Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow.
By Merry Ovnick. Photographs by Carol Monteverde. Los Angeles: Balcony Press, 1994. Illustrations. Notes. Index. 384 pages. $34.95 (paper). Buy this book.
Founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles (“Town of Our Lady, Queen of the Angeles”), the second largest metropolis in the United States has for more than two centuries attracted successive waves of settlers who carried within them hopes of creating new lives. Merry Ovnick’s principal thesis is that Los Angeles’ varied domestic architectural forms can serve as historical artifacts to enhance our understanding of these people’s diverse cultural values and dreams. The core of this premise — that the architectural forms developed by a people can be studied as physical manifestations of distinct attitudes and visions — is by no means original. However, the means by which the author constructed this thesis by painstakingly weaving it, strand by strand, into the broader fabric of Los Angeles’ social, political, economic, and cultural history is quite innovative.
Ovnick is an eloquent guide on a long journey that begins with an examination of prehispanic Gabrielino structures and concludes with a discussion of the rebuilding activities following the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake. Along the way, the reader will encounter the familiar architectural styles of Queen Ann, Mission Revival, Craftsman, Spanish Colonial, and Western Ranch as well as the lesser known “fantasy” styles such as “Hansel and Gretel” (and its predictable derivative, “Neo-Hansel and Gretel”). The reader will also meet the architects whose creative voices found expression through diverse building styles; these individuals include Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and, one with whom many readers of this journal will have had some acquaintance, Irving Gill.
Ovnick’s prose is seldom dull, even if at times prolix, and her well-documented text is enhanced by one hundred and eighty photographs, most of which are the work of Carol Monteverde. While the book is blemished by the absence of a glossary of architectural terms and a bibliography, these omissions detract little from a book that possesses so many assets. Utilizing a vast array of primary and secondary sources, Ovnick has crafted a study that not only stands alone in its freshness as an architectural history of Los Angeles but is the most balanced, erudite overview of that community’s history to appear since Carey McWilliams’ Southern California: An Island on the Land (1946).
Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow is essential reading for anyone who has an interest in Southern California’s architectural, as well as general, history. Beyond what it imparts topically, this book can offer much as a methodological model for someone who is contemplating the writing of an interpretive, comprehensive history of San Diego’s built environment.
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