Long-time readers of this blog will recall that, last month, we broke the story of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce biggity-wig Marty Shelton’s bizarre distaste for black, brown, and poor people visiting Hollywood. Inspired by that, we recently wrote on the white supremacist roots of our beloved Hollywood sign and the inwrought caucasians-only policies of the real-estate development it once promoted. This line of inquiry got us interested in the jim crow history of Hollywood, which turns out to be quite rich.
For instance, a brief discussion in Scott Kurashige’s interesting book The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles1 led us to read up in old LA Times articles on anti-Japanese hysteria in Hollywood in the early 1920s. It seems that in April 1923, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce gave some advice to a bunch of angry white people. The article is here, but the short version is that some Japanese people bought eight lots in Hollywood, four near Bronson and Sunset and four on Tamarind and Gordon, and had the nerve to wish to build some apartment buildings and a church.
The white people got all in a tizzy, you can see one in the image above, and went to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce screaming for help. The Chamber, as opposed to the presence of non-white people in Hollywood as they are today, directed the howling mob to the City Attorney to seek a restraining order and they also started circulating petitions “urging the residents to agree to restrict the use of land to those of the Caucasian race.”2 They were even inspired to poetry! See after the break for an especially creepy example.
By May of that year things had really gotten out of hand!
The angry white people had formed a group called the Hollywood Protective Association and started circulating petitions “asking residents not to sell their land to Japanese.”3 By June some bunch of geniuses called the Los Angeles County Anti-Asiatic Association had invited the mobbed-up Hollywoodies to join their umbrella gang, assuring them that they were “prepared to back them in every possible way to keep their districts white.”4 And it gets even weirder:
It was decided to carry on an aggressive campaign against the Japanese whenever they may attempt to establish themselves in any community. Representatives of the Hollywood Association were advised that the county association will stand behind them in every possible way in their present efforts to exclude Asiatics from their district.
Real estate operators will be requested to refuse to rent property to Japanese and wherever illegal sales or leases are suspected of having been made the matter will be taken up at once with the District Attorney. The Los Angeles Realty Board will be asked to use its influence with its members to this end.4
As an aside, it’s interesting that the Hollywood-Chamber-backed Protective Association felt that they had to resort to informal pressure through real estate agents. That suggests that Hollywood deeds were free of the racially restrictive covenants which were so popular in other parts of the city at that time. Or it’s possible that the covenants weren’t quite as restrictive. That is, perhaps they only forbade sales to non-whites rather than forbidding non-whites from living on the property at all unless they were servants.5 At this point it’s hard to say. There seems to be very little written explicitly on racial housing segregation in Hollywood itself at this time.
So what lesson are we to learn from this, keeping in mind Albert Einstein’s wise words:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.6
In these latter days the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the two big boulevard BIDs arrest an endless stream of racial minorities, they use one another as catspaws to avoid the appearance, if never the reality, of conflicts of interest. They gang up in their great groups of white people and real estate agents, just like in the past, to advance their creepy zillionaire agendas. Look how creepy the shit they used to do looks now. What’s the chance that what they do now isn’t going to look super-creepy in the future, aside from the fact that history’s repeating itself as farce, farce, farce? Very low, we’d say, eh?
You came to care for lawns,
we stood for it
You came to work in truck gardens,
we stood for it
You sent your children to public schools,
we stood for it
You moved a few families in our midst
we stood for it
You proposed to build a church in our neighborhood
We DIDN’T and WE WON’T STAND FOR IT
You impose more on us each day
until you have gone your limit
WE DON’T WANT YOU WITH US
SO GET BUSY, JAPS, AND
GET OUT OF HOLLYWOOD7
- Princeton University Press, 2008. The book, unfortunately, while rich in facts, is written in that sort of mind-numbing academic prose that makes it impossible to actually read. The bibliography, though, is essential.
- Object to Church of Nipponese. Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1923, p. II2
- Hollywood to Fight Invasion by Nipponese. Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1923, p. II21. Note that this is the first mention of the Hollywood Protective Association in the Times, which makes it likely that, given the fact that the woman in the above picture displays a sign proclaiming her a member, the picture was taken after the Spring of 1923 rather than “about 1920” as the Smithsonian has it.
- ASSOCIATION ADDS TO ITS ACTIVITIES: Anti-Asiatic Body Asks Other Interested Groups to Back Program. Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1923, p. II4.
- We’re totally not making this up. See Darnell Hunt’s introduction to Black Los Angeles : American dreams and racial realities, Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramón, New York University Press 2010, e.g. p.8, which quotes a Baldwin Hills deed as stating that No part of any said realty shall ever at any time be used or occupied or be permitted to be used or occupied by any person not of the white or Caucasian race, except such as are in the employ of the resident owner or resident tenants of said property.”
- It was, in actuality, our man Karl Marx, in his fine, fine essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
- Kurashige op cit. p.23.
Image of Hollywood white supremacist is in the public domain due to having been taken c. 1920, although it might have been taken in 1923, in which case it might be under copyright and we’re, if so, claiming fair use. We obtained it via the Smithsonian. The image of Jess Stevens appears under a claim of fair use and we got it via Wikipedia. The internment notice is the work of the US Government and Satan, neither of which is subject to copyright laws.