Tuesday, October 10, 2017
'Lost LA' Host Nathan Masters on Season 2 of the KCET Series, and What's Driving Interest in Los Angeles History
KCET's popular "Lost LA" series returns for a second season tonight with more insight on the history of Los Angeles. A co-production of KCETLink and the USC Libraries, L.A. historian Nathan Masters returns as host. This season's episodes include "Borderlands," which chronicles three people who lived through California's transition to Spanish colony to Mexican province and then American state -- including Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California; "Wild West," which looks at L.A.'s violent history; and "Building the Metropolis," about L.A.'s nonstop growth.
I've long been a fan of the Lost LA section of KCET's website; the station reports that this story about L.A. freeways was even the highest trafficked story of 2015.
FRANKLIN AVENUE: What's the most interesting thing you learned about while producing this season of LOST LA?
MASTERS: I think most viewers will be surprised to learn, as I was, just how complicit Los Angeles was in the destruction of Northern California’s coast redwood forests. Thankfully some old-growth redwood groves survive today within state and national parks, but they represent just 4 percent of what once seemed like an endless, inexhaustible forest. That other 96 percent? A lot of it went into the houses, commercial buildings, and other structures that enabled LA’s great population boom of the early 1900s. We went from a large town of 100,000 in 1900 to a metropolis of 1.2 million in 1930, and many of those new Angelenos moved into houses built from redwood timbers. We explore that story in depth in Episode 3.
What do people ask you about the most on LA history?
It must be about the old red cars.
Why do you think that is?
It’s fascinating to think that Los Angeles, a city popularly associated with freeways and the automobile, once boasted the nation’s largest fixed-rail transit system. And of course the conspiracy theories surrounding the red cars’ demise, which found their best expression in Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, add a sense of intrigue.
What's the truth?
We tell the real story of the death of Southern California’s old trolley system in Episode 3. It turns out that, instead of a grand criminal conspiracy, more mundane factors like finances and shifting consumer preferences explain why we tore out our rails. Angelenos preferred to drive.
Do you find there's more interest in LA history these days? What's fueling that?
It does seem that way. Nostalgia is always one element, of course, but I’ve noticed a surge of interest in the past among younger people. I think they're yearning for a deeper sense of place, and in part they find that by looking into the past. LA’s always evolving, but our built environment, our demographics seem to be changing faster than ever, and I suppose people are looking back to our shared history for a richer understanding of what it means to be an Angeleno.