Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles

By Vincent Brook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Ramona Revisited

Though the novel is no longer required reading in local schools and the two surviving film versions are now mainly of academic interest, Ramona’s mythic traces remain a fixture of the Los Angeles palimpsest: in Spanish Fantasy Past manifestations such as Olvera Street; in the Ramona Pageant held each spring in nearby Hemet; and, most indelibly, in the area’s part theme park, part reliquary, part still religiously functioning colonial-era missions.

Befitting Ramona’s “birthplace,” Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, situated in the city of San Gabriel, nine miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, lies at the intersection of Mission Drive and Ramona Street. Across from the mission is a small, storefront Ramona Museum. On the sidewalks to either side of Ramona Street, and leading up to the mission entrance, is a “Walk of Fame” with embedded colored tiles designed by school children on a mission theme. A variation on the long-standing California elementary-school assignment to construct scale models of the missions, the tiles also literalize D. J. Waldie’s notion that, in parts of Los Angeles, “the pedestrian and the sacred are still there.”1

Affirming the mission’s tourist function as a stop on the California Historic Mission Trail, the visitor entrance proceeds through a gift shop. In the mission courtyard, by a gate leading to the chapel, a large sign erected in 1961 parrots the Spanish Fantasy Past: “SALUDOS AMIGOS: We witness here the beginning of a new civilization wherein Christianity was introduced to a pagan sphere some 190 years ago. For nearly two centuries this garden of peace has been a haven for the weary travelers, adventurous pioneers and builders of the magical desert…. Here trod the daring redskin, the blithe-spirited Mexican, the valiant Spanish soldier, and the venturesome American.”

The mission museum fares better at balancing public relations with historical accuracy. It also directly references the Ramona myth. One display case is devoted entirely to Helen Hunt Jackson, her famed novel, and the tourist craze it ignited, including photos of Ramona-inspired visitors to the mission from the late 1880s and early 1890s. The mythic theme is extended via a purple-prose tribute to

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Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents viii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • Prologue 1
  • Introduction 5
  • Part One - Original Si(G)N 23
  • Chapter 1 - The Ramona Myth 25
  • Chapter 2 - Ramona Revisited 43
  • Part Two - Si(G)N City 65
  • Chapter 3 - "City with Two Heads" 67
  • Chapter 4 - What Price Hollywood? 83
  • Part Three - L.a. Noir 103
  • Chapter 5 - Bright and Guilty Place 105
  • Chapter 6 - Neo-Noir 126
  • Part Four - Multicultural L.a 151
  • Chapter 7 - Latinos 153
  • Chapter 8 - Blacks 170
  • Chapter 9 - Lasians 189
  • Chapter 10 - Langlos and Lagbts 209
  • Conclusion 233
  • Notes 243
  • Index 281
  • About the Author 303
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