. . . And Read All Over: L.A.'s Print Past


The L.A. Public Library has a great online feature that allows you to view city directories for a select number of eras, along with many more telephone books.
A search through the 1936 city directory, under the heading "Publications -- Periodical, Professional, Scientific, Technical, Trade, Etc.," reveals that Los Angeles boasted more than 90 publication offices. Beyond the larger special interest periodicals such as Variety, Modern Screen Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens, there was an unbelievable array of niche publications. These included the likes of Citrus Leaves Magazine, Daily Doings Guide & Theatre Directory, Grizzly Bear Magazine, Pacific Coast Packer, Stable Boys Selections, Unsearchable Riches and Theosophy Magazine. (Browsing through the 1936 directory, with so many publications bearing

educational-sounding names, one wonders how many might have been porn

fronts.)


The same directory page also lists "Publishers -- Book, Newspaper and

Periodical," which number close to 100 entries. Again, there are the

usual suspects, many of whom survive to this day -- or at least made it

out of the Depression alive. (The Times-Mirror Co., Daily Journal, Samuel French Inc., Dow Jones & Co., Moody's Investors Service, The Citizen-News and L.A. Examiner).

But it is the tiny specialty houses that fascinate. Who, for example,

worked at the Metallizing Engineer Publishing Co., located at 1218 Long

Beach Avenue? How big was the audience for the Land Value Book

Publishing Co. over on West Seventh Street? Did the staff take long

lunches at the Western Beverage Publishing Co. on East Pico? And we can

only imagine the office parties thrown at the Bible House of Los

Angeles Inc., on Westmoreland.

Today there's probably more dust on my current edition of the ATT Yellow Pages ("The Real

Yellow Pages") than on those old city directories that lie moldering

somewhere in the city library. Like most people (I think), I have the

telephone numbers I need stored in phones or I go online for those I

don't have. The ATT pages list a respectable 50-odd book publishers,

from McGraw Hill to Tyrannus International Ministry. Gone, for the most

part, are the high-minded and edifying monikers of  1936's imprint

houses, replaced by fanciful company names that suggest a boutique

provenance -- 9 Head's Media,  Red Eye Press, Tom of Finland. If one

combines the number of ATT listings for local newspapers of all

languages, along with publishers (including Directory, Magazine and

Periodical), the tally reaches 85.

In a way the math here isn't too bad -- unless, maybe, you're a Anglophone print journalist. The Websites for the latter have turned into a kind of obituary pages for newspapers

-- but not necessarily for reading. These numbers show that people are

still hungry for news and are reading what they can hold in their

hands. The fact that many specialty publications are no longer on your

corner news vendor's racks (or, for that matter, that you no longer

have a corner news vendor) probably means aficionados of esoteric memorabilia, or members of arcane professional organizations, have simply

moved their forums online. Still, I can't stop trying to imagine what

those downtown offices of L.A.  publications were like 70 years ago,  when print was king and a small community of writers, editors,

printers and office staff made the Depression a little lighter for an audience of

uncountable millions.


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