Next California Studies Dinner Oct. 19: Frank Gruber speaking about Convulsive Urbanism in 1950s Santa Monica

The next California Studies dinner will take place Oct. 19, 2011 in Berkeley; the speaker will be Frank Gruber, columnist for the Santa Monica Lookout News; the title of his talk is “The Destruction of the Belmar Triangle:  A case of convulsive urbanism” Mr. Gruber will discuss the destruction of an African-American community neighborhood through urban redevelopment in Santa Monica during the 1950s, to build the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.


October 19, 2011
7 :00 p.m. – 10 :00 p.m.
Director’s Room, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, 2521 Channing St.(just above Telegraph Ave).

The dinner is buffet style. Dinners are free, but a small donation is requested from those partaking of wine and beverages.

PLEASE RSVP by Friday, Oct. 14, 2011, to Delores Dillard, Department of Geography, 507 McCone Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA  94720-4740 phone (510)  642-3903 or FAX (510) 642-3370, or e-mail:

Frank Gruber to give talk at Santa Monica History Museum on the history and fate of the Belmar Triangle, Feb. 20

On Sunday, Feb. 20, at 2:00 p.m., the Santa Monica History Museum will host a free public lecture by columnist Frank Gruber on the history and fate of the Belmar Triangle, an African-American neighborhood that was destroyed in the 1950s by the City of Santa Monica to allow the building of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

From the museum’s press release:

Frank Gruber to Give Public Lecture

on the History and Fate of the Belmar Triangle,

an African-American Neighborhood

Razed to Build the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

Santa Monica, CA – Tuesday, February 9, 2011 – In celebration of Black History Month, the Santa Monica History Museum will host a talk by local columnist Frank Gruber about the Belmar Triangle, an African-American neighborhood that was razed in the 1950s to build the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Gruber writes a weekly column for The Santa Monica Lookout News website and is the author of the book, Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal.

Gruber’s talk will trace the history of the African-American commercial and residential district that arose on both sides of Pico Boulevard, around Third and Fourth Streets, beginning early in the 20th century. Though not wealthy, and historically “on the other side of the tracks” in Santa Monica, this community was a vibrant district with many black-owned businesses. The location was only a few blocks up Pico from the “Inkwell,” the area of the beach African-Americans most often frequented, and many of the businesses catered to black visitors from the rest of Los Angeles.

In the 1950s, however, the area north of Pico, between Main and Fourth Streets, known as the “Belmar Triangle” from a street, Belmar, that crossed it, became a target of the City of Santa Monica, which wanted to improve its tourist facilities by building a new Civic Auditorium. What was home and a vibrant community to those who lived and owned businesses there was categorized as “blight” by a City that desired a centrally-located site large enough for its new facility.

Using eminent domain, the City condemned the black-owned properties, leveled the homes and businesses, and built the Civic Auditorium and its parking lot. Ironically, within a decade the auditorium was labeled a white elephant. Currently, as Gruber will discuss, the City has plans to turn the parking lot into a park. Gruber will propose that the park be named after the Belmar Triangle neighborhood and include features commemorating what once was there.

Following the lecture will be a presentation by Carolyne Edwards on the Quinn Research Center (QRC). Carolyne and her husband Bill founded QRC as a tribute to the legacy of Dr. Alfred T. Quinn, a prominent Black educator, community leader and icon of the Santa Monica Bay area.  As his niece, Carolyne wants to preserve and share the contributions and achievements of a man dedicated to education and the advancement of every individual. The ongoing project of the QRC is “The Black Family Oral History Project”. It is designed to collect, record and preserve the oral histories of African Americans who have lived in the Santa Monica-Venice Bay Area.

The lecture will take place Sunday, February 20, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pmThe event is free and will be held at the Santa Monica History Museum at 1350 7th Street in Santa Monica. RSVP is strongly recommended due to limited seating. The museum is located adjacent to the Santa Monica Main Public Library. To RSVP or for more information, please call the museum at (310) 395-2290.

The Santa Monica History Museum has been collecting, preserving, and sharing the history of Santa Monica since 1975. It has an extensive collection of historic photographs, archives, and artifacts. The museum’s permanent exhibit, “Santa Monica: A Journey Into An Extraordinary Past,” showcases a diverse collection of original photographs and artifacts ranging from the Native Tongva Indians to the Santa Monica Pier. This exhibit also includes fun and engaging hands-on interactive exhibits that bring Santa Monica’s history to life. The museum’s research library is free and offers specialized research and photo reproduction services. The museum is open on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; and Tuesday & Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Two Op-Eds about Calif. Politics in the LAT, on changing demographics and chances for a constitutional convention

I don’t how unusual it is in these days when national headlines seem to dominate once the state’s crisis is momentarily resolved, but today’s L.A. Times (Mar. 5, 2009) had two interesting op-eds about California politics.  One of them, by Harold Meyerson, “As the GOP stands firm, California is changing direction,” was, as the title suggests, about the near to longterm prospects for the Republican Party in California in an era of changing demographics and politics.  Meyerson analyzes the overwhelming vote for Barack Obama by congressional districts, and finds that many Republican representatives are now representing districts that voted Democratic in 2008.  Meyerson writes:

The eight GOP congressional districts that swung Democratic are largely in exurban areas that Republicans have long claimed as their own. Seven are in Southern California, including David Dreier’s district along the foothills of northeast Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County; Howard P. “Buck” McKeon’s sprawling district that includes Palmdale, Lancaster and much of the eastern Sierra Nevada; and Elton Gallegly’s district, which stretches from Simi Valley to Solvang. Two other unexpectedly pro-Obama districts included Riverside and Palm Springs, while another is in northern San Diego County. The one sure to induce a double-take is John Campbell’s (formerly Christopher Cox’s) coastal Orange County district centered on Newport Beach — John Wayne country, a bastion of American conservatism. Yet Obama carried it by 2,500 votes.

Meyerson expects that the trend—which has been in process for 20 years—will continue in part because the party is so dominated by extreme right-wing elements:

In the mid- and late ’90s, the once solidly Republican inner suburbs of Los Angeles — Burbank, Glendale, northern Orange County among them — began sending Democrats to Washington and Sacramento as their demographics changed. They are now solidly Democratic. What the 2008 election results signify is that L.A.’s far-flung exurbs will soon be poised for a similar makeover. It may take several elections, some incumbent retirements and the carefully targeted intervention of Obama’s volunteer legions to realize such a transformation. But Democrats have a potent if inadvertent ally in speeding this change: California’s right-wing Republican establishment.

The second op-ed was by Patt Morrison, and it focussed on the recent calls for a California Constitutional Convention (although she didn’t mention the recent meeting in Sacramento).  Morrison declares her position in the title of the piece: “California Needs a Constitutional Convention,” and goes on to say:

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants a constitutional convention. Public policy wonks and worried budgeteers want one. The Legislature may not want one — another reason to convene it.

At this point, we’ve been running on the same basic chassis we’ve had since Edison invented the phonograph.

We made it so easy to overload the vehicle of state with amendments that we have nearly 500 of them. The U.S. Constitution has 27, and it had about a 60-year head start on us.

California’s Constitution is apparently the second longest in the country, after Louisiana’s, and we all know what a model of governance Louisiana is.

One wonders, though, given that Californians are so divided about what they expect from government, is it likely that we could ever reach agreement over a new charter?

–Frank Gruber (

Wallace Stegner Centennial: NY Times Takes Notice

The New York Times commemorated the centennial of Wallace Stegner’s birth with an opinion piece by Timothy Egan which focused on the Times’ condescending treatment toward Stegner and other “western” writers.  Mr. Egan writes, in part:

Were Stegner around this week to blow out the 100 candles on his birthday cake, it’s likely he would still be mad at the East Coast Media Conspiracy, and by that he meant this newspaper.

“It was the New York Times that broke his heart,” said Nancy Packer, a retired professor of English at Stanford, who knew Stegner well in the time he nurtured writers from Ken Kesey to Larry McMurtry here on the Farm, as the university is known.

Stegner won the National Book Award for “The Spectator Bird,” which the Times never reviewed. He also won a Pulitzer for his best-loved novel, “Angle of Repose,” which the paper only noticed after the award, and then with a sniff.

Even in anointing him the dean of Western writers, the Times couldn’t get his name right, calling him “William” Stegner. He died in 1993 at the age of 84.

Living and writing in the West, Stegner wrote, left him with the feeling that “I gradually receded over the horizon and disappeared.”

The fact that a writer of Stegner’s stature felt ghettoized with the dreaded tag of “regional author” raises the question of whether our national literature is too tightly controlled by the so-called cultural elite – those people who talk to each other in some mythic Manhattan echo chamber.

–Frank Gruber

Selling Southern California to Anglos: an Article and a New Book

The topic of how, beginning in the 1870s and 1880s, southern California was marketed to Anglo immigrants has been treated in a recent article and a new book.

The article, “Not just a Golden State: Three Anglo ‘Rushes’ in the Making of Southern California, 1880-1920,” by Glen Gendzel, assistant professor of history at San José State University, appears in the current (Winter 2008-09, Vol. 90, No. 4) issue of Southern California Quarterly, published by the Historical Society of Southern California.

The book is Paradise Promoted: the Booster Campaign that Created Los Angeles, 1870-1930, by Tom Zimmerman, published by Angel City Press of Santa Monica (2008).

In his article, Prof. Gendzel makes the point that while the Gold Rush in northern California is typically viewed as California’s “foundational event,” southern California was settled by well-to-do Anglo immigrants who came in three “rushes” of their own: the “health rush,” the “land rush,” and the “orange rush.”  These booms were not only bigger than the Gold Rush, but they also resulted in the the south becoming the larger population center, with important impacts on culture and demographics as well.

Tom Zimmerman has based his lavishly illustrated book in large part on his own collection of ephemera from the era of boosterism, starting in 1870.  While the book, as its publishers say, may be a “must for every Southern California-lover’s coffee table,” Mr. Zimmerman has also written an extensive text (and helpfully explanatory captions for the illustrations) in which he describes not only the history of but also the techniques used in the various promotional campaigns that actualized the three “rushes” identified by Prof. Gendzel.  By extending the scope of his book through the 1920s, Mr. Zimmerman also identified a fourth rush, namely one focusing on industry, or, rather, “clean industry,” as promoted by the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.  Mr. Zimmerman also carries his narrative into the 1930s, when the Depression caused the local establishment to stop recruiting immigrants and led to the rise of labor and other social movements.

The only quibble I might raise about both the article and the book, is that neither mentions the impact of the oil industry in the region during the era studied.  Southern California was, after all, one of the world’s largest producers of oil in the early 20th century.  I suspect that the roughneck image of the oil industry does not jibe well with Prof. Gendzel’s argument about the impact of genteel, middle-class immigration, nor the promotion of clean industry that Mr. Zimmerman describes.

But having said that, both works are informative, and in the case of Mr. Zimmerman’s book, the pictures really are worth putting on a coffee table.

I also want to mention that I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Mr. Zimmerman on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009, sponsored by the Santa Monica Conservancy.

–Frank Gruber