California: Land of New Beginnings

California: Land of New Beginnings

California: Land of New Beginnings

California: Land of New Beginnings


From the earliest Spanish explorations in the late 1500s through the present, California's history and growth have been both tumultuous and phenomenal. All the historical facts are here: the missions and the Indians, the struggles between the Mexicans and the Americans, the fabulous gold rushes, statehood in 1850, railroad wars, furious labor upheavals, the disastrous scandals and bankruptcies of the 1920s, and the recent gigantic tamperings with nature. David Lavender tells, with unusual clarity and grace, the story of a beautiful state's rise to giganticism. In an afterword to this Bison Book edition, he looks at California today.


About six miles west of downtown Los Angeles is an accidental juxtaposition of landmarks, natural and man-made, that serves as an ironic introduction to some of California's furious ambivalences. the site is Hancock Park. Within the park's modest thirty-two acres are several ugly black bogs, a few life-sized, fiberglass replicas of prehistoric mammals, and a cluster of three spectacular buildings that were opened in March, 1965, as housing for the Los Angeles County Art Museum. Fronting both the bogs and the buildings is the nervous energy of Wilshire Boulevard, created during the 1920's to exploit the revolutionary shopping and living patterns just then being created by the automobile.

All tour guides of the city mention these items in isolation. More might be learned by pulling them together.

First, the black bogs. Fenced off by heavy gray wire from the public's careless feet but not from the public's litter, they are a family of odorous petroleum seeps known as the La Brea Tar Pits. Many similar upwellings were once active throughout Southern California, and a few still remain. As their viscous liquid oozed down the hillsides or collected in depressions, as at Hancock Park, the volatile components evaporated. the residue was, and is, a sticky black pitch.

For centuries the pitch served as a useful resource for humans. By daubing it onto their reed baskets and letting it harden, Indians achieved watertight utensils. They used it as a binding material when adding patterns of colored seashells to various objects. Canoes caulked with the pitch could be paddled across twenty or more miles of open ocean to the islands of the Santa Barbara Channel.

The original settlers of Los Angeles also learned to utilize the stuff, hauling congealed chunks into their pueblo, or town, softening it in . . .

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