TLDR: Harry Otis and the Chamber of Commerce
L.A.’s most powerful 19th-century figure founded the local Chamber in 1888. A melancholy disposition will help you wrestle with Harrison Gray Otis and his legacy. The man carefully scripted how he would be remembered. His house, The Bivouac, fronted Westlake (now MacArthur Park) and transferred ownership to @otiscollege
in 1918 after Otis’ 1917 death. A long committed Republican, Otis shared his name with a U.S. founding father, a most conservative Federalist. Much like his namesake, Otis threw himself into the capitalist enterprise that was nationalizing the New England manner of conducting business. After the Civil War, Otis came to L.A. in 1882, just before the first boom. He took over the Times and made journalism into the single-most important literary genre for boosterism in the region. With the arrival of a second railroad line and the discovery of oil, the men who owned L.A. began to associate in order to abort labor organizing. Their success ensured the city and its suburbs would take an unusual path. The Chamber promoted modernist urbanism: streets designed for cars and zoning codes to protect property values. Segregation practices both divided whites from non-white populations and ensured a steady supply of non-unionized, American-born workers of color for the city’s most ambitious projects. Think of all these plans as contributing to an aesthetic Otis enshrined in this school. You’d think a cranky old conservative would be livid to know artists and their models were later posing in his front yard. But I’d like to think Otis was savvy enough to see that a little bourgeois bohemianism can align with business interests. The three statues in Otis’ monument, two still standing in MacArthur Park, speak to the man’s rather theatrical sense of self. Pompously represented as a military officer on and off the battlefield, Otis the statue appears in uniform commanding his troops, a private and a newsie.
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