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Friday—Living in Cold War California

How was life in California shaped by the aerospace industry?

After considering ways the aerospace industry helped to stoke the imagination of the purveyors and viewers of popular culture, the week concludes with an examination of the image and reality of suburbia, a prominent element of Cold War Sunbelt perceptions. Readings and discussions will explore the reality of archetypical massive suburban complexes, the myths and cultural expectations created by this housing form, and alternative narratives—including the intentional exclusion of minorities from suburbs, as well as the strong urban patterns of the region. Keirn will begin the day with discussion of three readings. The first is Greg Hise’s “The Airplane and the Garden City,” which gives a broad context for the relationship between housing and industry, particularly aerospace, in the Los Angeles area. This will be followed by Eric Avila’s exploration of the role of race in LA-area housing patterns in the postwar period, and Shana Bernstein’s discussion of inter-ethnic coalitions that formed in Southern California in the postwar period to protest violations of equal housing laws.

Dr. Eileen Luhr will then present a lecture-discussion entitled “Cold War Suburbia: Race, Class and Gender in Southern California Housing” that builds off of Avila’s argument, but broadens it to include considerations of class and the roles of women in Southern California housing patterns. She will emphasize the role of culture in shaping expectations about suburban lifestyle, focusing particularly on the Cold War context and the influence of local aerospace industry on these patterns.

Participants will then travel the short distance to Del Valle Park in historic Lakewood. This park offers an excellent vantage point for viewing the historic suburban sprawl of a postwar community larger than Levittown; the park also displays a key Korean War memorial described in Wiener’s book, as well as in speaker DJ Waldie’s memoir. Waldie’s talk, ” The ‘Holy Land’ of Lakewood: Life in the Archetypical Postwar Southern California Suburb,” will reflect on the creation of his memoir, Holy Land, a poetic memoir about the creation of Lakewood and the experiences of early residents, including Waldie and his family. He will discuss his book as a primary source and a form of popular memory, reflecting one view of experiences in the postwar suburbs created in large part to meet the housing needs of aerospace and military workers.

Dr. William Deverell will provide the final presentation as a bookend to his introductory talk. “The Decline of Aerospace in Southern California: Transformation of a Regional Economy and Culture” also takes the narrative forward beyond the creation of the space shuttle to the end of the Cold War and the subsequent transition of the aerospace industry in the region over the last twenty years. The talk ends with a discussion of the industry’s current status and larger implications for the region’s economy and culture. This talk will not only tie together themes and content from throughout the week, but will also link the historical subject to the present.

After Deverell’s talk, participants will briefly share reflections of what they learned, as well as highlights of their proposed lessons as posted in draft on MERLOT, including the key primary sources they have utilized. Keirn and Neumann will administer NEH evaluations of the week as a whole, and offer closing comments before dismissing participants.

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