11c – Evans-Jenkins Residence – 1929 La Salle Ave – 1903 – Allied Arts Co (E)

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A few nice life insurance quotes images I found:

11c – Evans-Jenkins Residence – 1929 La Salle Ave – 1903 – Allied Arts Co (E)
life insurance quotes
Image by Kansas Sebastian
West Adams Heights

“Nowadays we scarcely notice the high stone gates which mark the entrances on Hobart, Harvard, and Oxford streets, south of Washington Boulevard. For one thing, the traffic is too heavy, too swift; and then, again, the gates have been obscured by intrusions of shops and stores. At the base of the stone pillars appears the inscription “West Adams Heights.” There was a time when these entranceways were formidable and haughty, for they marked the ways to one of the first elite residential areas in Los Angeles. . . In the unplanned early-day chaos of Los Angeles, West Adams Heights was obviously something very special, an island in an ocean of bungalows—approachable, but withdrawn and reclusive—one of the few surviving examples of planned urban elegance of the turn of the century.”

– Carey McWilliams, “The Evolution of Sugar Hill,” Script, March, 1949: 30.

Today West Adams Heights is still obviously something special. The past sixty years, however, have not been kind. In 1963 the Santa Monica Freeway cut through the heart of West Adams Heights, dividing the neighborhood, obscuring its continuity. In the 1970’s the city paved over the red brick streets and removed the ornate street lighting. After the neighborhood’s zoning was changed to a higher density, overzealous developers claimed several mansions for apartment buildings. Despite these challenges, however, “The Heights,” as the area was once known, has managed to regain some of its former elegance.

The West Adams Heights tract was laid out in 1902, in what was then a wheat field on the western edge of town. Although the freeway now creates an artificial barrier, the original neighborhood boundaries were Adams Boulevard, La Salle Ave, Washington Boulevard, and Western Avenue. Costly improvements were integrated into the development, such as 75-food wide boulevards (which were some of the first contoured streets not to follow the city grid), lots elevated from the sidewalk, ornate street lighting, and large granite monuments with red-brass electroliers at the entrance to every street. These upgrades increased the lot values, which helped ensure the tract would be an enclave for the elite.

One early real estate ad characterized the neighborhood stating: “West Adams Heights needs no introduction to the public: it is already recognized as being far superior to any other tract. Its high and slightly location, its beautiful view of the city and mountains make t a property unequaled by any other in the city.”

The early residents’ were required to sign a detailed restrictive covenant. This hand-written document required property owners to build a “first-class residence,” of at least two stories, costing no less than two-thousand dollars (at a time when a respectable home could be built for a quarter of that amount, including the land), and built no less than thirty-five feet from the property’s primary boundary. Common in early twentieth century, another clause excluded residents from selling or leasing their properties to non-Caucasians.

By the mid 1930’s, however, most of the restrictions had expired. Between 1938 and 1945 many prominent African-Americans began to make “The Heights” their home. According to Carey McWilliams, West Adams Heights became known “Far and wide as the famous Sugar Hill section of Los Angeles,” and enjoyed a clear preeminence over Washington’s smart Le Droit Park, St. Louis’s Enright Street, West Philadelphia, Chicago’s Westchester, and Harlem’s fabulous Sugar Hill.

West Adams Heights, now also known as Sugar Hill, played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in Los Angeles. In 1938 Norman Houston, president of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, and an African-American, purchased a home at 2211 South Hobart Boulevard. Legal Action from eight homeowners quickly ensued. During that period, other prominent African-Americans began to make Sugar Hill their home – including actress Hattie McDaniels, dentists John and Vada Summerville, actress Louise Beavers, band leader Johnny Otis, and performers Pearl Baily and Ethel Waters, and many more. On December 6, 1945, the “Sugar Hill Cases” were heard before Judge Thurmond Clark, in LA Superior Court. He made history by become the first judge in America to use the 14th Amendment to disallow the enforcement of covenant race restrictions. The Los Angeles Sentinel quoted Judge Clark: “This court is of the opinion that it is time that [African-Americans] are accorded, without reservations and evasions, the full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment.” Gradually, over the last century people of nearly ever background have made historic West Adams their home.

The northern end of West Adams Heights is now protected as part of the Harvard Heights Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ). The Historic West Adams area of Los Angeles (which includes West Adams Heights) boasts the highest concentration of turn-of-the-century homes west of the Mississippi, as well as the highest concentration of National Historic Landmarks, National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Districts, State Historic Landmarks, Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monuments, and Historic Preservation Overlay Zones in the city. The entirety of West Adams Heights should be nominated as a National Register Historic District, for the quality of homes, the prominence of the architects, notoriety of the people who lived in the neighborhood, and the role it played in civil rights.

Perhaps a quote adapted from a fireplace mantle in the Frederick Rindge mansion best symbolizes the optimism which exists in West Adams: “California Shall be Ours as Long as the Stars Remain.”

01 – Harvard Street Monument – Harvard Blvd & Washington Blvd, 1902.

Nearly destroyed by neglect and vandals over decades of inner city decay, the Harvard and Hobart Boulevard monuments were restored in 2002.

02 – Frank Southerland & Grace Pirtle Hutton, and John A Pirtle Residence – 2047 La Salle Ave – 1907

According to the property permit, the house was built for E B Spencer in 1906. Most likely he built this house on speculation (as he did two years earlier at 2039-2041 La Salle Ave), because according to the LA County Tax Assessor’s Office, John A Pirtle purchased this property in 1907. The same year there appears an article in the LA Herald announcing the engagement of Frank Southerland Hutton to Miss Grace Pirtle, who lived with her parents at 1819 S Union Ave, and their plans to build a house in Los Angeles after their honeymoon. Another 1907 article indicates the happy couple were married and moved into their new home on La Salle Ave. But, by 1909, they’ve moved to 1827 S Normandie and John A Pirtle is shown at the La Salle house. John Pirtle was a Southern California industrialist who appears to have made his fortune in the oil fields of Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas, through a company called the Beaumont Exchange and the Oriole Oil Company. He also speculated in water, with the West Los Angeles Water Company, West Side Water Company and the Glendale Consolidated Water Company. Frank Hutton was a well-known and respected Los Angeles lawyer, a partner of the firm Schweitzer and Hutton. This 1907 house is an unassuming looking American Craftsman bungalow, which hides its actual size. Beneath the long, low slung slope of the gable is a rather large house of 2-1/2 stories. The rounded, Colonial Revival styled balcony rail is an unusual feature.

03 – Robert K Wilson, J Frank & Virginia N Waters, and Mark & Mamie (May) E Phelps Residence – 2039-2041 La Salle Ave – 1905 – Frank Dale Hudson and Julius W Krause

Dutch Colonial in West Adams Heights is a rare architectural style, probably already deemed to be passé, but two examples exist nonetheless. The other Dutch is on South Hobart, built for C I D Moore, and is turned on its side, giving it a more Cotswold appearance. This Dutch Colonial is a straight-on interpretation of the vernacular. The architect of the house is reported to be Julius W Krause. Prior to 1895 Krause was partnered with Frank Dale Hudson, of the firm Hudson and Munsell. For a time Krause was also the Superintendent of Building for the City of Los Angeles. The original builder of this house was E B Spencer, however it’s obvious he built it in 1905 on speculation (just as he did two years later the house at 2047 La Salle Ave). This house was quickly sold the same year to Robert K Wilson who Just as quickly flipped it in 1907 to J Frank Waters. Six months later Waters sold the residence to Mark and Mamie (May) E Phelps. The Phelps’s lived at this resident until Mark’s death in 1924. Mark Phelps was described as a pioneer of Los Angeles, first finding success in mining, then as a live-stock dealer. He retired just 3 months before his death. By 1926 J E Phillips who was reported to be living at this address was arrested for smuggling Moonshine Whiskey in his car. In 1943, William J Morris, a building contractor, was the resident, according to his obituary.

04 – Wilbur Wells & Blanche Lillian Smith Keim Residence – 2033 La Salle Ave – 1904

Wilbur Wells Keim graduated from the Pharmacy School at UC Berkeley in 1902. He married Miss Blanche Lillian Smith in 1903. A large reception for the couple was held at the West Adams Heights mansion of Wesley W Beckett, 2218 S Harvard Blvd. The couple began building their house on La Salle in 1904. Keim opened a pharmacy with Edward R Neill (Keim-Neill Drug Co) just a few blocks away on the Southwest corner of Washington and Normandie, at 1890 W Washington Boulevard. Their daughter, Lorraine Keim was a 1925 graduate of USC and a member of the Kappa Alpha Sorority. The house itself is a mystery. The front porch is Craftsman. The eves under the second story and the overall shape appear to be Colonial Revival. The front door with the half sidelights and smaller window openings suggest an older structure which was moved to this location and remodeled. The effect, unfortunately, isn’t quite successful.

05 – William A & Rose H Jenkins Residence – 2029 La Salle Ave – 1909

Originally the address was 1949 La Salle Ave, but a reorganization of addresses by the city to make them more uniform changed it to 2029 La Salle Ave sometime around 1909-1910.

06 – Frank A & Marie C Von Violand Vickery Residence – 2025 La Salle Ave – 1909

When Frank A Vickery passed away he left a sizable estate. Numerous properties were advertised for auction in the February 28, 2014, issue of The California Outlook, including three in West Adams Heights (1947 La Salle Ave, 2017 La Salle Ave, and 2025 La Salle Ave). Vickery had purchased these unimproved lots in 1906 from the Gopher Land Company as investments and improved the lots. Frank Vickery was a mining industrialist with many interests, including the Pan-American Hardwoods Company in Mexico and the San Gabriel River Rock Company. The Vickery’s lived at 341 Andrews Blvd (S St Andrews Pl), in a 1907 mansion they built for ,000. According to the LA Times and LA Herald society pages, they entertained often. In May, 1910, the Vickery’s sold their St Andrews Pl home through the Althouse Brothers for ,000, to Mrs. Frederick Fischer, and relocated to their 2025 La Salle Ave home. After Frank Vickery’s death, auction, either the house didn’t sell at auction or his wide decided to continue living at the residence. The 1923-24 Southwestern Blue Book lists her at this location, with visiting on “Third Wednesdays. “ Mrs. Vickery was also a member of the Ebell and Friday Morning Clubs. Although this house must have been smaller and less opulent than their St Andrews Place residence, it is still a handsome American Craftsman home, with only minor alterations.

07 – Income property owned by Frank A Vickery – 2017 La Salle Ave – 1909

When Frank A Vickery passed away he left a sizable estate. Numerous properties were advertised for auction in the February 28, 2014, issue of The California Outlook, including three in West Adams Heights (1947 La Salle Ave, 2017 La Salle Ave, and 2025 La Salle Ave). Vickery had purchased these unimproved lots in 1906 from the Gopher Land Company as investments and improved the lots. Frank Vickery was a mining industrialist with many interests, including the Pan-American Hardwoods Company in Mexico and the San Gabriel River Rock Company. The house is American Craftsman, and the architect and builder was the Alfred E Georgian, Co.

08 – La Salle Ave Streetscape
Looking South on La Salle Ave (from left to right):
A. 2047 La Salle Ave – Hutton-Pirtle Residence
B. 2041 La Salle Ave – Phelps Residence
C. 2029 La Salle Ave – Hull Residence
D. 2033 La Salle Ave – Keim Residence
E. 2025 La Salle Ave – Frank A & Marie C Von Violand Vickery Residence
F. 2017 La Salle Ave – Income Property owned by Frank A Vickery

09 – Stanley Frederick & Sue A Shaffer McClung – 1959 La Salle Ave – 1905 – Robert Farquhar Train & Robert Edmund Williams

Imagine this house as it might have been in 1905: the long sloping roof of natural shingles, which would have matched the color of the shingled siding; ornate rails along the porch, widows weep, and above the bay window; a full chimney and no bars on the windows or doors. The effect would have been striking, and will again when the house is one day restored. It’s one of the most significant surviving houses on La Salle. It was designed by the architecture team of Robert Farquar Train and Robert Edmund Williams (Train & Williams), for Pacific Mutual Secretary Stanley F McClung. He was part of the “Old Company” forced out of power in the early 1930’s along with his brother-in-law George Ira Cochran.

10 – Income property owned by Frank A Vickery – 1947 La Salle Ave – 1909

When Frank A Vickery passed away he left a sizable estate. Numerous properties were advertised for auction in the February 28, 2014, issue of The California Outlook, including three in West Adams Heights (1947 La Salle Ave, 2017 La Salle Ave, and 2025 La Salle Ave). Vickery had purchased these unimproved lots in 1906 from the Gopher Land Company as investments and improved the lots. Frank Vickery was a mining industrialist with many interests, including the Pan-American Hardwoods Company in Mexico and the San Gabriel River Rock Company. The house is a handsome American Craftsman residence, making use of horizontal siding to make it appear wider.

11 – Evan G & Matilee Loeb Evans and William A & Rose H Haley Jenkins Residence – 1929 La Salle Ave – 1903 – Allied Arts Co

This home is American Craftsman designed in 1903 by The Allied Arts Co (as was its neighbor at 1919 La Salle Ave), a prominent architecture firm responsible for many LA landmarks, including the recently restored Hall of Justice. A J Carlson was the contractor. Evan G Evans, from Chicago, IL, arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1990’s, and married Matilee Loeb in 1898. The Mr & Mrs Evans were prominent in the society pages. The second owner, William (Will) Jenkins, was like many of his neighbors, a Capitalist. Jenkins appears to have had his hand in many enterprises, including the Madera Canal & Irrigation Company. Mrs. Jenkins passed away August 5, 1933, at her home at 148 S Irving Blvd, survived by her husband.

12 – John H & Evangeline “Eva” Rose Clark Tupper and Thomas M & Mary P Sloan Residence – 1919 La Salle Ave – 1903 – Allied Arts Co

John H and Wilbur S Tupper were born in Evansville, Wisconsin, the children of John H and Mary Sophia Foster Tupper. In the 1800’s the brothers relocated in San Francisco found themselves in the insurance industry. Wilbur Tupper became Vice-President of Conservative Life and again both brothers moved to Los Angeles. Wilbur was destined for success and after the death of then-president Frederick Hastings Rindge, he became president of both Conservative Life and Pacific Mutual (founded by Leland Stanford). Wilbur’s house was located at 2237 S Harvard Blvd and John’s at 1919 La Salle Ave, within the same tract. In 1906 Wilbur suddenly resigned from the company in scandal involving another woman (not his wife). He fled to Chicago, abandoning his wife and position. His brother John probably suffered for his brother’s indiscretion, which may help explain his sudden departure from the neighborhood and the sale of his house to Thomas M Sloan. About the same time Thomas Sloan had been promoted to Assistant General Freight Agent of the Sante Fe Railroad. This transitional Victorian/Craftsman house was designed in 1903 by the Allied Arts Co, (as was its neighbor at 1929 La Salle Ave), a prominent architecture firm responsible for many LA landmarks, including the recently restored Hall of Justice. A J Carlson was the contractor.

13 – Charles Kraft Residence – 1913 La Salle Ave – 1913 – Earl E Scherich

A more modest and later addition to the neighborhood, this 1913 Craftsman Bungalow was built for Charles Kraft, Vice-President of the J C Huggins Co, a brokerage and loan company. The home was designed by Architect Earl E Scherich, and May L Greenwood, builder.

14 – Roland Paul Residence Gates – 1986 W Washington Blvd – 1905 – Sumner P Hunt and Arthur Wesley Eager (Demolished)

Between a bicycle shop and a convalescence home are the gates to 1986 W Washington Blvd, which remain the only evidence that a home designed by Hunt & Eager once stood here. Originally commissioned by Mrs. R Fitzpatrick of Pico Blvd, in February of 1905, it was quickly turned over to pioneer Col Charles F Howland, who lived around the corner at 1902 S Harvard Blvd. He attempted to sell it in September, 1905, to Walter Rose, but the deal apparently fell through. In November, 1905, Col Howland successfully sold the home to Roland Paul.

15 – Elizabeth L Kenney Residence – 2012 W Washington Blvd – 1906 – Philip Gengembre Hubert (Attributed)

When this home was built, Philip Gengembre Hubert, celebrated New York City architect, was listed as the owner. It was most-likely designed by him on speculation. His residence was already established in 1903 at 2144 S Hobart Blvd. Hubert was responsible for designing many New York City landmarks, including the Chelsea Hotel, and after nearly 40 years in practice Hubert retired to Los Angeles, where he died in 1911. This home was sold to Elizabeth L Kenney, the second female to graduate the law department at Stanford University and continued her education at Northwestern University in Chicago. Kenney became the first practicing female attorney in Los Angeles in 1897, entering into practice with her uncle. The house, unfortunately, has been mistreated with a layer of stucco and aluminum windows. We can only hope evidence of the house’s original nature lies underneath.

16 – Commercial Block – 2034 W Washington Blvd (formerly the home of Nathaniel Dryden, 1902 S Harvard Blvd)

Evidence of how quickly Los Angeles was changing in the early 20th Century can be seen in this attractive commercial block. Nathaniel Dryden, an architect and engineer who built the Brand Library in Glendale and the Robinson Mansion in Beverly Hills, built his home on this corner in 1903. Just 20 years later it had been replaced by a commercial building already. Such was the value of land in the quick-growing city.

17 – Clara Pitt Durant Residence – 1909 S Harvard Blvd. 1908. Sumner P Hunt and Arthur Wesley Eager

Barely visible from the street, the current owners prefer to be hidden by the trees and shrubs. This large Craftsman home was designed by Hunt & Eager for Ms. Clara Pitt Durant. A divorcee from Michigan, Ms. Pitt took her settlement and began a new life in Los Angeles. The history of the house is recorded at: www.invisiblemanor.com

18 – Charles Clifford and Belle Case Gibbons Residence – 1915 S Oxford Ave – 1903 – Frank M Tyler.

This house, designed by Frank M Tyler, is unusual for the neighborhood because it is completely sheathed in shingles, including the front porch columns. It is a Transitional Victorian/Craftsman in the Shingle Style, with Colonial and Tudor touches. It was built for Charles Clifford Gibbons and Belle Case Gibbons, who came to Los Angeles in 1884. Mr. Gibbons worked his way to from stock boy to general manager of Hale’s Dry Goods Store. His employer, Jas M Hale was a relation of San Francisco’s Hale’s Bros. Department Store, the national chain. C C Gibbons died in 1910 after an illness and in 1912 the house was sold to Matt and Mary Conway. Matt Conway made his business in real estate and land speculation. Coincidentally, the third owner, Jon Fukuto, was also a proprietor of a chain of Los Angeles grocery stores call Jonson’s Supermarkets (the name being a play on words, combining “Jon” and “Sons”). In 1945, after being released from the Gila Internment Camp in Arizona, Mr. Fukuto moved his family to Los Angeles where he established the business.

02c – Gibbons Residence – 1915 S Oxford Ave – 1903 (Restored 1995-2000 by Greg Stegall & Michael Smith)
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Image by Kansas Sebastian
02 – Charles Clifford and Belle Case Gibbons Residence. 1915 S Oxford Ave. 1903. Frank M Tyler.

This house, designed by Frank M Tyler, is unusual for the neighborhood because it is completely sheathed in shingles, including the front porch columns. It is a Transitional Victorian/Craftsman in the Shingle Style, with Colonial and Tudor touches. It was built for Charles Clifford Gibbons and Belle Case Gibbons, who came to Los Angeles in 1884. Mr. Gibbons worked his way to from stock boy to general manager of Hale’s Dry Goods Store. His employer, Jas M Hale was a relation of San Francisco’s Hale’s Bros. Department Store, the national chain. C C Gibbons died in 1910 after an illness and in 1912 the house was sold to Matt and Mary Conway. Matt Conway made his business in real estate and land speculation. Coincidentally, the third owner, Jon Fukuto, was also a proprietor of a chain of Los Angeles grocery stores call Jonson’s Supermarkets (the name being a play on words, combining “Jon” and “Sons”). In 1945, after being released from the Gila Internment Camp in Arizona, Mr. Fukuto moved his family to Los Angeles where he established the business.

West Adams Heights

“Nowadays we scarcely notice the high stone gates which mark the entrances on Hobart, Harvard, and Oxford streets, south of Washington Boulevard. For one thing, the traffic is too heavy, too swift; and then, again, the gates have been obscured by intrusions of shops and stores. At the base of the stone pillars appears the inscription “West Adams Heights.” There was a time when these entranceways were formidable and haughty, for they marked the ways to one of the first elite residential areas in Los Angeles. . . In the unplanned early-day chaos of Los Angeles, West Adams Heights was obviously something very special, an island in an ocean of bungalows—approachable, but withdrawn and reclusive—one of the few surviving examples of planned urban elegance of the turn of the century.”

– Carey McWilliams, “The Evolution of Sugar Hill,” Script, March, 1949: 30.

Today West Adams Heights is still obviously something special. The past sixty years, however, have not been kind. In 1963 the Santa Monica Freeway cut through the heart of West Adams Heights, dividing the neighborhood, obscuring its continuity. In the 1970’s the city paved over the red brick streets and removed the ornate street lighting. After the neighborhood’s zoning was changed to a higher density, overzealous developers claimed several mansions for apartment buildings. Despite these challenges, however, “The Heights,” as the area was once known, has managed to regain some of its former elegance.

The West Adams Heights tract was laid out in 1902, in what was then a wheat field on the western edge of town. Although the freeway now creates an artificial barrier, the original neighborhood boundaries were Adams Boulevard, La Salle Ave, Washington Boulevard, and Western Avenue. Costly improvements were integrated into the development, such as 75-food wide boulevards (which were some of the first contoured streets not to follow the city grid), lots elevated from the sidewalk, ornate street lighting, and large granite monuments with red-brass electroliers at the entrance to every street. These upgrades increased the lot values, which helped ensure the tract would be an enclave for the elite.

One early real estate ad characterized the neighborhood stating: “West Adams Heights needs no introduction to the public: it is already recognized as being far superior to any other tract. Its high and slightly location, its beautiful view of the city and mountains make t a property unequaled by any other in the city.”

The early residents’ were required to sign a detailed restrictive covenant. This hand-written document required property owners to build a “first-class residence,” of at least two stories, costing no less than two-thousand dollars (at a time when a respectable home could be built for a quarter of that amount, including the land), and built no less than thirty-five feet from the property’s primary boundary. Common in early twentieth century, another clause excluded residents from selling or leasing their properties to non-Caucasians.

By the mid 1930’s, however, most of the restrictions had expired. Between 1938 and 1945 many prominent African-Americans began to make “The Heights” their home. According to Carey McWilliams, West Adams Heights became known “Far and wide as the famous Sugar Hill section of Los Angeles,” and enjoyed a clear preeminence over Washington’s smart Le Droit Park, St. Louis’s Enright Street, West Philadelphia, Chicago’s Westchester, and Harlem’s fabulous Sugar Hill.

West Adams Heights, now also known as Sugar Hill, played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in Los Angeles. In 1938 Norman Houston, president of the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, and an African-American, purchased a home at 2211 South Hobart Boulevard. Legal Action from eight homeowners quickly ensued. During that period, other prominent African-Americans began to make Sugar Hill their home – including actress Hattie McDaniels, dentists John and Vada Summerville, actress Louise Beavers, band leader Johnny Otis, and performers Pearl Baily and Ethel Waters, and many more. On December 6, 1945, the “Sugar Hill Cases” were heard before Judge Thurmond Clark, in LA Superior Court. He made history by become the first judge in America to use the 14th Amendment to disallow the enforcement of covenant race restrictions. The Los Angeles Sentinel quoted Judge Clark: “This court is of the opinion that it is time that [African-Americans] are accorded, without reservations and evasions, the full rights guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment.” Gradually, over the last century people of nearly ever background have made historic West Adams their home.

The northern end of West Adams Heights is now protected as part of the Harvard Heights Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ). The Historic West Adams area of Los Angeles (which includes West Adams Heights) boasts the highest concentration of turn-of-the-century homes west of the Mississippi, as well as the highest concentration of National Historic Landmarks, National Register of Historic Places, National Historic Districts, State Historic Landmarks, Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monuments, and Historic Preservation Overlay Zones in the city. The entirety of West Adams Heights should be nominated as a National Register Historic District, for the quality of homes, the prominence of the architects, notoriety of the people who lived in the neighborhood, and the role it played in civil rights.

Perhaps a quote adapted from a fireplace mantle in the Frederick Rindge mansion best symbolizes the optimism which exists in West Adams: “California Shall be Ours as Long as the Stars Remain.”

American Graeber
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Image by Saint Iscariot
“As it turns out, we don’t "all" have to pay our debts. Only some of us do.”

"How, then, do you expect a young American voter to feel, after casting a vote for a fundamental change to our political and economic system, on discovering that in fact, they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative?

I mean that word, “conservative,” in its literal sense by the way. This literal sense is now rarely used. Nowadays, in the US, “conservative” has come to mean “right-wing radical,” but it used to mean someone whose main political imperative is to conserve existing institutions, more or less exactly as they are—and this is precisely what Obama has turned out to be. Almost all his greatest political efforts have been aimed in one way or another at preserving some institutional structure under threat of radical transformation: the banking system, the auto industry, even the health insurance industry, since Obama’s main argument in pushing for health care reform was that the US health care system, based on for-profit, private insurers, was not economically viable over the long term, and indeed, what he ended up doing was preserving exactly that for-profit system in a way that it might endure for at least another generation. Considering the state of the US economy in 2008, it required genuinely heroic efforts not to change anything. Yet Obama did expend those heroic efforts, and the result was no structural change in existing institutions of any kind at all."

"The politics of direct action is based, to a certain degree, on a faith that freedom is contagious. It is almost impossible to convince the average American that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them."

“Money has no essence. It’s not "really" anything; therefore, its nature has always been and presumably always will be a matter of political contention.”

"Still, this might explain the outrage at government’s alliance with the financial sector—the fact that bribery has, effectively, been made legal in America, a country that nonetheless presumes to go around the world pretending it is some sort of beacon of democracy."

"Consumer debt is the lifeblood of our economy. All modern nation states are built on deficit spending. Debt has come to be the central issue of international politics. But nobody seems to know exactly what it is, or how to think about it."

"In fact, our standard account of monetary history is precisely backwards. We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around."

"Karl Marx, who knew quite a bit about the human tendency to fall down and worship our own creations, wrote Das Capital in an attempt to demonstrate that, even if we start from the economists’ utopian vision, so long as we also allow some people to control productive capital, and, again, leave others with nothing to sell but but their brains and bodies, the results will be in very many ways barely distinguishable from slavery, and the whole system will eventually destroy itself."

"It is rather striking to think that the very core of the Christian message, salvation itself, the sacrifice of God’s own son to rescue humanity from eternal damnation, should be framed in the language of a financial transaction." [Chapter Four, "Cruelty and Redemption", p. 80]

"All societies based on slavery tend to be marked by this agonizing double consciousness: the awareness that the highest things one has to strive for are also, ultimately, wrong; but at the same time, the feeling that this is simply the nature of reality."

"Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all the social relationships that make one a human being."

"Honor is the same as credit; it’s one’s ability to keep ones promises, but also, in the case of a wrong, to ‘get even’."

"The attentive reader may have noticed that the core period of Jasper’s Axial age—the lifetimes of Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Buddha—corresponds almost exactly to the period in which coinage was invented."

"The one thing that’s clear is that new ideas won’t emerge without the jettisoning of much of our accustomed categories of thought-which have become mostly sheer dead weight, if not intrinsic parts of the very apparatus of hopelessness-and formulating new ones. This is why I spent so much of this book talking about the market, but also about the false choice between state and market that so monopolized political ideology for the last centuries that it made it difficult to argue about anything else."

"One element, however, tends to go flagrantly missing in even the most vivid conspiracy theories about the banking system, let alone in official accounts: that is, the role of military power. There’s a reason why the wizard has such a strange capacity to create money out of nothing. Behind him there is a man with a gun."

"In other words, there seems to have been a profound contradiction between the political imperative of establishing capitalism as the only possible way to manage anything, and capitalism’s own unacknowledged need to limit its future horizons lest speculation, predictably, go haywire. Once it did, and the whole machine imploded, we were left in the strange situation of not being able to even imagine any other way that things might be arranged. About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe."

"Meanwhile, the U.S. debt remains, as it has been since 1790, a war debt: the United States continues to spend more on its military than do all other nations on earth put together, and military expenditures are not only the basis of the government’s industrial policy; they also take up such a huge proportion of the budget that by many estimations, were it not for them, the United States would not run a deficit at all."

"The essence of U.S. military predominance in the world is, ultimately, the fact that it can, at will, drop bombs, with only a few hours’ notice, at absolutely any point on the surface of the planet. No other government has ever had anything remotely like this sort of capability. In fact, a case could well be made that it is this very power that holds the entire world monetary system, organized around the dollar, together."

"By the end of World War II, the specter of an imminent working class uprising that had so haunted the ruling classes of Europe and North America for the previous century had largely disappeared. This was because class war was suspended by a tacit settlement. To put it crudely: the white working class of the North Atlantic countries, from the United States to West Germany, were offered a deal. If they agreed to set aside any fantasies of fundamentally changing the nature of the system, then they would be allowed to keep their unions, enjoy a wide variety of social benefits (pensions, vacations, health care. . .), and, perhaps most important, through generously funded and ever-expanding public educational institutions, know that their children had a reasonable chance of leaving the working class entirely. One key element in all this was a tacit guarantee that increases in workers’ productivity would be met by increases in wages: a guarantee that held good until the late 1970s. Largely as a result, the period saw both rapidly rising productivity and rapidly rising incomes, laying the basis for the consumer economy of today."

"There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist-most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet, and the current form of capitalism doesn’t seem to be capable of generating the kind of vast technological breakthroughs and mobilizations that would be required for us to start finding and colonizing any other planets. Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction-even from those who call themselves "progressives"-is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse."

“Traditional hedonism…was based on the direct experience of pleasure: wine, women and song; sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; or whatever the local variant. The problem, from a capitalist perspective, is that there are inherent limits to all this. People become sated, bored…Modern self-illusory hedonism solves this dilemma because here, what one is really consuming are fantasies and day-dreams about what having a certain product would be like.”

"This is a great trap of the twentieth century: on one side is the logic of the market, where we like to imagine we all start out as individuals who don’t owe each other anything. On the other is the logic of the state, where we all begin with a debt we can never truly pay. We are constantly told that they are opposites, and that between them they contain the only real human possibilities. But it’s a false dichotomy. States created markets. Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least, in anything like the forms we would recognize today."

“If history shows anything, it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt—above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong.”

“The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal,”mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. They have not involved challenging power head on (this usually leads to being slaughtered, or if not, turning into some—often even uglier—variant of the very thing one first challenged) but from one or another strategy of slipping away from its grasp, from flight, desertion, the founding of new communities.”

“Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.”

“A revolution on a world scale will take a very long time. But it is also possible to recognize that it is already starting to happen. The easiest way to get our minds around it is to stop thinking about revolution as a thing — “the” revolution, the great cataclysmic break—and instead ask “what is revolutionary action?” We could then
suggest: revolutionary action is any collective action which rejects, and therefore confronts, some form of power or domination and in doing so, reconstitutes social relations—even within the collectivity—in that light. Revolutionary action does not necessarily have to aim to topple governments. Attempts to create autonomous communities in the face of power (using Castoriadis’ definition here: ones that constitute themselves, collectively make their own rules or principles of operation, and continually reexamine them), would, for instance, be almost by definition revolutionary acts. And history shows us that the continual accumulation of such acts can change (almost) everything.”

“For me, this is exactly what’s so pernicious about the morality of debt: the way that financial imperatives constantly try to reduce us all, despite ourselves, to the equivalent of pillagers, eyeing the world simply for what can be turned into money — and then tell us that it’s only those who are willing to see the world as pillagers who deserve access to the resources required to pursue anything in life other than money.”

“In fact this is precisely the logic on which the Bank of England—the first successful modern central bank—was originally founded. In 1694, a consortium of English bankers made a loan of £1,200,000 to the king. In return they received a royal monopoly on the issuance of banknotes. What this meant in practice was they had the right to advance IOUs for a portion of the money the king now owed them to any inhabitant of the kingdom willing to borrow from them, or willing to deposit their own money in the bank—in effect, to circulate or "monetize" the newly created royal debt. This was a great deal for the bankers (they got to charge the king 8 percent annual interest for the original loan and simultaneously charge interest on the same money to the clients who borrowed it) , but it only worked as long as the original loan remained outstanding. To this day, this loan has never been paid back. It cannot be. If it ever were, the entire monetary system of Great Britain would cease to exist.”

“Say a king wishes to support a standing army of fifty thousand men. Under ancient or medieval conditions, feeding such a force was an enormous problem—unless they were on the march, one would need to employ almost as many men and ani­mals just to locate, acquire, and transport the necessary provisions. On the other hand, if one simply hands out coins to the soldiers and then demands that every family in the kingdom was obliged to pay one of those coins back to you, one would, in one blow, turn one’s entire national economy into a vast machine for the provisioning of soldiers, since now every family, in order to get their hands on the coins, must find some way to contribute to the general effort to provide soldiers with things they want. Markets are brought into existence as a side effect.”

“At this point we can finally see what’s really at stake in our peculiar habit of defining ourselves simultaneously as master and slave, reduplicating the most brutal aspects of the ancient household in our very concept of ourselves, as masters of our freedoms, or as owners of our very selves. It is the only way that we can imagine ourselves as completely isolated beings. There is a direct line from the new Roman conception of liberty – not as the ability to form mutual relationships with others, but as the kind of absolute power of "use and abuse" over the conquered chattel who make up the bulk of a wealthy Roman man’s household – to the strange fantasies of liberal philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Smith, about the origins of human society in some collection of thirty- or forty-year-old males who seem to have sprung from the earth fully formed, then have to decide whether to kill each other or begin to swap beaver pelts.”

“Tally sticks were quite explicitly IOUs: both parties to a transaction would take a hazelwood twig, notch it to indicate the amount owed, and then split it in half. The creditor would keep one half, called "the stock" (hence the origin of the term "stock holder") and the debtor kept the other, called "the stub" (hence the origin of the term "ticket stub.)”

“Thomas Jefferson, that owner of many slaves, chose to begin the Declaration of Independence by directly contradicting the moral basis of slavery, writing "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights …" thus undercutting simultaneously any argument that Africans were racially inferior, and also that they or their ancestors could ever have been justly and legally deprived of their freedom. In doing so, however, he did not propose some radically new conception of rights and liberties. Neither have subsequent political philosophers. For the most part, we’ve just kept the old ones, but with the word "not" inserted here and there. Most of our most precious rights and freedoms are a series of exceptions to an overall moral and legal framework that suggests we shouldn’t really have them in the first place.”

“The criminalization of debt, then, was the criminalization of the very basis of human society. It cannot be overemphasized that in a small community, everyone normally was both a lender and borrower. One can only imagine the tensions and temptations that must have existed in a community—and communities, much though they are based on love, in fact because they are based on love, will always also be full of hatred, rivalry and passion—when it became clear that with sufficiently clever scheming, manipulation, and perhaps a bit of strategic bribery, they could arrange to have almost anyone they hated imprisoned or even hanged.”

“Even in the Bible, the admonition in the Ten Commandments not to ‘covet thy neighbor’s wife’ clearly referred not to lust in one’s heart (adultery had already been covered in commandment number seven), but to the prospect of taking her as a debt-peon—in other words, as a servant to sweep one’s yard and hang out the laundry.”

"What is a debt, anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence."

"I like to describe myself precisely as a “small-a anarchist.” That is, I believe in anarchist principles—mutual aid, direct action, the idea building the new, free society in the shell of the old—but I’ve never felt a need to declare allegiance to any particular anarchist school (Syndicalists, Platformists, etc). Above all, I am happy to work with anyone, whatever they call themselves, willing to work on anarchist principles—which in America today, has largely come to mean, a refusal to work with or through the government or other institutions which ultimately rely on the threat of force, and a dedication to horizontal democracy, to treating each other as we believe free men and women in a genuinely free society would treat each other. Even the commitment to direct action, so often confused with breaking windows or the like, really refers to the refusal of any politics of protest, that merely appeals to the authorities to behave differently, and the determination instead to act for oneself, and to do what one thinks is right, regardless of law and authority. Gandhi’s salt march, for example, is a classic example of direct action. So was squatting Zuccotti Park. It’s a public space; we were the public; the public shouldn’t have to ask permission to engage in peaceful political assembly in its own park; so we didn’t. By doing so we not only acted in the way we felt was right, we aimed to set an example to others: to begin to reclaim communal resources that have been appropriated for purposes of private profit to once again serve for communal use—as in a truly free society, they would be—and to set an example of what genuine communal use might actually be like. For those who desire to create a society based on the principle of human freedom, direct action is simply the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free."

"Say what you will about Americans, and one can say many things, this is a country of deeply democratic sensibilities. The idea that we are, or are supposed to be, a democratic society is at the very core of what makes us proud to be Americans. If Occupy Wall Street has spread to every city in America, it’s because our financial overlords have brought us to such a pass that anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters are about the only Americans left still holding out for the idea that a genuinely democratic society might be possible."

•• twitter.com/davidgraeber
•• www.gold.ac.uk/anthropology/staff/d-graeber/
•• www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/29101.David_Graeber
•• en.wikiquote.org/wiki/David_Graeber
•• worldcat.org/identities/lccn-no97-27235
•• brooklynrail.org/2011/09/express/world-of-debt
•• www.readysteadybook.com/Article.aspx?page=davidgraeber
•• occupywallst.org/article/david-graeber-some-remarks-conse…
•• www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/10/david-graeber-on-playing-…

Are we slaves to debt? David Graeber on the history of spending more than we have => www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/economy/video-are-we-slaves…

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