Contributed by Kelsey Knox
Over 200 items from the Oviatt Library’s Special Collections and Archives have been gathered together in the Library Exhibit Gallery to showcase the ongoing myth of California as the “land of promise” or “golden state” and the role it has played as a popular destination for vacationers and settlers in the United States during the last two centuries.
“California’s Call: The Lure and Lore of the Golden State,” which opened February 2 and runs until December of 2015, is a new exhibit comprised of 19th and 20thcentury promotional literature created with a purpose of drawing visitors and settlers to California with the promises of beautiful weather, limitless activities, and an often glamorous and healthful lifestyle.
Most of the materials on display in the exhibit were pulled from the California Tourism and Promotional Literature Collection in the Oviatt Library Special Collections and Archives, with some materials taken from personal collections such as the George and Anna Taylor Papers, Betty and Martin’s Travel Journal, and the Johnson Family Echo Lake Photograph Collection. The California Tourism and Promotional Literature Collection consists of promotional materials aimed at attracting people to California for tourism or settling. It includes many travel guides, souvenirs, brochures, postcards, and posters that represent destinations across California. Many of these materials came out of the boosterism movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Boosterism was hugely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Organizations such as the All-Year Club of Southern California, the Automobile Club of Southern California, and the Los Angeles Realty Board led the movement of advertising California as a vacationer’s paradise. Once known as winter vacation spot, California – particularly the Los Angeles and Southern California area -- was transformed in the public’s mind by these organizations into a year-round recreational destination, with excellent weather, abundant activities, and opportunities for health and relaxation. The movement was highly successful, drawing so many people to the state that eventually these organizations had to add disclaimers to their materials, stating that while California was an excellent place to vacation, the state’s economy and job market was unable to support a large number of new settlers.
The materials in the exhibit cover many aspects of California boosterism. One of the large wall cases contains materials aimed at luring settlers to California. These materials tout the great weather and lush farmlands, as well as affluent suburban communities. Many of these books and brochures were produced by individual towns, each highlighting the wonderful qualities that made the municipality an optimal tourist destination. One flat case displays first-hand experiences of people who lived in or visited California. This case includes several photo albums and diaries, along with some loose photos from a family’s photograph collection. Another case contains examples of souvenirs that travelers to California might acquire on their vacation.
When choosing materials for the exhibit, there were some that immediately caught my eye because of their bright colors and imagery. Some of my favorite pieces are the Huntington Beach brochure that we enlarged for one of the wall cases, and of course the hot air balloon that looks like an orange, which made it on to the poster for the exhibit. I included several pieces in the exhibit that have personal meaning to me such as a booklet from the county that I grew up in and postcards and other souvenirs or brochures from some of my favorite places to visit. The exhibit is heavy on Yosemite National Park materials, as it is one of my favorite places in the world.
I have spent the past three months in the Oviatt Library Special Collections and Archives, where my primary task has been the curation of this exhibit. I was hired this past fall as one of three resident archivists through a grant-funded residency program with LA as Subject. This program gives each of the three residents the opportunity to spend a year rotating through different museums, archives, and special collections in the greater LA area, spending three months at each location on a specific project.
The ongoing exhibition is located in the Library Exhibit Gallery in the west wing on the Library’s second floor, and is open to the public free of charge during regular Library hours. For additional information about “California’s Call: The Lure and Lore of the Golden State,” as well as up-to-date news about all Library events, please visit the Exhibitions and Events page on our Library website.