By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
At the University of South Carolina, of all places, Tessier found original footage of the construction of the Hollywood sign — one of dozens of L.A. landmarks in which Harry Chandler had a financial interest. From Chinatown to Olvera Street, from the Biltmore Hotel to the L.A. Coliseum, Chandler had a proprietary as well as a booster’s interest in building his city.
In another dusty archive, Jones’ crew discovered a recording of General Otis himself declaring the 1912 opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which infamously stole water from and ruined the Owens Valley, delivering that liquid to the dry chaparral northeast of Griffith Park known as the San Fernando Valley — an endless subdivision created out of whole cloth by Chandler and his partners.
But time and ultimately deathalso presented a challenge to the makers of Inventing L.A. Jones was too late to interview Otis Chandler, for example, though his cameras covered the March 2006 funeral and last October’s gala auction of Chandler’s auto collection.
“We didn’t get to [deceased author David] Halberstam in time either,” says Jones, though he found an old KABC-TV news series with Halberstam speaking about his book The Powers That Be, a classic study of the Chandlers and three other media families.
In his 1979 book, Halberstam wrote, “No single family has dominated any major region of the country as the Chandlers have dominated California. It would take a combination of the Rockefellers andthe Sulzbergers to match their power and influence.”
He could not have known that so vast a sphere of influence would dissipate to nothing by 2007.
Perhaps it was inevitable, given the surge of immigration starting 30 years ago that has transformed L.A. into the nation’s largest multicultural melting pot. Jones says he has found irrefutable evidence of the very worst brand of WASP plutocracy in the Times, such as the use by editors of terms like “the white spot” when talking in the newsroom about Southern California suburbs. Those ’burbs were regarded by the Chandlers as largely Caucasian strongholds where Midwestern and East Coast families could live free from people of color.
Even during Otis’ enlightened era, the Times was never free of Harry Chandler’s elitist, insular attitudes. Thus, the buildup to bloody Depression labor disputes, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, the Zoot Suit Riots, Watts in 1965, and East L.A. in the spring of 1970 all passed lightly beneath the Times radar.
Still, Otis transformed the Times into one of the great papers. Regardless of its ownership, the Times is as firmly implanted in L.A. lore as earthquakes, palm trees and the Hollywood sign. In a culture that can’t remember last month’s reality-TV stars, let alone anything as traditional as history, the Times was as close to an ADD-resistant institution as Southern California had.
For that, I thank the Chandlers — even those who bob on a yacht in Newport Harbor or tend to English gardens in the sanctity of San Marino. For a time, England had its Camelot, and scruffy blue-collar newshounds like me had our Times. Mostly, though, I thank Otis. His kind likely shall not pass this way again.
Dennis McDougal (www.dennismcdougal.com), a reporter at the Times from 1982 to 1993, is the author of Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty (Perseus Books, 2001).