Despite the best efforts of leftist activists and Indian revisionists to convince you otherwise, Spanish California was quite a pleasant place for most of its denizens. But again, paradise would not last. As in the rest of Latin America, overthrowing the Spanish crown led to a dreary cycle of civil wars and petty dictators, albeit in a typically Californian comic-opera manner. As a result, when the Americans conquered California during the Mexican War, resistance was halfhearted or nonexistent in many places, though los Californios showed what they could do at the Battle of San Pasqual.
Gold’s discovery in 1848 set off a mass migration from every corner of the globe that in a sense has never stopped. The sleepy village of Yerba Buena was transformed into San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, while gold-free SoCal saw most of its rancheros cheated out of their lands or beggared by a drought that killed off their cattle. A wave of Eastern land barons arrived, transforming the state yet again. The Hearsts, Huntingtons, Pattons, Chandlers, and the like ran their sections of California like fiefdoms”all while transforming select portions of it into paradises such as San Marino and Burlingame. The major cities”especially LA”mushroomed into centers of corruption. But our leading robber barons settled down into respectability and philanthropy. Their descendants became San Francisco’s aristocracy and got their names listed in Los Angeles’s Blue Book. Less lofty immigrants (and more Midwestern elements) would flock to smaller cities, so that Long Beach in time would be called “Iowa by the Sea.”
Alongside these more earthly minded arrivals would come a horde of spiritual seekers. Even New Thought was too conventional for many. The theosophists started the Krotona Colony in Beachwood Canyon in 1912 and left us the Hollywood Bowl as a keepsake. Los Angeles became so renowned in esoteric circles that Aleister Crowley made a pilgrimage here six years later. Although the “Great Beast” scoffed at the place as “full of amateurs,” he managed to establish a branch of his Ordo Templi Orientis in Pasadena; one of Crowley’s alumni, L. Ron Hubbard, would go on to found Scientology.
All of this metaphysical hubbub led H. L. Mencken to say of Los Angeles that “The town has more morons in it than the whole State of Mississippi.” Whether or not that was true, California was bustling by the time Crowley spread his magical seed here. There was lots of cheap land, and the great families were quite happy, as were those who did not annoy them. Once again, paradise of sorts seemed to have arrived. But as has been the pattern in our history, a new set of dreamers was arriving and would reshape California again. In 1906, the first movie was shot in Los Angeles, and a decade later, the majority of American films were made here. This California dream would soon be shared with the world.
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