I live in the land of tours, tourists, and all things touristy. Hollywood, California: home to many, many spots of historical and cultural significance – especially if you are interested in the movie biz. There is an entire industry here built around the idea that people will exchange their hard-earned vacation dollars to have an expert (usually someone who arrived in the southland approximately two weeks before) show them around town. Do you want to know where Brad Pitt lives? Just walk down Hollywood Blvd and you will be approached by someone who, in some gaudy van, will take you there…and many other places of note – Pink’s Hot Dogs (where nobody famous ever eats…ever), the iconic Hollywood sign, or super swanky Rodeo Drive.
Perhaps this is just wishful thinking…but Los Angeles has a pretty rich Civil War era history – so why not a Civil War themed tour? I know, probably not. How would such a tour compete with a potential (never gonna happen) Paris Hilton sighting? But still, there are plenty of places one could visit to add visual depth to an exciting 19th century story. Downtown LA’s plaza near Olvera Street was once the site of heated secessionist activities. Federal soldiers had to be dispatched to calm the would be rebels and perhaps even force them into submission. Their quarters – Drum Barracks – still exist in Wilmington – just outside of Long Beach. This site served as the Federal headquarters for Southern California and the Arizona territory from 1861 to 1871.
If plazas and old buildings don’t grab your attention – maybe a classic Civil War themed film tour would do the trick. Gone With the Wind was filmed down the road from Hollywood in Culver City (David O. Selznick colored the California dirt red to look like Georgia). Culver Studios, formerly Selznick studios, stands to this day – the entry path from the main studio gate is in fact the very same walkway to the Butler’s Atlanta mansion. And there’s more. The Birth of a Nation was shot in a number of locations around town: Whittier, San Bernardino, Burbank, and elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley (where D. W. Griffith made no effort whatsoever to reproduce a South Carolina or Virginia landscape). Hmmm – well, at least I would like to see these spots.
My entrepreneurial spirit says if you see a need for something then you ought to provide it – for a fee of course. But I question whether or not the average LA area vacationer would care to see and understand the Civil War from a Southern California perspective in either history or popular culture.
What do you think??
More than one nation had territorial ambitions in California in the early 19th century. Spain, Mexico, Russia, Britain, and the United States all cast their eyes toward the Golden Coast at one point or another. And yes indeed, the French had ideas of their own. By the 1830s, clearly unimpressed with Mexican republican rule and the secularization of the Mission system, interested parties in France sought to establish a monarchical Catholic presence along the coast – and thus exploit what they considered wasted opportunity.
Their lofty ambitions did not amount to much in Southern California. Plans for a military invasion of San Diego (and elsewhere) settled in a Paris archive, where they would gather dust for a long long time. The only noteworthy presence in the 1830s materialized in the form of a Los Angeles French winery. Established by Jean Louis Vignes, known as Don Luis del Aliso by his Mexican friends, this winery endeavored to replicate the great wineries of the South of France. Vignes made quite a name for himself in the process. Apparently, his vino was better than decent. He continued to peacefully ferment for decades – the grapes, that is.
But while many cultures made a noticeable imprint on what would become Southern California identity, the French, at least in the Los Angeles area, didn’t make much of a splash once Anglo/Americans began pouring into the neighborhood after the Civil War.
It is interesting to see what cultural forms Americans would adopt in the ensuing years. Stay tuned.
One of the angles I am working as I begin this project is the idea of California – specifically Southern California – as an imagined place. I find it necessary to determine what people thought of this western land as they were pondering a possible move. Sure – they were well versed in the Ramona story. But there were a number of images from which they could draw to hopefully envision the landscape that they would soon call home.
Today I offer one vision – an ocean/arboreal scene by one of the great California Impressionists of the late nineteenth century, Guy Rose. Could this be the quintessential California landscape? One might observe the colors and the light playing on the leaves and water and suggest that the work is amiss to a degree. Born in the San Gabriel Valley in the 1860s, Rose trained in Europe and New York before returning to his native land – and he brings a visitor’s eye to his work on the Pacific coast. But would this have struck a familiar chord with migrating easterners trying to imagine and accept as their own a place so seemingly foreign? That question is certainly worth asking. So I will be asking it frequently. Because that’s what I do.