranium was done at other large sites. Westwick concluded that a minimum, hundreds of thousands of people were involved in making “fat man” and “little boy,” the first two atomic bombs.

The stakes were significantly heightened with the creation of the hydrogen bomb, which, according to the desired megaton result, could be more than 100 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  According to Westwick, the atomic bomb could be measured in kilotons while the H-bomb is measured in megatons, a considerably more powerful force.  The stakes are furthered raised when multiple reentry vehicles (MIRVS) can deliver multiple warheads from a single rocket.  What’s worse is that these nuclear weapons are almost everywhere and even in places we don’t know, said Westwick.  Nuclear submarines with MIRV capabilities can deploy nuclear weapons to locations around the globe.   

On several occasions, the world has come to the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Perhaps the greatest example is the tense 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis when nuclear warheads aimed at the U.S. were a mere 90 miles away.  The destruction caused by the use of hydrogen bombs on any populated urban setting can be devastating.  Westwick estimated that a one-megaton nuclear warhead could instantly vaporize everything within 10-20 miles, kill everything within 100 miles and leave a nuclear fallout where the half-life will be a few thousand years.  With such a horrific possibility that still looms over mankind, we wanted to end TAH2’ s blog with the President who saw us through the turmoil of this missile crisis. 

“[Nuclear] war makes no sense in an age where great powers can maintain large and relatively invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age where a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations yet unborn.  Today the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need them is essential to the keeping of peace. But surely the acquisition of such idle stockpiles -- which can only destroy and never create -- is not the only, much less the most efficient, means of assuring peace. I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men.”  John F. Kennedy, American University Commencement Address, June 10, 1963


On-line Resources for this month’s themes


The Huntington Library – Collecting Aerospace History

Michele Zack, ICW Content Provider,


Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello,


Washington D.C. Official Tourism Website,


Gettysburg National Park,


U.S. Constitution—America’s Ship of State,


Peter Westwick, USC /cf/faculty-and-staff/faculty.cfm?pid=1022688



The History Channel-the Cold War,


April 2011


California as America’s second cohort (TAH 2) navigated through the Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles and the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s.  Above, Andrew B. Lewis, author of The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation, leads TAH 2 teachers through the powerful impact students had on the civil rights movement, paying particular attention to the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Greensboro sit-ins of 1960.

The Harlem Renaissance in L.A. and the Civil Rights Era

April’s Teaching American History (TAH2) K-12 training entered one of the most important eras in American history: the civil rights and social justice struggles of the mid-20th century.  April’s seminar also signaled the near completion of TAH2’s second cohort of teachers, for whom this summer marks the end of a twelve-month investigation into and dialogue about American history through the eyes of a Californian.  Next month’s seminar (also defined as the unending dialogue of the past, present, and future) will be the program’s final formal meeting, to be followed by the much anticipated “East Coast Trip” where the Cohort 2 teachers will be led on a two-week exploration of important historical sites along the U.S. Eastern seaboard.  It will be a great field trip, allowing teachers to see firsthand what they have been learning about through lectures by some of the most prominent scholars in U.S. and California history, and through the examination of articles, textbooks, and Huntington Library primary sources.

In April, TAH2’s Cohort 2 concentrated on L.A.’s Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.  At Thursday’s pre-seminar, teachers were treated to an exciting new addition to the Huntington Library’s vast resources.  Sue Hodson, Curator of Literary Manuscripts, tapped into the Library’s African-American collections.  Many of the photographs, journals, and literature pieces Hodson shared were also featured in a 2009-2010 exhibition at the Huntington Library entitled, “Central Avenue and Beyond: The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles.”  In describing the goals of the project, Hodson commented “We wanted to highlight the collections [and]… the story we wanted to tell is the flowering of African American arts, culture, music, every aspect of the arts in Los Angeles during the period when the Harlem Renaissance was going strong…it was a tremendous time of rebirth and new birth of African American art and culture… and it was happening everywhere.”

The pieces Sue Hodson shared highlighted the rich cultural history African-Americans have contributed to Southern California, including photographs of Claudius Wilson (company composer and accompanist for the First Negro Classical Ballet in Los Angeles– circa 1947-57), personal files from Loren Miller (a prominent African-American attorney), and actual musical scores from several famous jazz musicians of the era. 


(Left) Andrew B. Lewis leads TAH 2 teachers through some of the core principles of SNCC.  They include egalitarian, democratic, horizontal, and easily replicable.  (Right) Sue Hodson shows an original photograph of Claudius Wilson, company composer and accompanist for the First Negro Classical Ballet, (circa 1947-57).

Although the arts and culture flowed in the 1920-50s, the systemic and institutional racism that had plagued African Americans for centuries erupted into the civil rights movement.  Of particular note in Los Angeles was the 1965 Watts Riots.  Responsible for approximately 34 deaths (25 of which were of African Americans), 3,438 arrests and over 600 buildings burned or destroyed, the Watts Riots has become a flashpoint for understanding race relations in the civil rights era and was the original “burn, baby, burn” song before the disco age appropriated it as a 70’s icon.

In order to draw out a larger understanding of those chaotic days in 1965, Eryn Hoffman led a group discussion about the personal testimonies of nine people who participated in the six-day riots at various levels.  Teachers examined the testimonies of what the Los Angeles Times described as a rioter, a business owner, a Highway Patrol officer, a National Guardsman, and ordinary residents.  What our K-12 teachers discovered was the level of credibility of testimonies varied widely, and that even the patrol officer’s recollection of the event forty years after was not entirely believable.  As students of history, being able to decipher, trust, and analyze primary accounts are at the core of historical analysis and K-12 students should be taught a rudimentary understanding of those challenges.

  1. My focus was on the police.”


The Youth Showed Wisdom Beyond their Years in the Civil Rights Era

From the social and emotional complexities of the Watts Riots presented on Thursday, TAH2’s Saturday seminar moved on to address the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins that targeted Woolworth’s lunch counters in the South.  Author of The Shadows of Truth, Andrew B. Lewis’ focus of the day was moving Martin Luther King Jr. away from the center of the Civil Rights Movement.  Of course, this was not to downplay the achievements of the ultra-popular pastor immortalized by his assassination on the Lorraine Motel balcony in 1968.  Lewis detailed the first major victory of the Civil Rights area, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and explained that because Martin Luther King Jr. did not capitalize on the victory, he “squandered the victory of the Montgomery bus boycott.” 

Lewis encouraged teachers to teach the Civil Rights Movement through an important aspect that K-12 students can relate to:  youth.  Lewis’ work, and presentation, could be summarized by his two research questions.  One, if you changed the world before you were 30, what would the rest of your life be like?  Two, as a youth, what did it feel like to be a part of that movement?  To answer these questions, Lewis examined prominent SNCC members that include John Lewis, Julian Bond, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses, Ella Baker, and Stokeley Carmichael, who were as young as 20 when they became crucial parts in the most important Civil Rights movement in U.S. history.  Although many were still students at the time and eventually left, Lewis nicknamed the civil rights learning process as “college on steroids without classes.”

A key historic landmark marking youth in action during the 1960s struggle for civil rights was the Greensboro sit -ins.  The first Greensboro sit-in on February 1, 1960 launched a network of non-violent protests where young “black” patrons sat at the lunch counters reserved for “white” customers.  True to the non-violent trainings and civil rights ideologies, black students occupied these seats in quiet protest.  On the first day, the manager simply closed the counter.  A few days later, members of the local college football team joined the sit-ins.  In a matter of months, Lewis reported that over 50,000 students and protesters had participated in the sit-ins.  In many instances, the sit-ins were spontaneous and participants did not know each other.  But what is the biggest shift away from the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr. is the general philosophical approach.  While the bus boycott was organized so that no laws were broken, the sit-ins were specifically designed to break the law.  The law, according to organizers, was an unjust law and needed to be broken in order to call greater attention to the cause.  In fact, being arrested was seen as a rite of passage.  As SNCC member and future Congressman John Lewis explains, “the first time I was arrested, I felt liberated.”

March 2011

Cohort 2 teachers in the California as America (TAH2) trek up the San Gabriel Mountains on their latest field trip to visit the burial site of John Brown’s son Owen Brown, an active participant in the 1859 raid that was intended to start a slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia. Instead it was the complete failure and final act that led to the Civil War, eventually freeing the slaves.

The Los Angeles River

As we start our March Teaching American History (TAH) seminars, spring rains have already begun to replenish the landscape of Southern California.  What’s historically noteworthy about Los Angeles rain is the concrete infrastructure dedicated to moving all the potential drinking water out to the ocean where run-off from pesticides, oil, and other toxins then pollute the sea.  Indeed, in a Cadillac Dessert where water is an extremely valuable and limited resource brought in from hundreds of miles away, current Southern California water procedures waste L.A. rainfall from local waters such as the Los Angeles River.

In Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert, water in the Southwest is described as an extremely valuable and limited resource transported at great cost to thirsty cities hundreds of miles away.  Yet precious rainfall captured in local waters like the Los Angeles River is swept directly to the ocean by Southern California’s urban water systems. 

But it wasn’t always like that.  Although it might not look like it today, the Los Angeles River was once the main water source for Angelenos, according to ICW Director Bill Deverell who led a recent TAH 2 seminar on the L.A. River and Southern California water history.   Angelenos drank it, bathed in it, irrigated their fields with it, used it to wash their pots and pans, and, on occasion, threw their trash into it.  What they didn’t do, however, was learn to swim in it.  In the course of a year it could change dramatically, from a trickle in summer to a raging waterway flooding nearby homes and fields, causing serious damage and deaths as in the floods of 1868, 1886, 1888, 1914, and 1916.  


The L.A. River, once the lifeblood of Southern California, needed to be controlled.  There was a demographic shift from Mexicans/Californios who saw the river as a natural resource, to the Caucasians who associated it with the threat of occasional flooding.  According to Deverell, Blake Gumprecht, Jared Orsi, and other scholars of the early 20th Century, the usefulness of the natural river became a part of the past, and its taming, through scientific and technological advances, was the future. In the 1930s, the Los Angeles County Flood District, with support from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, embarked on an oral history project with local native residents to ascertain the true extent of past floods.  In an effort to control flooding (and subjugate the natural environment), the new settlers used this information to construct a series of small dams in the foothills, and paved parts of the river with concrete – all in the name of progress.  Not much of the L.A. River has changed to this day.

Care to learn more about the Los Angeles River?  Here are a few popular book suggestions:  Blake Gumprecht, The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth; Patt Morrison and Mark Lamonica’s Rio L.A. Tales from the Los Angeles River; Bill Deverell’s Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past; and Jared Orsi’s Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles.


(Left) On Saturday, March 19, TAH2 team member and local historian Michele Zack led TAH 2 teachers on two field trips.  The first was to Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, one of the oldest cemeteries in the San Gabriel Valley.  Among the tombs visited was that of Thaddeus Lowe, builder of the Mount Lowe Railway.  TAH 2 teachers also saw the gravestones of many Civil War veterans.  (Right) Teachers enjoy a stunning view from the gravesite of Owen Brown, son of the famous John Brown that led the Harper’s Ferry raid.  Today only cinderblocks mark the gravesite; the original rounded tombstone placed on the site in 1898 disappeared in 2002. 

Los Angeles during the era of the “Good War”


On Saturday, March 19, TAH 2 teachers moved past California’s progressive movement and discussed Southern California during the Second World War.  “No other urban center was transformed by the war as was Los Angeles,” according to Dr. Arthur Verge, Professor of History at El Camino College.  Professor Verge also described WWII as the most “participatory war” in modern history.  During World War II, “it felt like you were at war,” exclaimed Dr. Verge, referring to the rationing, collection drives, and other wartime activities by which Americans banded together and actively participated in winning the war at home.

Although the U.S. has been involved in many wars since WWII, Verge suggested that no other war stirred up a collective wartime experience at home as did WWII.  Today in his own classroom Dr. Verge often asks his students rhetorical questions like, “Are we at war?”  “Does it feel like we are at war?”  “Do we act like we are at war?  Although some of his students are first taken aback by these questions, many of them, especially recent veterans who just finished serving tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, applaud Dr. Verge’s acknowledgment that Americans at home are largely untouched by what they themselves experienced in the field.  That contemporary comparison makes much clearer the profound implications of WWII on wartime Los Angeles. 


 TAH 2 teachers hiking up the narrow trails in the foothills of Altadena to visit the unmarked grave of Owen Brown.

Perhaps the longest lasting legacy of WWII was wartime production, which began prior to America’s entrance to the war on December 7, 1941 - the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Wartime production employment jumped from 7,500 before December 7, to 160,000 after.  Specifically, aircraft production became a staple of the arsenal of democracy at aerospace companies like Douglas Aircraft, where the DC-3 passenger plane was produced.  Like other Angelenos who migrated from colder parts of the country, Douglas Aircraft was drawn to Los Angeles by the relatively inexpensive land, better access to electricity, and favorable weather that allowed for year-round production and testing.

Although Douglas was not initially interested in making wartime aircraft for the U.S. military, the profits he could earn eased his apprehension.  It would, in fact, make him extremely rich.  By using public funds to enrich private enterprises, the U.S. government guaranteed Douglas (and other wartime manufacturers) a profit on every single part that went into a completed airplane.  He was also guaranteed a profit in the airplanes he produced, including the DC-3 passenger plane used for transporting soldiers.  As other private manufacturers guaranteed public monies for building up American weapons got involved, the U.S. homefront embarked on an unprecedented road to developing a collective industrial military complex.

As a result of explosive growth in the wartime production of ships, airplanes, and other military vehicles, Southern California became the wartime production center of America.  The ship and aircraft production at the U.S. naval shipyard in Long Beach was a 24 hour/day operation that manufactured some 15 millions tons of war products.  As a whole, Southern California was responsible for more than one-third of the 40,000 planes produced in the U.S.  The San Pedro area became an integral part of the $70 billion in federal wartime monies contracted to the Southern California region; by 1943, nearly 500,000 people were employed in ship, plane, and steel production. 


If you’d like to learn more about Los Angeles during World War II, here are some book suggestions:  Ruth Wallach, et. al. Los Angeles in World War II; Roger W. Lotchin’s The Bad City in the Good War: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego; and Kevin Starr’s Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950.


Professor Arthur Verge addresses TAH2 teachers (left), another photo from the hike to Owen Brown’s gravesite (right).


February 2011

Huntington Botanical Gardens Project Manager Scott Kleinrock leads Teaching American History 2 (TAH2) California as America's Cohort 2 teachers on a field trip of the Huntington Ranch on a clear, February afternoon.

Green Thumb and Progressivism

Perhaps nothing is more important, or more historical, than America's growth and urbanization process.  Even in 1903, when Henry E. Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, hundreds of acres were dedicated to the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, and other agricultural crops.  The estate and subsequent gallery, library, and gardens were an international success.  The agricultural ranch, not so much.  At least not until November of 2010, when the Huntington returned to its agricultural roots and re-opened the Huntington Ranch.

Self-promoted as an "outdoor classroom" that is "pushing new boundaries... on the frontier of sustainable urban agriculture," California as America (TAH2) teachers were treated to a rare sneak peek at the early stages of the Huntington Ranch (not yet open to the public).  Lead by Huntington Botanical Gardens and Ranch Project Manager Scott Kleinrock, TAH teachers trekked through the fifteen undeveloped acres in the northwest sector of the Huntington Botanical Gardens.  Besides a thriving vegetable garden (currently under quarantine because of a rare fruit fly), the Ranch also houses surviving orange groves from the time Huntington still lived at his estate, more than 100 years ago.

Described as a new heritage grove of native California avocados planted by the California Avocado Society (according to the Huntington), teachers were allowed to walk through some of the 32 most significant avocado varieties in California's agricultural history.  Moreover, remnants of a local urban history are also on display at the Huntington Ranch in the form of dozens of fruit trees from the now defunct South Central Community Garden in South Los Angeles, closed in 2006.  During the evictions, the trees were boxed up and trucked to San Marino.

Fruits and vegetables prominent in California's agricultural history are grown at the Ranch.  TAH2 teachers were able to view oranges, avocados, Osaka purple mustard, mizuna, radishes, mesclun mixes, chard, kale, lettuce, endive, and fennel, to name a few.  Although the garden is not certified organic, many elements including the soil, natural growing methods, and other procedures largely mimic an organic garden. Once the quarantine is lifted, produce from the Huntington Ranch is expected to be donated to local food banks.  Sustainable gardening seminars will be offered at the site when the Ranch officially opens to the public in May.  The Ranch was partly funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Metabolic Studio.


Progressive Reform?

On Saturday, February 19, TAH 2 teachers moved beyond California’s agricultural history and stepped into the complexities of the progressive movement.  Progressivism, according to Becky Nicolaides, UCLA Scholar from the Center for the Study of Women, was a social and political movement of citizens that used newly developed or developing disciplines such as science, order, and specialized training in order to quell what Nicolaides claimed were the excesses of the Gilded Age.  Specifically, Nicolaides stressed that late 19th Century and early 20th Century “American capitalism was changing so many aspects of life in America - production, consumption, living standards - it was really transforming American life in many profound ways, and a lot of this growth and industry was unregulated.  So a lot of companies were reaping excessive profits and monopolizing industries through conglomerates…and really creating an uneven playing field for business and for people.” 

In order to assert the progressive fundamental theme of change, Progressives concentrated their efforts on a laundry list of issues.  Nicolaides focused on industrial capital, immigration, and urbanization, the three most prominent areas that were clearly blatant, and thus, the ripest for social change.  Through a technique of 1) organization, 2) investigation (researching the problem), and 3) push for change (lobbying for legislation), Progressives tackled some of the largest social ills.

Some of the most palpable social problems that were targets of Progressive Reform occurred in urban centers.  As America quickly urbanized from the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century (becoming an urban majority in the 1920 census), problems reached a boiling point.  In major cities like New York, nearly half of the city’s population lived in poverty where city streets were littered with trash, human and animal excrement, and dead animals.  In most cities, there was no official sewage system or significant street cleaning until the Progressive era.  On occasion, however, cities did let pigs scour the streets in an effort to clean the scattered garbage.


(Left) Becky Nicolaides, Ph.D., elucidates child labor during the Progressive era and the efforts from the Progressive movement to help children who left school at an average age of fourteen, worked twelve to fourteen hour days, and earned $3 to $4 dollars a week, or roughly one-third the wage of an adult.  (Right)  Local historian Michele Zack hold a large pomelo found during our trek through the Huntington Ranch.

New York tenements, subsidized housing built for profit and not for comfort, were often putrid confines within the urban context.  Poor ventilation in rooms as small as seven by eight feet were often occupied by several families, running water rarely reached the top floors of the building, and the general uncleanliness of tenements often lead to a greatly lowered standard of living.  In 1880, roughly one million NYC residents lived in tenements.  With a belief that “squalid houses make squalid people,” the Progressives moved quickly to bring housing reforms.  By 1901, one of the first tenement laws was passed that limited dumbbell tenements to five stories, and required bathrooms for each apartment. 


The Golden State was not without its share of problems. Most notably, Nicolaides focused on the political reform movements against the railroad.  Often known as the “Octopus,” the railroad conglomerate had their hand in many social and political aspects of California law.  In addition, the popularized political bosses and machines ran corrupt governments that controlled who could run for office, provided lousy social services, and generally appointed unqualified cronies to government posts.  Part of the reform movement in Los Angeles was lead by John Randolph Haynes, who organized efforts to implement direct democracy measures.  Perhaps the most enduring progressive reform in the Golden State was the California initiative, referendum, and recall, which was designed to give California citizens more power.


January 2011


Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West Director, Bill Deverell, shares primary sources from the Huntington Library archive during our first Teaching American History (TAH2) session of 2011.


Teaching American History in 2011!

Happy 2011 and welcome back to Teaching American History (TAH)!  The Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West (ICW) would like to welcome back all of our TAH2 K-12 teachers, guest speakers, and team members involved with the teaching of America's past through California history.  We have a lot of great events planned for the year, including a summer trip to historical sites on the East Coast.  In preparation for this, our 2011 seminars began with a scholar-led discussion on the history of urban planning and the beginnings of metropolitan Los Angeles.

On January 20, ICW Director Bill Deverell led TAH2 Cohort 2 in a discussion of the growth of "La Ciudad de Los Angeles."  More than just a city, Los Angeles was a nearly mythical region of sunshine, citrus, and healthy, fat babies - or at least that's how it was promoted.  Perhaps more importantly, according to Deverell, was that Southern California boosters endorsed the region as the epitome of the American Dream: a healthful region where families could settle into brand-new single-family homes.  The promotion worked, and millions would eventually swarm to the area, laying the urban foundation of modern Los Angeles.

Deverell's most important historical interpretation of the evening was his elucidation of urban planning within the City of Angels.  Although L.A. has a reputation for being an unplanned sprawltropolis, primary sources from the Huntington brought into the classroom provide evidence that the opposite is true as master plans on L.A. business districts, 1941 highway master plans, and a master plan of airports were shown to TAH teachers.  In addition, teachers saw, firsthand, the large, hand-colored, and very-detailed tract maps of the City of Vernon (see above photo).

The lecture challenged teachers to reconsider urban planning in Los Angeles, and Deverell acknowledged Henry E. Huntington as "the city's first urban planner," so to speak.  Because urban planning did not become a profession until the 1920s, powerful and wealthy residents like Huntington were able to purchase vast tracts of land, subdivide them into neighborhoods, and, in Huntington's case, even provide privatized rail service to link neighborhoods to downtown Los Angeles.  In effect, L.A.'s residential landscape was rooted in capitalism.

UNLV Professor Greg Hise talks to TAH2 teachers about urban and industrial Los Angeles during Saturday's seminar (left).  Teachers surround ICW Director Bill Deverell as he shares colorful primary sources from the Huntington Library's vast collection (right).
Taking off from Professor Deverell's examination of urban Los Angeles in the late 19th century/early 20th century, University of Nevada Las Vegas history professor Greg Hise delivered a fascinating history of urban planning.  Starting as early as the Mesoamerican cultures of the Americas, Hise attributed the modern well-ordered grid found in contemporary planning to the ancient Mexican capital of Tenochtitlan.  When the Spaniards first encountered the island city of Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City), they were amazed by its size, organization, and population, dwarfing European cities in all three categories.  At this time, many European cities were built without master plans, resulting in uneven roads of varying length and direction; crooked and chaotic building patterns; and an urban system lacking any order.

In terms of urban planning, Europeans saw logic in the Mexican subdivided grid system, in its placement of important cultural and religious structures in the center (much like modern downtowns), and the fluidity of long and straight arterials to support the mobility of a bustling population.  The grid was codified through the Land of the Indies (1541) and was used to lay out many North American cities colonized by the Spanish.  Settled in 1781 by an ethnically diverse population including Spaniards, the original plan for the pueblo of Los Angeles was a grid system rooted in Mesoamerican tradition.  The remainder of Professor Hise's presentation took teachers on a whirlwind of urban Los Angeles and its stunning growth between the end of World War I and the industrial boom of World War II.

Seminar VI

Thursday, March 17, 4-7pm

Saturday, March 19, 8am-3pm

World War II

Professor Arthur Verge, El Camino College

  • Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West
  • Department of History
  • University of Southern California
  • Los Angeles, California 90089-0034