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Spring 2001, Industry and Urbanization In Southern California, 1900-1950

Greg Hise
Over the last decade an increasing number of scholars and pundits have cast greater Los Angeles as the archetype for large and growing cities in the U.S. and throughout the world. In these accounts, regional expansion is portrayed as the product of haphazard development without planning, in other words, “sprawl.” Studies of manufacturing and industrial location often share these conventions. However, a historical investigation reveals that industrial development and industrial location have been key determinants for urbanization in Los Angeles and that residential, commercial, and industrial development has been coordinated, complimentary, and highly planned. Together, these coincident enterprises recast the region during the first half of the twentieth century. At that time there were three interrelated but qualitatively distinct types of industrial zones in Los Angeles: a home-market district of lofts, warehouses, and residences adjacent to the central business district; greenfield developments for mass production in Torrance, the Eastside, and Vernon; and dispersed oil, film, and aircraft satellites on the urban periphery. This finding challenges the received wisdom regarding industrial geography (a progressive narrative of technological innovation and successive production regimes) as well as the standard narratives of suburbanization or more recently, of “edge cities.”