Guide to the 1930's

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

If you're like me, you could use some relief from all the awful news about out-of-control nuclear plants and civil wars.

I have a suggestion. It comes from a surprising place in time.

That time is Los Angeles in the Depression -– not everyone's idea of a light period in our history.

But this time travel comes from a delightful source – a snapshot of the city and of greater Southern California that has just returned to view after years of obscurity.

It's a book – a guide book from the past. Long out of print.

Los Angeles in the 1930's is from the Federal Writers Project, which was an effort of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to put writers to work during the Great Depression.

In Los Angeles those writers included Carl Foreman, the future Oscar nominee for High Noon, and Oscar winner for Bridge on the River Kwai.

Photographs from the likes of Julius Shulman and Bret Weston help bring to life a compilation that at even at the time was more than just a guidebook.

And what a time that was in Los Angeles.

In a foreword to the new reprint from UC Press, book critic David Kipen reminds us that in 1939, Raymond Chandler was just finishing The Big Sleep, his first L.A. mystery novel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanel West were writing for the studios. Gone with the Wind and the Wizard of Oz were in production.

Christopher Isherwood had just gotten to town and would inadvertently reveal LA's innocence in a diary entry that reads: “We had an hour to spare, and we spent it finding an apartment.”

Simpler times, but not without big dreams.

That was the year the futuristic Union Station opened across the street from the old Mexican plaza where Los Angeles was born….more or less.

That year, the city signaled it was ready for the future by voting to recall the mayor who acted as the top rung in a corrupt, truly corrupt municipal system.

Kipen writes that Southern California in the 30's was also among the most beautiful natural settings on earth – all buttery sunlight and the fragrance of orange blossoms and eucalyptus in the air.

The guidebook invites readers to revisit that time, and takes us to some familiar places.

Musso and Frank Grill in Hollywood. Clifton's Cafeteria, known then for organ music and singing waiters.

The El Cholo Spanish Café on Western Avenue is recommended for "Enchailadas, tamales and tacos in a Mexican atmosphere."

In those days there was an elegant Perino's on the roof of the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Beverly Hills. Nightclubs like the Cocanut Grove, all over town.

The things that are gone are as entertaining – and enlightening – as what remains.

The indoor arena of Pan Pacific Auditorium is where UCLA and USC played basketball, where conventions were held. There were the stadiums where the minor league baseball Angels and Hollywood Stars played.

The LA Ostrich Farm on Mission Road, also long gone.

Los Angeles in the 1930s is going to be my escape this week from the realities of global despair. If only for a little while.

But I can tell you, I'm looking forward to the trip.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.