Friday, December 02, 2005

Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams

A few weeks ago I heard Kevin Roderick and his co-author speak about their new book Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams at Dawson’s bookstore. Wilshire: Grand Concourse of Dreams looks like a fascinating book. The two authors were charming. The stories they told were fascinating.

The authors discussed Gaylord Wilshire, the wealthy socialist heir who came to turn-of-the century Los Angeles. Wilshire sounds like a unusual man. He was dating some of the daughters of the well-to-do, started a billboard business, and advocated socialism. He began a new housing development just west of downtown around McArthur Park, and some of the wealthiest people in town moved there to the beginning of Wilshire Boulevard. If you want to know more about L.A., go get this book.

Since I have been researching Upton Sinclair lately, I had already known that Wilshire was a friend of Sinclair’s. Wilshire got Sinclair to come out west. Sinclair tells us that Wilshire was running a gold mine in the Sierras as a “socialist experiment in mining; it was run ‘on a basis of comradeship, with high wages and plenty of socialist propaganda.’” Workingmen and women across the country invested in the mine. A socialist gold mine sounds quite out-of-the-oridnary but times were different in 1904.

When Wilshire asked Sinclair to visit his mine, Sinclair did, becoming entranced with California and settling near Los Angeles. Wilshire’s mine soon failed; he went back to L.A., started Wilshire Boulevard and his housing development, and then left for New York where he published Wilshire’s magazine, one of the country’s most important socialist journals. Sinclair stayed in Los Angeles while Wilshire Boulevard grew and grew until it reached from downtown to the Pacific Ocean—and the rest is history.

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