An Overcrowded L.A. In 1959 – Past Daily Weekend Reference Room
. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Keeping Up With The Joneses – April 15, 1959 – KNX-Los Angeles – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.
Hard to imagine now, but in 1959 Los Angeles was in danger of becoming an overcrowded city, like so many cities around the country. With some 49,000 people settling in the city of Los Angeles each year, and an additional 190,000 settling in Los Angeles county, making it the third largest city in the country, Los Angeles was rapidly spiraling out of control.
Many felt Los Angeles was a city without a plan – mass transit wasn’t adequate – the city was busy sprawling out, but not concentrating on renovating the rundown areas throughout the city. A question of adequate sewers and storm drains to keep up with the rapid growth had many fearing Los Angeles would suffer from severe flooding in the coming rainy seasons. The nature of hillside construction had many concerned over earthquake safety and the precarious houses being built were subject to landslides.
Questions like those were on everyone’s mind for some years – but they were becoming alarming in 1959, and a crisis was rapidly approaching.
Los Angeles, even in 1959, had no master plan. And because of that, confusion was rampant over building codes, zoning and safety. The worst case was in the San Fernando Valley, which in the decade of the 1950s had gone from farms and ranches with sparse population; casually referred to as a “bedroom community”, to an explosion of building and settling by new residents to the point of overcrowding. All of this was pointing to a continuous state of siege within City Hall over complaints and demands for a plan, suits over zoning violations and charges of corruption.
And still, Los Angeles was the most popular destination for people to settle. With tales of perfect climate and vast stretches of undeveloped land, it was an instant selling point to millions seeking escape from life in Eastern cities and the drudgery that came with Winter.
But this was in 1959 – 56 years later, we’re still looking for the Master Plan. And even though rapid transit is slowly evolving, the biggest problem we’re currently having is the lack of affordable housing and realistic rents. Los Angeles has become the largest city in the nation – but it’s also become the most expensive and one of its most overcrowded, particularly on the Westside, which reports put West Los Angeles as being maxed-out in population density some 20 years earlier.
So as a reminder that Los Angeles has always had its share of problems – it’s lack of a plan, and it’s army of crystal-ball gazers. Here is that documentary, produced by KNX-AM in Los Angeles on April 15, 1959 – titled “Keeping Up With The Joneses”.