California, California, California

By David Portz

Some books by a glance in the bookstore get all the attention they deserve. Chronicle Books of San Francisco seems to make a specialty of these, books that ride the long wave of California jingoism. California Crazy, for example, collects photos of those roadside stands once endemic to the West Coast but now mostly gone: buildings shaped like pumpkins, for instance, or hot dogs, or ice cream cones, coffee pots, or air planes. Another section of the book gathers photos of the buildings that utilized non-European, traditional motifs, such as the Mayan Theatre or Grauman’s Egyptian. The introduction fails to clearly define the term for the style of these relics. Programmatic Architecture, but succeeds in relating their history, their disrepute among the high art crowd, and their revival under the advocacy of architect Robert Venturi. For a chapter in U.S. architectural history, or perhaps a chapter and its sequel, this book is worth a glance.
If looking at California Crazy is equivalent to looking at twenty minutes of MTV, then Outrageous L.A. is equivalent to standing in line ten minutes to see a Brooke Shields film. Outrageous asserts that Los Angelions are volitionally odd, and while that may be true, the pictures don’t prove it. There is nothing outrageous about palm trees, brightly painted walls, or night shots of neon signs. The presentation relies heavily on hackneyed captions, and the photos provide new ammo to reactionaries still grousing over the mindless seductions of color.

Better books within the class of Crazy and Outrageous ask you why you aren’t a trifle more eccentric. “Wouldn’t you be less stiff and more fun if instead of stodgy values like beauty or truth, you felt the human rhythms of the sensational present?” California From The Air asks no such questions: only “Why don’t you own a plane?” Its aerial photographs show natural coastal features, plus the impact of man: refineries and shipyards, revamped communities and beachside condos, amusement parks, and surfer havens. Interviews further sweeten the book nineteen persons offer coast- related comments including an oceanographer Ansel Adams. There is a love of the land and the sea communicated through this book 1938 but it is still only bookstore viewing. Buy a photographic classic instead.

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