Sunday, November 25, 2007

Phantoms of the Southern California Past

This is the Little Landers Colony in San Ysidro, during the 1910s. It was a utopian agricultural colony inspired by the back to the land movement and the ideas of William Smythe, an advocate of irrigation in the arid West. Basically it was an experiment in intensive cultivation techniques and specialty crops that had been pioneered by Japanese Californian farmers. True to the times, it was also racially exclusive and closed to all nonwhites, like many utopian schemes in early twentieth century California.

The gardens at the Little Landers Colony. Today this area is heavily built up all long the border.

Pueblo men from San Illdefonso on the grounds at the Panama-California Exposition in 1914. I wrote about these men in my book. Second from the left is Julian Martinez, the husband of the potter Maria Martinez. During the fair, the men donned "Indian" attire at the Painted Desert exhibition to play to tourist stereotypes of native peoples. The photograph is by Martinez's friend Jesse Nusbaum.

San Diego Pageant of 1911. The pageant celebrated the groundbreaking for the Panama-California Exposition after the federal government officially recognized the fair. This is the pageant of the missions created by the poet John Steven McGroarty. Shortly after the event, The Mission Play would be performed by Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles.

The New Mexico State Building at the fair, designed by Rapp, Rapp, and Hendrickson of Santa Fe. The building is the prototype for the Museum of New Mexico and signaled the flourishing of the Santa Fe cultural revivial. Those interested in the Santa Fe cultural revival should read Chris Wilson's The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition (UNM Press, 1997).

Map of Balboa Park and the PCE.

Model Farm at the Panama California Exposition. I wrote about the exhibition of agriculture in the Journal of San Diego History,

Stereocard of Mission San Diego de Alcala.

When me and Tabby lived in Stillwater, we used to go to Guthrie, Enid, and other small towns to rummage through junk stores. I found alot of postcards of San Diego and California, since likely wealthy and modest Oklahomans visited Southern California on a regular basis. I found treasure troves of California postcards. These postcard images created romantic visions of Southern California for those back home and unable to travel. The cards were just one ephemeral item to sell the California Dream to those outside the state. This is the new campus of San Diego State College.

Postcard of the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado. John D. Spreckels at one time owned virtually every major industry in San Diego. He was San Diego's original robber baron. You can read more about him in Mike Davis, Jim Miller, and Kelly Mayhew, Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See (The New Press, 2003).

Postcard of Olvera Street in the 1930s. The L.A. boosters who turned the old plaza into a tourist mecca of fantasy heritage claimed the place was more Mexican than Mexico itself. Nonetheless, it is quite interesting that Olvera Street was Mexican rather than Spanish, especially the 1930s during the campaigns of Mexican repatriation in California, where an estimated one million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans were forcibly repatriated or voluntarily repatriated themselves due to racism and intolerance. The history of Olvera Street can be found in Phoebe Kropp's compelling California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place (UC Press, 2006). It received honorable mention for the Gustavas Myers Book Prize.

Postcard of the Sunset Cliffs near Ocean Beach in San Diego.

Postcard of Lafayette Park in Los Angeles.

Postcard of view overlooking Mission Valley in San Diego. Now the retail malls dominate the valley.

Postcard of Ramona's Marriage Place in Old Town, San Diego. The site was owned by John D. Spreckels and managed by Tommy Getz for tourist entertainment. It is just one of many sites to promote the romance of Helen Hunt Jackson's novel Ramona.

Postcard of Ramona's Marriage Place.

Postcard of Junipero Serra statue, San Fernando Mission. Depending on who you are and your politics, Serra is either a symbol of progress or represents oppression. In 1988, his beatification elicited much protest from California's native peoples and it was interesting to see the California historians devouring each other during the controversy. This could be a book all in itself.

I think this is the Santa Barbara mission courtyard. Tabby, Spencer, and me stopped in Santa Barbara during the holidays as we drove from San Diego to San Francisco. It is a beautiful downtown and a nice area of coastal California, but it was a little too shi-shi for us.
Postcard of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
This is Mission San Gabriel, where John Steven McGroarty first staged the famous "The Mission Play." For those interested in the play, I highly recommend William Deverell's Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of the Its Mexican Past (UC Press, 2004).

This is called Tropical Southern California Garden. I found it in an antique store in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Good Times in the Big Easy-October 2002

The wedding party dinner at the restaurant Feelings (the name was corny, but the food was excellent). We had to postpone this dinner until after the wedding because of Hurricane Lilly. With everyone's flights being delayed the night before the wedding, we had to wait for everyone to arrive! This is a rare unblemished photograph of Tabby.

My dad Ron Bokovoy took all these photographs. As usual, five years later we are still waiting for all those photographs and video footage of our wedding. So whenever you're ready, send it in.

Our niece Kaya and Phil with kazooes at Cafe Sfbisa.

The best man Paul Dellavigne and us at Cafe Sfbisa. Paul was a very good best man. When I forgot my cash at the court house to pay for the marriage certificate (since before the wedding we were searching for a lost pearl earring and waiting for Al Hewitt to show up), he lent me the money. I think I paid him back, but if not, hopefully he'll leave a message here!

The Moms photograph. Barbara Simon, Tabby, me, and Pat at the courthouse.

Kasey Kolassa, my childhood friend, aunt Linda, and Alan Hewitt and Chris Ogilve at Cafe Sfbisa, where we had the reception. Tabby's pastry mentor from Le Bec Fin, Bobby, recommended the local eatery to us and even placed a personal call to arrange contact. The food and atmosphere was memorable.

We got married at the City Hall in downtown New Orleans by a justice of the peace. Given all the bizarre "super-wedding" stuff in the media, like the show at the time called "Bridezilla," we figured that we'd keep the wedding simple and have the reception at a very fine restaurant. Who needs all the frills of a wedding ceremony when fine dinning is probably the most important part of the day?

My sister Melissa, her daughter Kate, and Sherry Bokovoy.

My brother Phil and Jim and Linda Bokovoy, my uncle and aunt, at the Olde Town Inn.

Erin Einhorn and Dave Lorenz at the Olde Town Inn.

Michael and Mary Kay Willard, with their daughter Sofie and my niece Katie (with the bib). The Willards had a hard time driving down as Lilly began to bear down on Baton Rouge and tear through Louisiana. At the last moment, the hurricane slowed down to a category two, made a left (west) turn and hit its bullseye at Baton Rouge. The Willards snaked past it by going east, and coming down through Mississippi. Three months after the photo was taken, Mary Kay and Mike celebrated the birth of their son Sam.

Tabby and her mom Pat Tomaselli at the hotel. We had most of the guests stay at this rooming house hotel called the Olde Town Inn. It's located in the Marigny District and was an old bordello that's been converted into rooms. It had an internal courtyard and garden that was perfect for people to just hang out.

On our way down to New Orleans from Stillwater, Tabby and me drove down the Indian Nation turnpike into the Red River Valley of East Texas. We went through Paris and Texarkana, then took this spooky road south of Shreveport to connect with the main highway. As we drove down, tropical storm Lilly turned into a category 4 Hurricane. We saw lots of Louisiana evacuees driving north into East Texas to escape the oncoming storm with their vehicles loaded down with personal belongings.

So, Tabby and me said "Ah, let's just keep going!" We were getting married and since the Olde Town Inn had been at its location for 150 years, we figured everything would be fine.

In October 2002, my wife Tabby and me got married in New Orleans. With family on the East and West Coasts, we figured New Orleans would be a place where everyone invited would have something to do. It was quite an interesting time before the wedding. Tabby cracked her tooth and the seamstress messed up the alterations on her wedding dress. I had a bike crash where my handlebars pulled out of the headtube and scratched my face. Then I broke my wrist at the skate park in Stillwater, when a bmx biker kid dropped in on top of me while I was skating the half-pipe. All of this happened about one week before the wedding on October 4th!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Retired, Finally

Now that I'm "retired" from scholarly writing, I plan to finish the remodeling on our house. No more weekends doing research writing, but rather painting, landscaping, carpentry, eating hamburgers and drinking some Miller High Life, and the usual break to get some runs in at the half-pipe at the skatepark. This literary historian named Ron wants to start a garage punk band this month, so I've pulled out my white SG and Les Paul custom, and hooked up my Marshall stack and Vox AC 30 again. To me, all this sounds more fun than reading documents, don't you think? I do.

When I woke up this morning, it was the first time in 10 years I never had a writing deadline looming over my head. I'm now retired from the academic historical profession. I gave my last scholarly conference paper yesterday at the Western History Association meeting in Oklahoma City. It was great fun and very lively, with two young historians named Ray Rast and Phil Gruen presenting material on the history of urban development in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their papers were extremely interesting and testament to their talents as urban critics. Chris Wilson from University of New Mexico gave a very thoughtful commentary to the standing-room-only crowd.

I gave a paper on the revitalization of downtown San Diego, especially in light of the pension scandal since 2002. It was fun to give a paper in political journalism at a scholarly meeting. People seemed to like it, even though some of what I spoke of would be hard to prove, since the documents aren't available to researchers or the public with the federal trial underway locally. It was an exercise in the educated guess. I'll put an excerpt below:

The 1992-2007: The New Urbanism and False Promises

"California’s fortunes appeared bleak during the recession of 1990-1991, and San Diego experienced defense plant and base closures, and lost important defense and high technology jobs. The recession almost halted downtown revitalization indefinitely. With one of the lowest tax structures in the American West, San Diego went through a fiscal crisis only deepened by twelve years of Proposition 13 tax deficits. When Republican mayor Susan Golding succeeded progressive Democrat Maureen O’Connor, there would be no possibility this politician with senatorial ambitions would raise taxes to pay for local growth in jobs, infrastructure projects, and downtown revitalization. Relying on her Greenspanesque city manager Jack McGrory, Golding’s administration had pulled the rabbit out-of-the-hat by 2000. Downtown stood almost completely revitalized. With a cash poor, general operating fund, one must ask, "How did growth happen?" All post-1991 downtown redevelopment suffered problems of municipal financing, since the general operating fund would not support municipal bond issues and threatened to halt projects underway for almost twenty years. Ever the resourceful financial manager, McGrory looked to San Diego’s recent past to remedy the budget situation, however, with dire consequences for the future. In the process, the period of urban growth and revitalization from 1992-2002 lacked an important ingredient central to earlier regimes of urban development, namely, public accountability.1

At the beginning of Golding’s administration, local progressives wondered how growth would proceed, with many hoping San Diego would avoid "Los Angelization." "San Diego has never been sure of what it wanted to be when it grew up," said Union-Tribune editor Neil Morgan, "What it did know is that it did not want to become L.A."2 Despite concern with "quality of life" issues, the boom of the 1990s proceeded in the downtown, especially the Gaslamp Quarter historic district. Known as the "New Orleans of the West," San Diego’s Bourbon Street offers its bright lights and bars and clubs, but there is almost nothing of historical interest similar to the street-level gravity that absorbs tourists who view the historic structures of New Orleans once they leave Bourbon Street. With the backdrop of history only 80 to 100 years old, Broadway and the Gaslamp district stand as the quintessential commuter paradises of postmodern urbanism, along with the ersatz-piazza design of the Horton Plaza Mall meant to resemble an Italian hillside village of the Cincaterra. Downtown has practically no sites of heritage tourism downtown. The historic district, besides increasing property values, serves as the backdrop for retail and cuisine-related commercial tourism.3

The secret recipe to Golding and McGrory’s "boom of the 90s" relied on an old formula, namely, utilizing funds from the municipal employee’s pension fund, which had been used for the Community Concourse in 1962. After the financially disastrous 1996 Republican Convention (in which an estimated $30 million dollars is unaccounted for, and no city budget documents exist), the city manager’s office approached the San Diego City Employee’s Retirement System board to propose redevelopment loans in lieu of monetary payments to the fund in exchange for future increases in payments and a lucrative early retirement program known as DROP for older employees.4 The SDCERS board, naturally, approved since the fund had generated windfall interest profits during the high-tech boom of the 1990s, centered in California. During the Reagan Era in California, municipal employee pension funds beaconed as available sources of operating revenue during the "downsizing" of local, state, and federal government, especially after Proposition 13. Democratic mayor Maureen O’Connor never entertained use of the pension fund as operating revenue. During the 1990s bull market, however, Golding and McGrory looked to the pension fund for operating revenue to continue projects begun by Pete Wilson, and leverage municipal bond issues for downtown revitalization. By November 2001, Frank Alessi, chief financial officer of the CCDC claimed "We have projects in active construction that are worth a billion dollars and another billion dollars in the pipeline." The ambitious list of tax-supported, bond issue projects were the convention center, 1996 Republican Convention, the $600,000,000 rehabilitation of Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm), the tax-supported ticket guarantee for Dean Spanos’ Chargers, and the $450,000,000 downtown Petco Park for John Moores’ Padres. Except for the downtown baseball park, which was on the ballot, financing for these public projects were determined behind closed doors. The local media reported suspicious improprieties that bordered on collusion, bribery, and conflicts-of-interest. There had been formal investigations, but no prosecutions except Valerie Stallings, who was sentenced for conflict-of-interest in land deals before the downtown demolition for Petco Park.5

The pension fund loan for revitalization would have been fine if the stock market did not lose value in 1999. After the SDCERS deal, Jack McGrory resigned 1997 quite conscious that the city would fall behind its payments to the pension fund.6 The entire Ponzi scheme was revealed in November 2002 when Diane Shipione, USB Financial Services investment advisor and trustee of the city’s employment retirement system, noticed important financial information missing from a sewer bond proposal. The proposal did not indicate the city had withheld roughly $1.5 billion in payments to the public pension fund, with an additional obligation of $1.0 billion in health care benefits to retirees. Without approval of the fund’s actuary, Shipione blew the whistle. "I had completely lost confidence in the city’s financial decision making," she said, "I just couldn’t let this go forward." As the under-funded contributions scandal gained momentum by summer 2003, independent auditors and the city attorney’s office revealed that the city had misstated its financial condition to creditors since 2000, while the city did not have a certified financial statement for 2003. Immediately, Wall Street dropped San Diego credit rating to junk bond status, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US Attorney’s office for San Diego, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened investigations into the matter, searching for possible fraud and political corruption in the city’s financial disclosures.

According to Michael Aguirre, the future city attorney, blame lay with the laid-back civic culture and economic bipartisanship of San Diego’s elite and leadership class. "The basic story is that San Diego has become a thoroughly corrupt community in which the power players cut the deals, and you don’t ask any questions, and everybody gets what they want," he said, "People don’t realize that one of the largest cities in the United States is on verge of bankruptcy, and it’s on the verge because of a massive amount of local corruption that has resulted in the thorough mismanagement of the city’s finances." Even arch neo-conservative Carl DeMaio of the local Performance Institute, a graduate of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax and government privatization movement, conceded "If the US Attorney finds the city knowingly misled investors with Enron-like accounting, we could see both a large civic liability and criminal indictments." He explained that "I believe that people for political and personal gain built this Ponzi scheme, and it’s coming home to roost." Dick Murphy, San Diego’s current mayor, resigned over the issue. An interesting special election resulted between progressive write-in candidate Donna Frye and Republican Jerry Sanders, who won on a platform of fiscal responsibility and a no-new-tax pledge. According to political scientist Steve Erie, "America’s self-proclaimed ‘Finest City’ now has the reputation of being among the most poorly managed." In the interest of promoting growth where none could be had, Golding and McGrory had completely bypassed the necessary government channels to legitimately turn downtown San Diego’s economy into a vibrant commercial tourism venue. 7

US Attorney for Southern California, Carol Lam, handed down a 20-count indictment in January 2006, charging five present and former members of SDCERS with "wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud." Naturally, the SDCERS trustees plead "not guilty" when the case reached court in Spring 2006. The trial has been delayed twice, most significantly when the US Attorney General fired Carol Lam in December 2006, as the Bush Administration targeted US attorney general’s involved in the investigation of Republican congress members and campaign contributors. (Lam’s mistake is rumored to have been her prosecution of Randy "Duke" Cunningham for bribery by land developers and defense contractors). Interestingly enough, neither Susan Golding nor Jack McGrory have been investigated for prior malfeasance or named in any indictment. Nonetheless, the level of municipal financing for San Diego’s urban revitalization reaches an estimated total of $1,500,000,000, a sum almost equal to the San Diego municipal employee pension deficit. The situation makes the latest commercial development and tourism efforts downtown appear fraught with corruption and built on smoke-and-mirrors. The fact is that San Diego has opted to propose enormous municipal bond offerings since 1992 solely focused on the downtown revitalization and commercial tourism related to sports franchises - choices that have siphoned off important pubic investment in the local economy for light industrial development, trucking, manufacturing, and shipping. The city loses $4-5 billion of value-added activity every year by relying on the trade-related infrastructure built by Los Angeles.8

The downtown revitalization and commercial tourism boom of the 1990s in San Diego raises important questions about urban commercial and tourism development in the globalized, postmodern American city, especially the all important mechanism of city planning commissions controlling and managing growth with proper fiscal and tax policies in place. San Diego engaged too many public projects requiring municipal bond financing, and other cities have promoted proper tax policies for growth, such as New York City and Oklahoma City, whose urban revitalization was met with sound tax policies. San Diego’s political and business culture historically has often been one seamless entity unlike Los Angeles, with its historical divisions between downtown, Westside, and San Fernando Valley money. In the end, no politician knew anything, but special interests received everything. According to the Los Angeles Times in April 2007, San Diego "may lead the league in public figures who prefer to stay out of the public eye - reticence appears to be viewed as a civic virtue by many of the rich and powerful." This "growth consensus" (what Mike Davis calls "the private governments" of San Diego) resembles the reservations of Charles Dail, Hamilton Marston, and even Pete Wilson’s generation: how private interests override the city planning commission and the city council for growth. Ironically, it was Pete Wilson’s efforts to forge a strong relationship between the mayor and city manager’s office that allowed Susan Golding and Jack McGrory to bypass the city council and planning commission during the boom of the 1990s.9 It was a financial windfall for land developers and real estate speculators that will likely be unparalleled for at least a generation. The new mayor Jerry Sanders and city attorney Michael Aguirre will find it necessary to get to the bottom of the pension scandal, devise a repayment plan, and develop new mechanisms of public policy to promote San Diego growth on a more proper and accountable basis."

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tabetha, Photographer

The woman at the right is my wife, Tabetha Tomaselli (Bokovoy), with her sister and cousins in Buffalo, May 2006. Tabby was a well-regarded pastry chef in Philadelphia, where we met in 2000. She worked at some of the great restaurants in the city, Le-Bec-Fin, Rouge, Blue Angel, and Bliss. She's been on PBS cooking shows and won the "Chocolate Contest" one year. She's back in school to get a fine arts degree in photography, something she wanted to study when Temple University had the faculty strike in 1991. She left school for the kitchens of Philly afterwards, and is now back in school.

Now she's back to school and we have Boy Boy, I'm "retiring" from the historical profession to be at home with Spencer. Once she's done with school, we'll do an illustrated book on environmentally degraded towns in Oklahoma, mostly destroyed by the oil industry. It will be great to do a book that will matter, and is also close to home.

Wind Chimes, at our house.

Skeleton of a cicada.

Winter, 2006.

Our friend, Jeffrey Wilhite, February 2006 at my birthday party in OKC.

Grain silos at Sunset, Oklahoma

The monotonous suburban landscape of Moore, Oklahoma.

The Hong Kong Nightclub, Broadway Street, San Diego 2005. I like this shot and this old-school lounge bar in San Diego. The place is one of the last remaining Navy lounges from San Diego's old heyday. Tabby and I hope that it will not close due to gentrification, and I recommend this place if you travel to the city to catch the old local atmosphere.
I wrote about the place in a piece I wrote for Jim Miller's collection of essays Sunshine/Noir: Writings from San Diego and Tijuana (City Works Press, 2005) in my piece "Ghosts of the San Diego Rialto." You can read a review here:
Cranes over downtown San Diego, 2006. Tabby's shot shows the "apartment boom" in the downtown, where 30% remain empty as "spec properties." San Diego has yet to develop a sizable stock of "affordable housing," most of which is above market for low-to-moderate income families.

Death of the SRO Hotel, San Diego 2006. With upscale revitalization taking over the downtown, I often wonder where the homeless, diabled veterans, and low income people will live. In my visits home, I've noticed their migration to city suburbs on the edge of downtown and in the numerous canyons around the downtown in hoboe villages.

After my book release party at Landlord Jim's in October 2005, this enormous tour bus full of zombies dropped off 100 zombie party goers at the bar. There were some great costumes, and it will likely be the last time in our lives we will experience a "zombie invasion." Southern Californians are cool that way, who would think about a zombie tour of a major city?

Sunset in Oklahoma

My friend Pat McInerny's wife, Kim and Marxist critic Jim Miller, La Jolla, October 2005. Jim is the undisputed social critic of San Diego, in both fiction and nonfiction. Every Californian should own Under the Perfect Sun (2003) and his novel Drift (2007)

Brad Hayes at our house, 2005. Tabby's portraits of our friends, to me, grabs their inner nature.

Historian Todd Kerstetter, Scottsdale 2005. Todd is a scholar of religion in the west, and his book God's Country, Uncle Sam's Land (2006) is quite impressive and highly recommended. Todd was showing his usual wit by poking fun at the nickel plated revolvers for sale in True West Magazine. That is, mixing western myth with violence.

Ross Frank and me at the University of New Mexico Press booth, Scottsdale 2005. I was honored sit with Ross and sign books at the Western History Association meeting. Ross is a social and cultural historian of New Mexico, and a commited social activist. He and my brother actually know one another from U.C. Berkeley, where both were involved in protesting the university's investments in South Africa during the 1980s, and they also were organizers in the GSA union. I highly recommend his book, From Settler to Citizen (2000). He was signing his edited volume, Choice, Persuasion, and Coercion (2005).