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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Los Angeles -- The Chemically Pure

“Los Angeles – The Chemically Pure” by Willard Huntington Wright/S.S. Van Dine in the March 1913 issue of “The Smart Set” is frequently cited, but almost never quoted. I tracked down the article (which also appears in “The Smart Set Anthology,” 1934) in hopes of uncovering the roots of the ridiculous story about Gen. Harrison Gray Otis’ “armored car.”

There was nothing about the car, but I was struck by the tone of Wright’s article, for it is the full-blown “Los Angeles as the coastline of Iowa” attitude (fashionable writers would call it a “trope”) that defines the Eastern school of writing about Los Angeles and is readily found in just about any current issue of the New York Times or the New Yorker.   

“The Smart Set Anthology” is in the Los Angeles Public Library and many other Southern California libraries. Or you can find much of the article quoted in a rebuttal by George Wharton James in a 1913 issue of Out West. 

Bonus on the jump: The first page of James' article and a photo of Pershing Square as it appeared before the construction of the Biltmore.

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