The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Pages of History

Pages of History

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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Pages of History


Notice how steep Bunker Hill used to be!


I stumbled across a copy of “Los Angeles: A Guide Book,” produced for the 1907 National Education Assn. convention, listed on EBay for $9.99 and remembered that I had seen a digitized copy on Google books.   The book offers brief snapshots of the city as it was a century ago and because it was produced for teachers it focuses on educational facilities and is loaded with facts for tourists.  

There’s also a handy map of downtown as it was in 1907. You can download the pdf here.


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