I recently completed the sixth novel in the Tom Hickey California Century series. This one, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, takes place in 1926, a year I chose simply because Tom Hickey was born in 1905 and I wanted this to be his coming of age novel. I had no idea how much the time and place would fascinate me.
I didn't know that evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson grieved her million followers by vanishing in the waves of Ocean Park beach, between Venice and Santa Monica. Or that after her resurrection in Mexico, her kidnapping story would deliver her to a Grand Jury inquest on suspicion of fraud.
I didn't know that Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and at least one inspiration for the bad guy in the film Chinatown, in 1926 used all his power and influence to prevent the expansion of mass transit by defeating a certain ballot measure, and thereby assured a future of freeways, smog and the politics of big oil. I diidn't know that progressive William Randolph Hearst, always an advocate of mass transit, was apparently too busy building his castle and a Santa Monica beach palace for his mistress, Marion Davies, to discern Chandler's motives and counter them.
I didn't know the Ku Klux Klan was there, using politics and other wicked means to uphold prohibition, or that Los Angeles, especially along Wilshire Boulevard had become a atchitect's mecca.
I learned plenty, and spent a delightful year.
To book a trip to 1926 Los Angeles, start with these: The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles (available April 2010, now available for pre-order); Sister Aimee, by Daniel Mark Epstein; Oil, by Upton Sinclair; The Boosters, by Mark Lee Luther (hard to find but well worth the search);Wilshire Boulevard, the Grand Concourse of Los Angeles; and Material Dreams, by Kevin Starr.