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THE BERLAGE CENTER FOR ADVANCED STUDIES IN ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DESIGN SEMINAR  JEAN-LOUIS COHEN:  “LA: 72 Suburbs in Search of a City”

ROBERT A. GORNY

Regional Plan Los Angeles (1930) F.L. Olmsted, H. Bartholomew

[I]n the remaking of the city by Haussmann in the 1850s and 1860s the intermixing of classes within districts was reduced by design. Whatever heterogeneity occurred spontaneously in the division of private houses into apartments in the first half of the century was now opposed by an effort to make neighborhoods homogeneous economic units: investors in new construction and renovation found this homogeneity rational in that they knew exactly what kind of area they were putting their capital into. An ecology of quartiers as an ecology of classes: this was the new wall Haussmann erected between the citizens of the city as well as around the city itself. (SEN N ET T “T H E FA LL OF PU BLIC M A N” (1974) , 134 )

As is widely known, the transformation of Paris, advanced by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, was a reaction to the managerial difficulties, the french military had faced during the revolution in 1848. The grown structure of the city fabric had made it hard to assail barricades, and the first control was taken of the boulevards. When the Second Empire was established in 1851, new boulevards were constructed to mainly facilitate the state’s protection of private property of the rising bourgeoisie — but only in the disguise of that specific public space, that would stage the new street life of exactly this class. Haussmannization therefore presents, as David Harvey puts it, an intention “to put an image in place of a city which had lost its old means of representation.” (H A RV EY 2008, N.P. )

There is a similarity between the spatial and socio-economic principle of Paris’ restructuring, carried out by Haussmann in the 19th century, and a less famous plan, which had been proposed to transform Los Angeles in the early 1930s, but that only remained a vision. Initiated by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce in economical regards, Olmsted and Bartholomew develop a recreational park network of a more than Hausmannian scope. Refering to Paris’s success as a tourist city, the Olmsted-Bartholomew-Plan 1


SEMINAR  JEAN-LOUIS COHEN:  “LA: 72 Suburbs in Search of a City”

ROBERT A. GORNY

would have overthrown not only the spatial structure of the City as it was, but also its economical one. The unimplemented vision would have radically transformed the city with a system of thousands of urban parks. Had the plan been carried out, it may have made Los Angeles one of the most beautiful and livable regions in the world. Within the vast urban areas of Los Angeles a comprehensive integrated park and road network would have revitalized the region’s scenic qualities in regard of economical and ecological purposes. The project was ‘re-discovered’ by Greg Hise and William Deverell in their book “Eden By Design” (2000). After it fell into oblivion, it brought back on the table, within the history of the urban landscape of Los Angeles. Beyond its simple re-memorization, the editors decision to recall the project, must also be situated in the ubiquitous ‘sustainability’ discussions accumulating during the last decade. In its initiated discussion, the Olmsted-Bartholomew-Plan is in unison seen as a missed opportunity for the city. The plan “looks, even today, like an urbanist utopia the likes of which we’re still striving for.” (A N DER SON 2013, N.P.) But it simply never came to see the light of day.

I would like to ‘give a whirl’ on hitherto unrelated aspects of the “R EGIONA L

PLA N LOS A NGELES ” (1930), as it is officially named, by approaching the design from a

theoretical mashup. 1 If, despite its military ends, the transformation of Paris eventually aimed for the creation of new conditions for an uprising urban class of the bourgeoisie, can we then formulate the project likewise, aiming to construct new conditions for a new automobility-driven urban (middle) class?

AN ECONOMICAL INITIATIVE TO (RE-)CONSTRUCT AN IMAGE The Regional Plan was part of a report fully called “Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region”, published by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870–1957) in association with the planner Harland Bartholomew (1889–1989). 2 As the report was com-

1

2

A mashup is a term borrowed from music (also mash up, mash-up, blend, and bastard pop/rock). It names a song or composition created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying. To that extent such works are transformative of original content. In web development, the term implies to produce enriched results that were not necessarily the original reason for producing the raw source data. The main characteristics of a mashup are combination, visualization, and aggregation. The influential landscape design firm Olmsted Brothers was formed by the sons of the eminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) who designed Central Park in New York City and who is a founder of the field of landscape architecture.

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Plate 46: “General Plan for a complete system of Parkways and large parks for the Los Angeles Region”, from: H. Bartholomew, F. L. Olmsted, Jr. Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region (1930)

missioned in 1927 by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, in its basic nature, the project has to be recognized as “large-scale planning as a means for archiving the city profitable” (H ISE/DEV ER ELL 2000, 10 ) This chamber, which Hise and Deverell describe in their illuminating introduction as “probably the most powerful commercial body of its kind in the American West, if not in the nation,” (I BI D., 32 ) asked the two firms to prepare a report on parks and open space across Los Angeles County. However, even before the designers had finished their final version, they realized, that it was much more ambitious than they had ever anticipated — they eventually made the impressive design disappear, fearing that the ‘child had become the parent.’  3 3

As Christopher Hawthorne wrote in a LA TIMES review of Hise/Deverell’s book, the design was “Perhaps, in the end, too impressive for its own good. By February 1929, even before the designers had finished their final version of the report, the chamber’s board of directors had split over the wisdom of implementing it. Indeed, the book reports, after the plan was officially presented in 1930, ‘it garnered almost no public attention. The response, in truth, was a resounding silence. There were no follow-up stories in the local papers, nor was there discussion of the plan and its publication in the official minutes of city or county agencies and committees such as the Regional Planning Commission, the Los Angeles Parks Department, and the city’s Playground and Recreation Department.’ ‘This fate,’ the editors note, ‘was not due to some intrinsic flaw in the plan, nor was it due to a lack of public will, and it certainly was not happenstance. No, what happened in this

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Historically, the project emerges at the time, after Los Angeles exploded under

the pressures of migration immigration and economic development at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the time, the growth of Los Angeles had reached the limits of controllability. L.A.’s intense infrastructural expansion offered a means to manage and facilitate the congestion caused by the climatic cult, which the city had produced by the end of the nineteenth century. Beyond this management, however, there was no evident marshaling idea, that could spatially structure the further growth of the city into a metropolis, which had been enabled through the construction of the new aqueduct of 1913. Hise and Deverell researched in detail the project history. Los Angeles was facing an extraordinary challenge, given the fact that, in “just a decade, the city’s incorporated area would quadruple. This burst of amazing territorial energy would prompt new planning necessities” (H ISE/DEV ER ELL 20 00, 20 ). Therefore, in 1914 a lay member of the Los Angeles planning Association, Kate Bassett approached Olmsted, as a renown local, with an inquiry for a comprehensive city planning. Olmsted responded to her in a letter. As resumed by the editors, he reasoned : “[...] in any ‘big city’ such as Los Angeles where the ‘air is full of large plans and projects, more or less conflicting (or if not, at least without proper correlation.)’ Each would have promoters and detractors. Therefore it would take a ‘much bigger and more serious piece of work in city planning to make an impression on the public’ and generate support” (H ISE/DEV ER ELL 200 0, 20 )

Because of the incalculable costs of such a planning, Olmsted was commis-

sioned to work on the more discrete and foremost problematic issue of traffic congestion. It resulted in ‘A Major Traffic Street Plan for Los Angeles’ that he produced with the assistance of H. Bartholomew in 1924. After its successful implementation, an aim to archive a comprehensive plan was pursued. But still “The leaders of the chamber, though, worried that the region’s elected officials were ‘small calibered men’ who lacked the foresight to confront the problem. And so they took it upon themselves to raise money for a report and design plan.” (H AW T HOR N E 2011 ) A Citizens’ Committee on Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches was established in 1927, in order to promote and advance the “needed amplification of these facilities” (OLMST ED/BA RT HOLOM EW 1930, X I I I ). case was more deliberate, more planned. The Chamber of Commerce and its allies effectively limited circulation of the report and discouraged public discourse.’ Why? It’s not entirely clear. In the end, Deverell and Hise conclude, the chamber’s leaders likely began to worry that the report was a more powerful, persuasive and explosive document than they’d bargained for, and that it might turn into something they wouldn’t be able to control, politically or otherwise.” (H AW T HOR N E 2011, N.P. )

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T H E R EPORT M A N I FESTS T H E R ESU LT OF T H R EE Y EA R S OF WOR K , proposing a built

vision for the 1500 square miles metropolitan area of Los Angeles, where every resident would enjoy easy access to beaches, vistas, recreation areas and parks, compared to the poverty of parks and beaches thence. Marshaling plans and diagrams are accompanied by an detailed strategy of its finance, administration and policy. 4 Despite its pragmatic appearance, the report nevertheless possesses an urgent tone, alerting that, Continued prosperity will depend on providing needed parks, because, with the growth of a great metropolis here, the absence of parks will make living conditions less and less attractive [... .T]he growth of the region will tend to strangle itself. 

(1930, 1)

In principle, this diagnosis has not been a new insight. To paraphrase Mike Davis, who outlined the historical context of the project, it was already by 1907 that the renowned City Beautiful apostle Charles Mulford Robinson had proposed a comprehensive plan to the Los Angeles Municipal Art Commission, “weaving the city’s parks into a continuous greenbelt system 5 (Davis 1999, 66) The crucial difference to the Regional Plan is that By the time Olmsted and Bartholomew surveyed the same problem twenty years later, nearly two million more people, the equivalent of the population of Philadelphia, had moved to the Los Angeles region. Their 1930 report was a stinging critique of the giddy twenties building boom.

(ibid., 67)

4

After the simple diagnosis, that the ratio of green space the city offers to its inhabitants is far less than comparable metropolises, it projects a comprehensive and coherent network of recreational spaces and transportation to promote the social, economic and environmental vitality of Los Angeles and the health of its people. In some main characteristics it proposed to green the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers; doubling public beach access, to use parks and school fields for clean water and flood control, as furthermore the shared use of parks and schools; to facilitate regional transportation to parks, schools, rivers, beaches, mountains, and forests. Crucially, the Report recognized that low income communities should receive first consideration in parks and recreation because they often live in less desirable areas, and have fewer leisure opportunities. The Report recognized that a balanced park and recreation system serves diverse needs, including active and passive recreation. The Report recommended creating a regional park authority with power to raise funds to acquire and develop parks and other natural public places.

5

It was later amplified by Park Commissioner J.B. Lippincott, who envisaged magnificent, intersecting park corridors from Westlake (today’s MacArthur Park) to Silverlake, and from Elysian Park to Griffith Park.

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SEMINAR  JEAN-LOUIS COHEN:  “LA: 72 Suburbs in Search of a City”

FROM BOU LEVA R D TO PLEASU R EWAY:

ROBERT A. GORNY

One of the vital concerns of the Chamber of Com-

merce in the 1920s was the attraction of tourists and visitors — as well as their dollars. The preceding project laid the focus on in the established understanding of parks, in order to embellish the city and offer recreational space. To that extend, even the integrative approach does not constitute its outstanding character. Only at second sight the system of parks is given a totally new dimension; given in a new view on the city; given in a new construction of its own image! Olmsted and Bartholomew propose so-called Pleasureways to connect the single parks and playgrounds and the more distant reserves through an extensive system of spatial connections. “They should be wide enough and have trees enough to produce, along with the topographic conditions, some sense of spaciousness and seclusion, and a variety of scenic effects.” (OLMST ED/BA RT HOLOM EW 1930, 13 )

Firstly, it will be these ‘scenic resources’ and their systematic presentation as an

image (Los Angeles as Paradise) which may ‘induce visitors to become residents’ (ibid., 33) — and especially ‘people of means’. The report takes up these concerns directly: A section titled ‘Justification for the Proposed Expenditures’ equals the attraction of tourists ‘to the profit of the community’. “Paris, here,” as the Authors suggest “is a most interesting opportunity for comparison, for it transformed itself from an unsightly place to a beautiful city. ... [I]t has long been the center of world tourist trade.” (ibid., 71) Akin to the great boulevards the proposed system of green spaces by the Olmsted-Bartholomew-Plan would secure a continuos flow of visitors. According to the designers, that might ‘even alone’ justify the costs. It is here, where one ought to discuss the relation to Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s incredible transformation in more depth, than keeping is only as an economical inspiration. But, as a matter of fact, the proposed connections are completely different from the boulevard of the “flâneur” in 19th century France. The flâneur was essential to the image of the parisian street life, who carried a set of rich associations (the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street) and thus important in academic discussions of the phenomenon of modernity. 6

Rather, Olmsted and Bartholomew’s project translates the former idea of expe-

riencing the city in movement based on automobile locomotion. As Los Angeles has al6

It was Walter Benjamin, drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who made him the object of scholarly interest in the twentieth century, as an emblematic figure of urban, modern experience.

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most wholly developed in the era of the car, the Pleasureways present a system of park embedded freeways. The term “parkway” was already coined and conceived by Frederick, Sr. and architect Calvert Vaux in 1866, with their Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Given the population explosion in the Los Angeles area from 1880 to 1930 and the advent of the automobile, the Olmsteds foresaw the need for shared roadways to delight pedestrians, tourists and even travelers on horseback.

The 1930s report eventually advocates a new form of experience, a “pleasure of

simply riding through more or less pleasant surroundings.” (OLMST ED/BA RT HOLOM EW 1930, 3 ) This car-based conception of

the experience of the city 7, will even go so far, to

locate the problem, that the current parks are under-used in a lack of automobile related connections. (ibid.) Given a first summary, we can find a reoccurring question in the work of Olmsted: How does the automobile change the relation between the inhabitants and the city’s open spaces? Or more specifically, what future will parks have, especially in Los Angeles, the city with the highest automobile ownership per capita? 8

What Hise and Deverell do not recognize in their portrait, is that maybe only

the intensity of L.A.’s condition plus the work spent on the subject might have eventually triggered to propose the most radicalized version of their subliminal conceptions. The template, that might only exhibit the symptom of a hunch, here finally takes place. It receives a form in the general conception of the experience of built space.

THE EXPULSION OF PARADISE A closer look at the history of urbanization of Los Angeles will reveal the real regrettable fact, that the city expanded on the formerly left green areas. Thereby it erased any ‘physical contrast’ between the densely-built city and the countryside (MOU LE/POLYZOI DES ), that had shape its image. The ignorance of

this process had eventually caused

an “increasing discrepancy between tourists’ buoyant expectations and their disillu-

7

It is here that Hise and Deverell reasonably expose a kind of ‘template’ in the work of Olmsted. Despite the reports constant singularization of the LA condition, where “the report reads as formulaic, as if an outline or template crafted for prior assignments has been cribbed and then applied whole to a demonstrably different setting.” (H ISE/DEV ER ELL 20 00, 2 3)

8

These questions appear in one of the captions of Hise and Deverells introduction (H ISE/DEV ER ELL 20 00, 26 )

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sioning experiences.” (DAV IS 1999, 60) Beyond its capacity to delimit the urban sprawl, the high amount of preserved areas and integrated solutions presented, the somewhat physiocratic design has to be acknowledged from its attempt to revolutionary 9 restore the paradisiacal quality of Los Angeles. This restoration replaces a anyhow lost representation with the construction of its image. Accordingly, any such result can of cause only be a simulacrum of the original loss. Here there will be no occasion to sufficiently discuss the convoluted presentation of Los Angeles as a prefiguration of the Garden of Eden in depth. When Hise and Deverell entitle their reprint ‘Eden by Design’ we are faced with this advertising cliché again, all the more as the word never appears in the original report. It should only be noted that there is a general conflation of Eden and Paradise, which is far more complicated 10 than its metaphor of primordial perfection implies. The only conclusive relationship transgressing metaphorical use has to be found in the spatial operation that Olmsted & Bartholomew’s L.A. and Haussmann’s Paris share : The strategic cutting-in divides the existing body into smaller entities with clear boundaries. It is only here, where the paradisiacal reference comes to true terms: In its moment of spatial separation “Paradise becomes an apparatus to divide the evil form the good, enemy from friend and the city from the rest of the territory, to fundamentally build the state of well-being.” (K HOSR AV I 2011, N.P. )

In the case of medieval Paris, Haussman’s boulevards rendered this boundary

as a zone for bourgeois private investment.  1 1 As stated in the introductory epigraph, 9

“Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and Harlan Bartholomew were quiet, conservative reformers whose personal utopia was park-rich Minneapolis, not Soviet Russia. Yet if their proposals had been implemented, the results would have been revolutionary. The existing hierarchy of public and private space in Los Angeles might have been overturned. A dramatically enlarged commons, not the private subdivision, might have become the commanding element in the Southern California landscape.” (DAV IS 1999, 68 )

10 In its original meaning paradise “designates an enclosing wall and the territory it encompasses” (LI NCOLN 2003, 1 41 ) “Our sense of the term ‘paradise’ as a zone or a state of primordial perfection, tragically lost through the first manifestation of evil, but recuperable individually at the end of life and collectively at the end of time, is based on this passage of the Septuagint, from which the word enters virtually all European languages.” (LI NCOLN 20 03, 1 4 4 ) It is in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, in which for the first time the idea of paradise coincided with the image of garden. 11 “The new boulevards were construed as public spaces to facilitate the state’s protection of bourgeois private property. [...] To begin with, they were public investments designed to prime the pump of private profit in the wake of the serious economic recession of 1847-9. Deficit financed, they were a manifestation of what we later came to know as some mix of civilian and military Keynesianism. As such, they did much to revive the economy and enhance the values of private property both directly and indirectly.” (DAV I D H A RV EY 2008, N.P. )

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Simmel saw that “the intermixing of classes within districts was reduced by design [...] by an effort to make neighborhoods homogeneous economic units: [...] An ecology of quartiers as an ecology of classes: this was the new wall Haussmann erected between the citizens of the city as well as around the city itself. 

(SEN N ET T 1974 , 134 )

We have to assume that the Regional Plan would have cause an analogical effect on existing spatial and socio-economical structures. In spite of the differing size, we cannot assume a simply up-scaled version. As the car and the cruising experience have laid the foundational assumptions of the vision, the plan would have massively invigorated the use of car for fun. We have to be careful to directly embrace the project based only on its sustainable look, given the absolute lack of green space in Los Angeles today. Even the most ‘paradisiacal’ design, cannot give back a original quality, that has been destroyed due to a lack of unforsightful exploitation. To that extend, the annoying vastness of Los Angeles’ urbanization, the congestion and the lack of green space is by far more ‘honest’, more authentic and thus more real — and accordingly here it is, from where we have to start to imagine a future for the city.

POSTSCRIPTUM ON FAILURES : However fascinating, it might be to imagine, how the car-based urbanization of L.A. would have been reformed by the Olmsted-Bartholomew plan and its Pleasureways, it is only a fantasy. According to William Deverell, the planners made a crucial mistake: “Olmsted Jr. misread the eventual reaction of his client—though not as to the plan, its scale, or what it would cost. As it turned out, the Chamber of Commerce, and especially its executive commit-tee, resented the idea that a new institutional body would be created to run the greenscape system” If Olmsted favored that “a superjurisdictional committee oversee a superjurisdictional plan, the Chamber of Commerce proved adamant in its unwillingness to cede authority to an upstart group created of whole cloth. That prospect was, to quote one Chamber member, nothing less than ‘terrifying.’” (DEV ER ELL 2013, 2 4 ) “The irony is almost as palpable as the misfortune. At the dawn of the Great Depression, which would usher in a period in which federal dollars and federal authority would forever alter the political and economic landscape of Southern California, the Chamber of Commerce held onto an antiquated past and an outmoded constellation of power. That stubbornness profoundly jeopardized the future.” (ibid.)

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LITERATURE AND SOURCES: -

Greg Hise,William Francis Deverell. Eden by Design: The 1930 Olmsted-Bartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region. Berkeley: University of California Press 2000

-

Harland Bartholomew, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.. “Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region”, reprinted in: Greg Hise,William Deverell. Eden by Design: The 1930 OlmstedBartholomew Plan for the Los Angeles Region. Berkeley: University of California Press 2000

-

Anderson, Lamar: “The City That Never Was: How LA Almost Became New York”, Architizer, February 4, 2013. http://www.architizer.com/en_us/blog/dyn/74731/never-built-los-angeles. Accessed March 10, 2013

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Davis, Mike. “How Eden Lost Its Garden”, Perspecta Vol. 30 (1999) : pp. 64-75

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Davis, Mike. City of Quartz, Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. Verso: London/NewYork 1990 (2006)

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Deverell, William “Dreams Deferred, Parks and Open Space”. In Overdrive, L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 edited by Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander, 23-33. Los Angeles: The Getty Research Institute 2013

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Christopher Hawthorne, “Reading L.A.: The Olmsted Brothers plan and what might have been”, LA Times, November 11, 2011. Accessed January 19, 2013 http://latimesblogs.latimes. com/culturemonster/2011/11/reading-la-the-olmsted-bartholomew-plan-and-what-mighthave-been.html

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Harvey, David, “The Political Economy Of Public Space” (pdf published 2008) http://davidharvey.org/media/public.pdf. Accessed March 10, 2013

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Hise, Greg “Situating Stories”. In A companion to Los Angeles edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise, 393-420. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2010.

- Lincoln, Bruce. “À la Recherche du Paradis Perdu.” History of Religions 43, no. 2 (2003): 139-154. Accessed March 12, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/423008 -

Khosravi, Hamed. “Paradise.” The City as a Project. Accessed July 4, 2011. http://thecityasaproject.org/2011/07/paradise/

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Elizabeth Moule, Stefanos Polyzoides. “Five Los Angeleses,” in World Cities : Los Angeles edited by Maggy Toy, 9-19. London: Academy Editions, 1994.

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Saalman, Howard. Haussmann: Paris Transformed. New York: George Braziller 1971

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Sennett, Richard. The Fall of Public Man. London: Cambridge University Press 1974

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Sloane, David “Landscapes of Health and Rejuvenation”. In A companion to Los Angeles edited by William Deverell and Greg Hise, 438-460. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2010.

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Profile for Robert Alexander Gorny

On the Regional Plan Los Angeles (1930)  

This paper, written for Jean-Louis Cohen's seminar on Los Angeles at The Berlage in 2013, ‘gives a whirl’ on hitherto unrelated aspects of t...

On the Regional Plan Los Angeles (1930)  

This paper, written for Jean-Louis Cohen's seminar on Los Angeles at The Berlage in 2013, ‘gives a whirl’ on hitherto unrelated aspects of t...

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