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
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.
-- 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
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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