California by Kevin Starr: Chapter 7 Great Expectations

california (1)I am a little disappointed to learn that one of my favorite stories is not true.  Here’s the story:

After the 1906 earthquake, A.P. Giannini sat in the ruins of his produce business with his cashbox in hand giving out loans to residents trying to rebuild their businesses.  He built on the profits he made to open Bank of America.

Here’s what really happened: Giannini was already a successful banker by 1904.  In 1908 he toured Western Canada where he saw branch banking in action.  He returned home and opened the first branch of the Bank of Italy in San Mateo pioneering loans giving to the middle classes.  Within a few years Bank of Italy had over 60 branches throughout California.  This became the Bank of America in 1930.

That’s a good story, but mine’s better.  Would have made a great scene in a movie, too.

Chapter 7 of California is about building the state’s infrastructure.  (Remember building infrastructure?  America used to do a lot of it. Near full employment.  Union wages. Those were the days.)

I have long argued that the only thing that really matters in California politics is water.  This chapter backs me up.  Mr. Starr describes the early projects that provided both water and hydro-electric power for both San Francisco and Los Angeles which made it possible for both to host 4 million residents making the Bay Area a metropolitan area and bringing Los Angeles to over 1.2 million residents by 1930 making it the 5th largest city in the nation.

None of these projects came without a cost.  Mr. Starr describes them all including the anti-Mexican deportations that sent millions of Mexican immigrants and their American born children back to Mexico in the early 1930’s:

The spectacle of thousands of Mexican people being assembled at local stations with their luggage and hastily wrapped belongings prior to being stuffed into crowded trains for shipment back to Mexico would prompt chilling comparisons with the even more ominous deportations of Europe soon to begin, and it foreshadowed the removal from the Pacific Coast in early 1942 of all people of Japanese ancestry, citizen and non-citizen alike.

Throughout this period and throughout the Great Depression, California continued to grow.  State and Federal spending on infrastructure like the Golden Gate Bridge provided jobs, bankers like those of B. of A. worked with locals to keep people in their homes and farmers on their farms.  Multiple industries moved into the state which became a center of several fields from the movies to aerospace.  By 1942 a night river of headlights wound its way along the Arroyo Seco Parkway from Pasadena to Los Angeles while an illuminated Golden Gate International Exposition shone from Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.

The future was looking very bright for California.