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Contrary to the title of a new PBS documentary, the Chandlers did not invent L.A.
In fact, they used it, abused it, got very, very rich, and then betrayed it –for more money. They also betrayed the only two members of the family who had the bad taste to lierally make good.
In fact, Harrison Grey Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler did their damndest to uninvent what was an iconic, spirited coastal town whose roots were Spanish, and replace it with a plain, obedient city full of plain, obedient people.
Their rabid right wing stance and pathological fear of working people and the poor colored everything in their newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. Regularly ranked anong the worst newspapers in America, it shamelessly promoted Chandler ventures, while vilifying anyone who had the gall to challenge them – in politics or business.
When Harry Chandler arrived in Los Angeles, he picked oranges for his room and board, but he rode one of America’s worst newspapers to the top of the L.A. heap. He owned over two million acres in Southern California, as well as 150 businesses, in addition to the Times.
His land holdings included thousands of acres of arid land in the San Fernando Valley. He used the Times o “sell” L.A. voters a bond issue to finance a water project that would move water from the Owens Valley to Chandler’s land. Gulled by Chandler and the Times, voters approved th $26 million bond measure. though Chandler’s land wasn’t in Los Angeles . With the water, the value of Chandler’s land skyrocketed, and L.A . annexed the valley, doubling its size.
That’s not “inventing,” L/A., that’s swindling it (as dramatized in Robert Towne’s masterpiece “Chinatown.”)
Other Chandler gifts to L.A. were the corrupt and brutal police force and a larcenous mayor. Voters finally recalled the mayor, but it took generations for the police to go straight.
That’s not inventing L.A. either. That’s perverting it. .
Demonstrating their contempt for democracy, the Chandlers plucked
an unemployed lawyer out of Whittier
to be their man in Washington. Richard Nixon defeated incumbent Congressman Jerry Voorhis, and, later, Senator Helen Gahagan Douglas, by smearing them as “pinkos…soft on communism,” with the full backing of the Times. Thus, one of the ugliest periods in America was launched and abetted by the Chandlers and the Times. By all accounts, Voorhis and Douglas were dedicated public servants, but they were liberal Democrats, and, as bad, Douglas was the wife of the distinguished actor, Melvyn Douglas.
That’s not inventing L.A., that’s shredding the Bill of Rights.
Norman Chandler, Harry’s oldest son, had succeeded him as Times publisher. The paper was still one of the worst papers in the country.
Norman’s wife, Dorothy “Buff” Chandler, was dismissed by the very nouveau filthy riche Chandlers as vastly inferior, the daughter of a lowly “dry goods merchant,” aka Buffums department store.
Still, the dry goods merchant’s daughter was the first and only Chandler woman to do anything of consequence, She conceived of the Music Center/aka Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a music-theater- dance complex in downtown Los Angeles. And she raised the requisite millions to design and build it.
It was an extraordinary accomplishment, and won her a TIME
Magazine cover, and the continuing scorn of the family.
The family expected Norman’s younger brother, Philip, to succeed
him. But, with the enthusiastic support of his wife, he chose their son, Otis to take over.
Right out of the box, Otis made it clear that he intended to make one of the worst papers in America into one of the best. To that end, the Times’ first investigative report was devoted to to the extreme right wing John Birch Society, one of whose leaders was his uncle Philip.
That , and Otis’s transformation of the Times into a great American newspaper was, ironically. the beginning of the end of the Times.
Otis’s paper won ten Pulitzer prizes. It had more readers and made more money than ever. But the family was not mollified.
Tiring of battling the family, which collectively owned most of the stock, Otis appointed Tom Johnson to replace him.
Otis was soon bounced off the board, and Johnson was gone soon after that.
A series of bad decisions reduced
the family’s revenue and so it sold it to Chicago’s Tribune Company, betraying Los Angeles – in the best Chandler family tradition.
Then it did it again. The family’s charge that the Tribune’s mismanagement had reduced the value of its holdings led to the Tribune’s sale of the Times.
Today, what was one of the worst papers in America and then one of best is now merely the remains of a paper.
Harrison Otis and Harry Chandler are dead.å Norman, Buff and Otis are dead. The Times is nearly dead. And we are left with a gang of nameless, faceless, singularly undistinguished cousins who come by from time to time to squeeze more money out of L. A. It’s Harry Chandler’s last dirty trick.
For the record, Los Angeles is an anomaly – with its extreme topography, profound light, oceanic air, Santa Anas, earthquakes and wildfires. It invented itself. . .