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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Promise and Principles of Real Estate Development in an American Metropolis: Los Angeles 1903-1923

  • Author(s): Redford, Laura
  • Advisor(s): Reiff, Janice L.
  • et al.

This dissertation provides a new perspective to apply in the study of metropolitan development at the turn of 20th Century America. It reveals a group of entrepreneurial men whose collective contribution to the real estate industry had just as much to do with shaping urban spaces as the wealthy, more established, and power-wielding elites that are often credited with such development. Los Angeles is the case study of the dissertation because it underwent such a dramatic transformation during this time period from a small California city to the largest and most important metropolitan region on the West Coast. Key to its growth and expansion were the members of the Los Angeles Realty Board. After organizing in 1903, the members of the board sought to bring legitimacy to their profession, encourage cooperation and fellowship among real estate men, and use their collective power to create a more dynamic business environment for their industry. They earnestly engaged in local and state politics and boosterism, redefining the role of developers and brokers. Before any formal planning structures existed in Los Angeles, they served as unofficial urban planners as they laid out the physical and social landscape of the region.

This study relies heavily on the local realty board records and those of the national association. To temper their colorful and hyperbolic language, I have scrutinized a variety of other primary and secondary sources to ascertain the real impact of the board's actions on constructing a metropolis. This dissertation establishes the realtor's ideas for their future city and their social status within it. Their aspirations are essential to understanding Los Angeles because, for better or worse, what these men imagined the region could be is what they developed, constructed, promoted, bought and sold. That vision included a spread out city filled with communities of homes for all classes, albeit communities segregated by both class and race. Members of the Los Angeles Realty Board also had a great impact on establishing the fundamentals for the professionalization of real estate practice nationally. Their participation at the national level reveals the increasing importance of Los Angeles with its foundations for many of the patterns of 20th century urban development throughout the nation.

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