The birth of modern-day Los Angeles viewed through the prism of three of its most ardent advocates.
Krist carries forward the methodology he employed in his masterful portraits of Chicago (City of Scoundrels, 2012) and New Orleans (Empire of Sin, 2014), here applying his skills to LA, “the grand metropolis that never should have been.” The fact that the sprawling megalopolis even exists today is something of a small miracle, partly made possible by the early visionaries that championed the city’s dreams. As the author notes, rightly, “it was no sensible place to build a great city,” offering “few of the inducements to settlement and growth found near major cities in other places.” Darting between a macro and micro viewpoint, the author maintains his sharp focus on three primary subjects. The man with the plan was fabled engineer William Mulholland, whose infamous aqueduct and regional dams brought vital water to the city. The one with the dreams was D.W. Griffith, the frustrated actor who became a successful director and producer and transformed the movies from a novelty to a revolutionary medium. Finally, the true believer was Aimee Semple McPherson, a Pentecostal evangelist who used her celebrity to enrapture the troubled souls of LA. Through these three actors, Krist effectively demonstrates the massive opportunities the city represented in the early days of the 20th century as well as the personal tragedies that ultimately brought these dreamers low. Although the author unearths little that is historically groundbreaking, his dramatic portrayals of politics, scandals, sabotage, and bombings make for a rich, rewarding read. He also generates enormous sympathy for these flawed futurists, portraying not only the heights they reached in their respective careers, but also their radical falls from grace. Their fates ranged from an accidental demise to an unforgivable tragedy to that most acute of Hollywood endings: irrelevance.
An entertaining, intertwined tale of triumph, hubris, and Manifest Destiny in the city of angels.