Times Past

California’s popularity boosted by stormy weather elsewhere

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneDecember 29, 2012 

We all love to show off California’s scenery and usually stunning weather.

The Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game draw thousands of tourists to the coastal regions of our state. With a bad economy, we need to boost tourism as much as possible.

Journalists have been some of the most active purveyors of legends concerning California’s mild climate. Charles Nordhoff’s “California for Health, Wealth and Residence” was published in 1872. The book lured hundreds of thousands of visitors to California during the 1880s.

Charles Fletcher Lummis’ “Land of Sunshine”  (later called “Out West”) was the leading booster magazine in the 1890s. He also founded the Landmarks Club, which led a campaign for the restoration of many of the missions in Southern California.

Southern Pacific Railroad modeled a tourist journal on the “Land of Sunshine.” The new magazine, named after the railroad’s All Weather Sunset route from New Orleans to Los Angeles, was called “Sunset Magazine,” and it was later sold to the Lane publishing family, and most recently to Time Inc. Sunset continues to promote the California dream.

In times past, depressed land sales resulted in major promotional efforts. By March 1888, the great Southern California land boom was over. Sales were slipping in the recently founded town of Pasadena. A Board of Trade was created to stimulate tourism. Author and sportsman Charles Frederick Holder was the most outspoken “booster” on the board. He was trying to develop a theme that would attract tourists from as far away as the East Coast.

On March 12, 1888, the “Great Blizzard” of 1888 struck an unprepared Atlantic seaboard. For
36 hours, New York City was cut off from the rest of the nation. Transportation was paralyzed.

Homes and tenements ran out of fuel for heating. People — 400 of them — froze to death.

The antithesis of a blizzard became Holder’s theme. He and Dr. Francis F. Rowland proposed an early January festival to the members of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club. The main activity of the festival would be an outdoor parade, clearly demonstrating Pasadena’s idyllic climate. The Rose Parade was born out of reports of a meteorological catastrophe on the opposite side of the continent.

The Rose Parade has done yeoman service for California boosters. Viewers seeing the San Gabriel Mountains gently basking in the sun on their television screens, with a temperature of 10 below zero outside their windows, understand the parade’s success story.

In many previous years, December freezes have caused shortages of flowers. But the Rose Parade has never been entirely rained out. It nearly happened in 1934. An unprecedented 12.86 inches of rain fell over the Los Angeles Basin in a 48-hour period. The rainfall measured 6.21 inches on New Year’s Day. The waters intimidated nearly half the bands, which elected to perform from inside their buses.

Will Rogers was a Southern California booster. He knew how to put the correct spin on the excessive precipitation. The humorist, who was born in Oklahoma, wrote to the Los Angeles Times: “Us old settlers (that have been here five or 10 years) never saw anything like it. We are so tickled to see rain out here that we put on a big parade in honor of it.”

For nearly three years, Liz and I have been privileged to share our home with Weijun “Vincent” Song, a student from Beijing. Last year, Vincent’s parents, Ping and Song, invited us to China. The late summer weather was exceptionally pleasant.

When they arrived two weeks ago, we promised them a “land of sunshine” experience. But as Will Roger’s understood only too well, we live in a “land of little rain” until it rains.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service