City of the Imagination

Some musings on the future of Los Angeles have been right on, others way off. On Jan. 1, 1913, The Times published the staff’s fanciful vision of a city 25 years ahead in time. Illustrations predicted a dense high-rise metropolis of elevated streets and flying craft (and, mysteriously, a teeming waterfront). Wealth, abundance and a population of millions were assumed.


‘Athens of the Modern World': The View From 1913

Its famous schools and universities, its splendid music halls and dramatic temples, its noble art galleries and scientific museums [and] distinguished teachers, artists, musicians and lecturers . . . make Los Angeles the world’s center of the highest culture, the favorite mecca of cultivated and traveled people.


Immediately following the completion of the Panama Canal in 1915 there was an unprecedented influx of people. . . . The great problem of assimilating these peoples of many tongues and foreign customs and notions, and making them good and useful American citizens, was worked out and . . . the whole world now appeared to be seized with a yearning to visit and ultimately make a home in or near the magic city.

When men and women who came from different countries learned to know each other better, they found they had many interests in common [and] racial prejudices disappeared.


There is hardly an acre left for the growing of [lemons] on the whole coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego. All citrus fruits are more in demand than ever on account of the gradual extinction of the breweries and distilleries. The eastern cities are using such enormous quantities of lemons for summer beverages that plans are afoot to extend the famous lemon strip into our new territory of Lower California.


This favored section of the world is blessed with such widespread wealth . . . that we have really no very poor people. . . . This wealth has been lavished on the palatial homes, the veritable castles that adorn the suburbs and the . . . countryside.


Of Real Estate Booms and Smog Alerts

A historical sampler of thinking on the Next L.A.

“The real estate business is destined to be a great business here.”


A visitor from Indiana in 1873


“We are gradually approaching the time of maximum population. . . . It would seem that the day of immigration is over and the time of small families has come. There is no economic reason for an enlarging population.

“In our dreams [the future city] is something beautiful, with a plan of growth and a contented and happy people. It is . . . full of opportunities for work and play. There is enough industry to provide for the needs of all.

“Just as women have been released from routine for great public enterprises, men will come to have public interests outside their daily toil. This is what happened in Athens where citizens had time for public concourse. We may even recreate a public life of fetes and ceremonies when the city becomes a source of pride.”


President of the University of Wisconsin, in a 1941 essay on Los Angeles’ future for the Pacific Southwest Academy


“Almost everybody who lives in Los Angeles believes that someday it will be the largest city in the world. This is quite likely to happen.”

Life magazine

Nov. 22, 1943


“On July 26, 1943, Angelenos awoke to find a gray-blue pall shrouding their city like some sinister ghost. Office workers coughed, sneezed, wept and called it unbearable. This was the first big smog attack in Los Angeles. . . .

“In October, 1954, there began the worst attack yet. Air traffic was shifted from International Airport to [Burbank], while ships entering Los Angeles harbor had to drop anchor in the outer roadstead. In Arcadia one boy’s eyes were swollen shut. . . .

“In Pasadena several dozen protesting housewives marched down Colorado Boulevard wearing gas masks and carrying anti-smog banners. At a mass meeting in the Civic Auditorium, 3,000 people representing 48 cities filled the seats, waved banners and stomped their feet, while an overflow crowd of 1,500 gathered in another hall nearby. . . .

"[Los Angeles’] aim was obvious and announced to all--that of becoming the biggest city in the world. For generations the Angelenos have basked in their precious climate--packaged it, sold it and relied on it to make up for other deficiencies. But now the deficiencies are catching up. They have sold themselves right out of the delightful, untrammeled life they once enjoyed. Through the blight of smog they have even started selling themselves right out of their wonderful climate.”


Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City (1960)


“A new Athens might emerge--or a new Calcutta.”