Saturday, September 16, 2017

Podcast: Concrete Utopia

If you’re interested in minutiae about transportation and transportation policy - how a freeway or bridge ended up where it did, here's something worth a listen.

Matthew Roth, the historian for the Auto Club of Southern California, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the history of Los Angeles freeways. The common wisdom is that LA was car-crazy, but Roth argues that every major road project has faced major opposition and obstacles.

Back in 2009, he spoke at the Huntington Library about a few specific projects: the Ramona Boulevard highway leading from downtown Los Angeles to points east, the Aliso Street viaduct, and their effect on what became the San Bernadino and Hollywood freeways. Roth talks a bit about politics, funding, and how civil engineers get projects built.

The Huntington Library shared that lecture as a podcast; you can listen to it on the internet. If you’ve got a Mac, you can also subscribe to the Huntington’s California and the West podcasts, or download the lecture to your iPhone or iPad for easy listening.

If you want to learn more, you can read his PhD dissertation, Concrete Utopia: the development of roads and freeways in Los Angeles, 1910 - 1950.

There's a bunch of interesting audio recordings - podcasts and oral histories - out on the Internet these days, and they're an interesting change from radio or music.

  • I've been enjoying East Bay Yesterday which has done a great job of sharing stories about Oakland and Berkeley. The show covers topics as varied as Dorothea Lange and her photos, early baseball in Oakland, Richard Pryor's comedy, mudflat art, Bruce Lee, and the 1990's East Bay punk scene.
  • The Los Gatos Museum has shared oral histories with long-time residents of Los Gatos, letting us hear Jack Panghinetti, Richard More, and others tell us about the Hunts cannery, railroads, and accidentally igniting dry cleaning fluid.
  • The Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley often shares the raw tapes for their oral histories, letting us listen to Frank Nutting talk about the founding of Sun-Maid, or John Parr Cox talking about the Parr Terminal on the Richmond waterfront.

[Photo showing widened Ramona Blvd. highway at Mission Road, just east of the L.A. River, in 1935. Fun fact: Del Monte’s former Los Angeles cannery would have been behind you to the left between Aliso St. and Macy St., between Mission Road and the Los Angeles river. Photo from the USC Digital Library / California Historical Society, from the Title Insurance and Trust / C. C. Pierce Photography collection..

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