Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Davis History 1870-1970 Is a Microcosm of The Most Important Century in Human History? (260)

Robert Gordon’s majestic, thousand-page treatise titled The Rise and Fall of American Growth is best known for the argument that rapid economic growth from about 1870 to 1970 was a one-time artifact of a unique conjunction of innovations that cannot and will not be repeated.  

The declining and sluggish growth since the 1970s is therefore not easily remedied or perhaps even remediable. Such a thesis is, of course, heresy to the political left and right alike.

As important as the economic growth issue may be, it is not the reason I want in this post to draw attention to Gordon’s wonderful book.*

I savored this work a bit at a time over several weeks because I was enchanted by the “unique century” claim of Gordon’s informing thesis that economic growth was essentially zero in human history before 1870, climbed greatly between 1870 and 1970, after which it has declined and will continue to be low.

Because of a flurry of physical and social innovations over 1870-1970, that century can be claimed to be the single most significant one in human history. The burden of the great bulk of this extraordinarily complex book is to, chapter after chapter, chronicle the “Great Inventions,” the networking of American homes (water, sewer, electricity, etc.), and other widely adopted technical and social innovations.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Today’s Organizational Websites Foretell a Revolution in the Configuration of Local History? (259)

In studying Davis history, I have sometimes puzzled over what the detailed stories of various organizations actually were, including those of even the best known and longest existing entities, such as the Community Church, the Masons and the Davis Enterprise, as well as shorter-lived but key institutions such as the Buena Vista Hotel, the original Varsity Theater, the Davis Joint Grammar School, and Harby’s Meat Market--among a great many others.
There is, of course, at least some information available on these and other organizations. For a few, there are even fairly detailed accounts. But, overall, the record is sparse. The consequence is that our picture of ordinary Davis life fifty, a hundred, or more years ago is fuzzy and faded.

The simple fact is that no one kept detailed records on organizations, or, if they did, those materials have long since been thrown away for want of storage space or for other reasons.

But, in recent years, all that has begun to change. We are living at the start of a new era of compact and detailed organizational record keeping. We see this in two forms.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Oddly Rare Postcard of Davis’ Larry Blake’s Restaurant/Rathskeller (258)

Virtually all Davis history postcards have been identified and collected by the half a dozen or so people who work at that arcane hobby/obsession. Indeed, a good part of the interest in collecting such cards resides in the rarity of new finds.

As one of those hobby/obsessives, I was therefore jolted when I came onto the card reproduced here, which I had never seen before. It is an apparently 1960s image of Davis’ Larry Blake’s.

The view in the front side of the card, Image 1, seems to be from First Street looking northwest, with the equipment and truck rental firm there at the time visible across F Street on the left.

The reverse side, Image 2, features the two curious assertions that the place is only “one minute off the freeway” and that there is “community singing every night.”

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A 1990s Booklet titled “Downtown Tour of Landmark Trees” (257)

Just over 20 years ago, City of Davis staff teamed with volunteer tree activists to produce a pocket-size booklet titled Downtown Tour of Landmark Trees. I reproduce it here.

One can see that it chronicles the locations and features of 16 trees in the new University City “Downtown” that have survived from the Ag Village and College Town eras.

In looking at the booklet after not having read it in a long time, I was struck with how so-long-ago and out-of-date it appears. What was once new, has become quite old, even though now “classic” and “historic.”

It is also true, I think, that it would no longer occur to anyone that a booklet of this sort was a good idea or even possible to produce. The resources and will for such work have ebbed and civic energy has turned in other directions (cf. http://www.davishistorytoday.org/2014/06/davis-enterprise-traces-history-of.html  ).

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Downtown Potholes in 1974 (256)

Image # 1
Rummaging through the 1974 Davis Enterprise I happened onto two images of potholes in downtown alleys that I thought might provide a little perspective on current concerns about the state of Davis’ infrastructure.

Davis Enterprise, March 28, 1974
Image # 1 looks north from the south end of the railroad/I street alley as it intersects with 3rd street, just behind the viewer.  Fourth Street is in the middle distance.

In Image # 2, the viewer is also looking north in that same alley, but the view is now just south of Fifth street in the near distance. The former Dairy Queen building (now Indigo Hammond + Playle Architects) is visible above the white pickup truck on the left.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Protesting Davisites Reverse a City Ban On Yard Refuse Piles on Streets: July, 1974 Council Drama (255)

In the Spring of 1974, City of Davis staff quietly developed and the City Council adopted a policy to “no longer pick up yard refuse placed in the street,” thus planning to end a popular practice of many years standing.

Bottom half, City "door hanger," back side
As this ban was about to go into effect on July 1, residents became aware of it and vigorously protested the onerous new requirements to containerize, to “bundle,” or to make arrangements for extra-cost pick-ups of yard refuse.

The City Council met Monday evenings and over the course of the three meetings of July 1, 8, and 15 assertive citizen crowds backed down and then reversed the Council.

As reported below in the Enterprise of July 17, at the Monday, January 15 meeting, the Council unanimously adopted a yard refuse collection system that was “exactly the same as the old one.”

July 2 Enterprise photo

I think it is of interest to know that the heavy-footed and out-of-touch City Council behavior we see in this episode emanated from the second cohort of the famous “revolution of ‘72” City Council. The historic trio of Joan Poulos, Bob Black and Richard Holdstock were in their third years on the Council and Jim Stevens and Tom Tomasi had just joined them. I guess it goes to show that Davis-style “progressives” can govern as ineptly as anyone else.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Three Davis Transformations: The Organization of the 14 Reports in the Right Sidebar (254)

The publication of Davis: Transformation has prompted me to reexamine the purpose and content of the right-hand sidebar on this page, which has been and still is a list of links to Davis history reports I desire to highlight.

The idea of “transformation” informing that new volume provides a perspective with which to evaluate reports previously in the sidebar, to consider other reports, and to organize the now 14 of them in terms of the three great transformations that make up Davis history.

Desiring to be comprehensive, I, of course, begin with the foundational history of Davis: Davisville ’68.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

1890 Rail Track Failures & Amazing Repairs Near Davisville (253)

In reading Davis history, I have occasionally noticed claims that the rail track built from Vallejo to Sacramento in 1868 was a fragile and even jerry-rigged contraption that frequently failed and required near-constant emergency repair.

In addition to that possibility, because rail track technology was new and the land unexplored, it was impossible to know with any precision how strong to build tracks to withstand what kinds of troubles. So, one guessed at what was needed and dealt with track failures when they happened.

The Monday, January 27, 1890 issue of the Sacramento Daily Record-Union prints a report of two track failures near (then) Davisville that I think tell us quite a lot about that track’s strengths and weaknesses almost a quarter of a century after it was built.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Movies in Davis 1910-1950 (252)

The iconic Varsity Theater on Second Street between E and F opened with much celebration in the first week of January, 1950.

That enthusiasm included a special section of the Davis Enterprise on the theater building and on movies themselves in the history of Davis. A story on the latter is titled “The Movies Came to Davis in 1910.” It is unsigned but likely written by Enterprise editor William Henry Scott and it provides a vivid picture of the trials of a new technology in a small town.

Segmented and enhanced for better readability, I reproduce that story in this post (segments numbered 1 through 13) along with the two photos with captions that accompanied the story (images A and B).