Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege

Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege

Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege

Making the San Fernando Valley: Rural Landscapes, Urban Development, and White Privilege

Synopsis

In the first book-length scholarly study of the San Fernando Valley--home to one-third of the population of Los Angeles--Laura R. Barraclough combines ambitious historical sweep with an on-theground investigation of contemporary life in this iconic western suburb. She is particularly intrigued by the Valley's many rural elements, such as dirt roads, tack-and-feed stores, horse-keeping districts, citrus groves, and movie ranches. Far from natural or undeveloped spaces, these rural characteristics are, she shows, the result of deliberate urbanplanning decisions that have shaped the Valley over the course of more than a hundred years. The Valley's entwined history of urban development and rural preservation has real ramifications today for patterns of racial and class inequality and especially for the evolving meaning of whiteness. Immersing herself in meetings of homeowners' associations, equestrian organizations, and redistricting committees, Barraclough uncovers the racial biases embedded in rhetoric about "open space" and "western heritage." The Valley's urban cowboys enjoy exclusive, semirural landscapes alongside the opportunities afforded by one of the world's largest cities. Despite this enviable position, they have at their disposal powerful articulations of both white victimization and, with little contradiction, color-blind politics.

Excerpt

In 1965, Lifetime Savings and Loan, a bank serving Los Angeles’s suburban San Fernando Valley, mailed an advertisement for the vast new Porter Ranch subdivision to potential home buyers. Carved out of the former property of real-estate tycoon George Porter, Porter Ranch would be the largest residential subdivision in the San Fernando Valley’s history to date, housing more than forty-three thousand people in nearly twelve thousand units; sixteen schools and twenty churches were also included in the plans. Total development costs were estimated at over $350 million, and construction would take more than ten years to complete. When finished, Porter Ranch covered six and a half square miles in the neighborhood of Granada Hills. Despite the project’s massive, masterplanned quality, however, Lifetime reassured potential home buyers that Porter Ranch would be less “cookie-cutter” and more authentic than most postwar subdivisions because of its unique and deliberate blend of rural and suburban landscapes. the brochure promised that “with the many recreational areas being planned, [the subdivision would] provide its residents with ideal conditions for prestige family living in a rural atmosphere.” Miles of land had been set aside for “rustic bridle trails”—as well as two golf courses and several shopping centers. the sales pitch also claimed that the subdivision would represent and extend the area’s rural western heritage amid the San Fernando Valley’s dramatic postwar transformation from agricultural empire to residential and industrial suburb. It noted, “While Porter Ranch has a promising future as an outstanding residential community, it also has an interesting past, steeped in the rich heritage of California history.” As evidence, the advertisement narrated the historic layers of conquest in the San Fernando Valley, from the sale of the former Spanish mission at San Fernando to Eugelio de Celis in 1848, at the tail end of the U.S. war with Mexico; to the split of the property between wheat farmers and realestate tycoons Isaac Lankershim, I. N. Van Nuys, George Porter, Ben Porter, and Charles Maclay—Anglo men whose names now appear in street signs, strip malls, and gated communities throughout the Valley. It also celebrated the San Fernando Valley’s preeminent role as the center of western film and television production through a full-page advertisement for Lifetime Savings and Loan endorsed by western film actor Andy “Jingles” Devine, who was then a San Fernando Valley resident and honorary mayor of the Valley community . . .

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