During the first decade of the 20th century, the skyline of Los Angeles resembled something more akin to Texas. “There were thousands of oil derricks crowded into neighborhoods just east of downtown, including the front and backyards of numerous homes,” says Palm Springs historian Peter Moruzzi.
The images of L.A. astounded Moruzzi as he compiled his book, Greetings from Los Angeles, which takes the reader on a historic tour of the City of Angels, from 1850 to 1965, through a superb collection of vintage ephemera including picture postcards, old photographs, brochures, ads, and collectibles.
Greetings from Los Angeles has a little something for everyone, even architecture buffs. As an architectural historian and the founder of the Palm Springs Modern Committee (ModCom), Moruzzi has a passion for midcentury design that seeps into his stories. His new book, available now on Amazon and at other retailers, offers an overview of historic L.A.’s embrace of the future — the birth of midcentury modernism, outlandish Googie-style coffee shops, and the space-age Los Angeles International Airport.
Moruzzi also captures many of the region’s quirky and developmental trends such as the flowering of a postwar suburban paradise of drive-ins, bowling palaces, beach parties, hot-rod culture, and mushrooming tract developments.
Moruzzi’s skill in visual storytelling, which he honed at the American Film Institute, can also be seen in Desert Holiday, a documentary film chronicling the history of the Coachella Valley as illustrated by vintage postcards and also in his four earlier illustrated books, published by Gibbs Smith — Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground, Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants, and Palm Springs Paradise: Vintage Photographs from America’s Desert Playground.
After the success of Moruzzi’s previous projects, his latest was a no-brainer. “I was talking to my publisher and he asked me to do something, like the others, for Los Angeles,” he recalls. Having lived in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, Moruzzi had amassed a treasure-trove of L.A. memorabilia, which became the starting point for his book. “In film school, I developed a good eye for putting together a factual story that’s fun.”
Greetings from Los Angeles is a 175-page hard-cover book containing 220 images, many rare photos culled from his collection as well as other sources. The images chronicle the city’s evolution from a dusty pueblo to a shining city in love with car culture. The pictorial history is organized in five sections that cover specific eras and/or decades depicting the city’s historical evolution. “I was shocked at the level of corruption in the City of Los Angeles in the 1930s,” says Moruzzi. “Both the mayor and police chief headed organizations that trafficked in graft, extortion, and vice.”
Frank Sinatra at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 1965.
Readers will discover many other surprising factoids about Greater Los Angeles and its colorful history from its humble beginnings as a Spanish outpost in 1781, originally named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles (the Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels), to the sprawling city claimed by dreamers, schemers, and notable visionaries.
The Playgirl Club near Disneyland.
The publisher’s synopsis of the book states, “Featured are rare glimpses of the city’s Chinatown; the miraculous orange empire; backyard oil wells; Venice of America; the roaring 1920s and corrupt 1930s; colorful evangelists; glamorous Wilshire Boulevard; fabulous nightclubs; movie studios and lavish stars’ estates; and theme parks such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Marineland of the Pacific.”
While he provides witty commentary and insightful photo captions, Moruzzi is a deft storyteller who understands the power of visual impact. “My books are designed to be a visually engaging tour through time,” he says, “where the story is told with brevity and humor.”
Greetings from Los Angeles, published by Gibbs Smith, is $30, available on Amazon and from other book retailers.