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California and the East Coast: A Love Story

By Alex McGinn, Publicity Intern


It’s no secret that East Coasters are skeptical of the West Coast. Southern California seems particularly peculiar to most inhabitants of the northeastern seaboard; perhaps its picturesque landscape, balmy weather, and laid back lifestyle seem out of touch with the realities of fast-paced East Coast cities. But what some of these West Coast cynics may not know is that SoCal’s most influential “boosters” were refugees of the northeast.

Thinking about this, I turned to The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America by Lawrence Culver. Here are a few important Yankees who escaped their overworked and seemingly miserable East Coast fates to become the earliest developers of some of Southern California’s most iconic getaways.

Charles Lummis known as a booster of Los Angeles and Palm Springs was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1859. The son of a Methodist minister, Lummis attended Harvard, but devoted less time to his studies than to romantic pursuits. He enjoyed his summers hiking, mountain climbing, and writing poetry while employed at a relative’s resort hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. After failing out of school, Lummis married Dorothea Rhodes, a medical student he had met while at Harvard. After fleeing New England for Ohio, the two’s marriage faltered as did Lummis’s career as a newspaper editor. To make matters worse, Lummis had contracted malaria. He decided that he needed a fresh start and found it in Los Angeles. Chronic overwork, too little sleep, too much alcohol, and continuing marital problems resulted in a stroke that paralyzed his left side at the age of 29. After his recovery in Iseleta Pueblo, New Mexico, Lummis published several books that glorified the Southwest. This glorification tremendously aided the city of Los Angeles and granted it its allure.

Charles Frederick Holder known as a founding booster of Catalina Island began his career as a scientist and author. Interestingly enough, Holder was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the same birthplace of Charles Lummis, in 1851. He attended the prestigious United States Naval Academy, but left before graduating. He served for several years as the assistant curator of zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and authored a number of books. He came to Southern California to recuperate from a lung infection aggravated by overwork. Like Lummis, Holder published several books about Southern California focusing on Catalina Island, which he believed encapsulated the region’s healthfulness and distinctive flora and fauna. Holder’s accounts of swimming, hunting and other recreational activities attracted tourists to the Southern Californian getaway.

John C. Van Dyke known as the first booster of Coachella Valley was the art critic for Century Magazine and one of the best-known and widely read public intellectuals in the nation. While he frequented Charles Lummis’s salon at El Alisal, he remained firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where he was librarian at New Brunswick Theological Seminary and the first professor of art history at Rutgers University. However, the deserts of California, to his eyes, contained the most delicate palette of colors imaginable. Van Dyke narrated his book The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances (1901) as a solitary traveler, walking and riding through an uninhabited landscape. His refined aesthetic contemplation of the desert was presented as a rebuke to the excesses of urbanism, industry and capitalism of modern America. Ironically, Van Dyke’s book bore a dedication to “A.M.C.” who most readers didn’t realize was Andrew Carnegie, the steel baron who had done as much as anyone to ensure industry and urbanism. Regardless, The Desert was hailed by preservationists and literary critics for its environmental sensitivity. Charles Lummis raved about it in his magazine, calling it a ‘poem and prophecy all in one’ and bringing notoriety to the otherwise unknown Coachella Valley.

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