Book: The Fragmented Metropolis

Book Cover for "The Fragmented Metropolis"The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles 1850-1930

(Book) by Robert M. Fogelson

The Fragmented Metropolis is as much a textbook about Los Angeles History as a blueprint for  a success that should have never been. Part one of the book [Los Angeles, 1850-1930], is cold and fact-driven but it manages to present a holistic definition of Los Angeles’s success. Part one of the book is broken down into six sections and each section deals with the chronological development of one historically significant paradigm in the creation of Los Angeles; 1) From the Pueblo to the town, 2) Private Enterprise, public Authority, and Urban Expansion, 3) The Rivalry between Los Angeles and San Diego, 4) The Great Migration, 5)Transportation, Water, and Real Estate, and 6) Commercial and Industrial Progress.

Because I believe all six sections, important as they might be, do not carry the same weight, I wish to focus on those that I believe are essential to understanding Fogelson’s conclusions. While Fogelson’s book is informative and entertaining, it does become a bit tedious to cycle through all the dates, facts, and numbers provided (census polls, acreage of property, miles of railroad tracks, population growth) but the detail of research is considerable for a book that expands so many decades.

The events that are responsible for chiseling an identity for Los Angeles are easily constituted from the  reading: Land use, Potable Water (or the lack thereof), and the challenges between the Private Sector and Public needs of an expanding metropolis. Soporific as it might be to read each chapter back to back,  it is definitely enthralling to be able to fast forward through the state’s history with such haste – each chapter goes through the chronology of it’s theme, and thus you read one topic, from the 1850s to 1920s, then the next topic from the 1850s to the 1920s and so on.  Some topics which I found requiring further study were not those specifically delineated by Fogelson, but were the underlying theme that I found of institutions like the Department of Water and Power and the Automotive Club of Southern California and their apparent vast historical archives.

Transportation, Water, and Real Estate

If there was something evident in the chapters dealing with infrastructure of early Los Angeles is that private interests and local enterprises mobilized and shaped the world around them. investment and enterprises like Henry E. Huntington‘s Pacific Electric Railway and Huntington Land and Improvement Company (Fogelson, pg 85) were a driving force in establishing new parcels of subdivided land and providing privately run services (Water, transportation).  men like Huntington and  Mayor Prudent Beaudry (who also, for the benefit of his own appropriations, provided the infrastructure that allowed settlement in the northeastern mountains of Los Angeles (Fogelson, pg 95)) shaped LA prior to urban growth factors that forced the city to make many services public works and let others die (inner-urban electric rail cars). Although this book does not go into detail about William Mulholland and his contributions to Los Angeles  (Fogelson, pg 98) it does mention the creation of the Board of Water Commissioners (Fogelson, pg 96) and the prospecting for water and lead to the California Water Wars.

Part Two

(The Fragmented Metropolis) will deal with Fogelson’s more interesting retrospective on Los Angeles. In the second part of his book, Fogelson talks about the structuring of public commissions, political machines,  progressivism, and LA as a test case for city planning. in truth it was a bit difficult to both read this book and write about it, it’s hard to write about a book that is mostly research and fact-driven narrative with little editorial content (well at least until part two) because there’s nothing to compare it too, all one can do is agree with the findings (which are just a collection of facts) since I am not an authority on any of these topics.


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