Looking Backward



Planning Session: 2012 August 08

  • Bellamy's Utopia v. today's dystopia
    • Jacob keep reading and highlighting
    • "I dreamed I sat on the throne" passage is fascinating and evocative, but...WTF?
  • Contrast vision of Boston with Romneyan campaign proclamations
    • Both from Massachusetts! (handy)
    • Bek to research
    • Can we get it across without being strident?
  • Dave to search archives for industrial sounds
    • Futuristic sounds?
    • Does this one even have violin? (not so far)

Useful Links


But remember, these are layers, not sections


Sample text (Jacob):

"Early in the last century the evolution was completed by the final consolidation of the entire capital of the nation. The industry and commerce of the country, ceasing to be conducted by a set of irresponsible corporations and syndicates of private persons at their caprice and for their profit, were intrusted to a single syndicate representing the people, to be conducted in the common interest for the common profit. The nation, that is to say, organized as the one great business corporation in which all other corporations were absorbed; it became the one capitalist in the place of all other capitalists, the sole employer, the final monopoly in which all previous and lesser monopolies were swallowed up, a monopoly in the profits and economies of which all citizens shared. The epoch of trusts had ended in The Great Trust. In a word, the people of the United States concluded to assume the conduct of their own business, just as one hundred odd years before they had assumed the conduct of their own government, organizing now for industrial purposes on precisely the same grounds that they had then organized for political purposes. At last, strangely late in the world's history, the obvious fact was perceived that no business is so essentially the public business as the industry and commerce on which the people's livelihood depends, and that to entrust it to private persons to be managed for private profit is a folly similar in kind, though vastly greater in magnitude, to that of surrendering the functions of political government to kings and nobles to be conducted for their personal glorification."



The story I tell you now means to be true, but it cannot be.

This story churns pieces of truth, carries them for awhile, tumbling in its current, knocks off sharp corners, polishes scarred surfaces, and drops them again.

This story meanders across a flood plain of possibility, between bluffs of improbability. Whenever it is told, its course shifts ever so slightly. I believe that one, original course is objectively true. I also believe this course, in its entirety, will never be repeated.

This story follows the deepest channel as it is at this moment.

The Architects

Once there were two architects looking for work in bustling Los Angeles. That is, there was one architect, who’d found work: Sumner Hunt. There was also a draftsman, who worked in Hunt's office, and who eventually became an architect in his own right, through a correspondence course: George Wyman.

A few years older than his boss, Wyman was an easy target for any scheme for advancing his own prospects—or for reshaping the entire status quo. Like millions of others, he'd read Looking Backward a few years before. Polishing Hunt's commissions, Wyman urged his much-sharpened lead across the paper as fast and as precisely as it would go. Only this white-knuckled focus kept Wyman's visions of a luminous future in check.

The Developer

Once there was a man named “Bradbury”: Lewis L. Bradbury.

Leaving the Civil War to others, Bradbury traveled from Bangor, Maine, to Rosario, Sinaloa, Mexico. (To be fair, he was about 40.) There he pursued both a controlling interest in one of Mexico's large gold and silver mines, the Minas del Tajo; and his young maid, Simona Martinez. He married her in 1867. He got control of the mines in 1873.

Bradbury's miners followed a rich vein of andesite 1,000 feet into the earth. They used tons of cyanide to extract metal from the shattered pieces.

In 1905, years after Bradbury died, new technology allowed the miners to reprocess leftover material and wring more gold from it. By 1916, the miners had retreated to less than 600 feet below the surface. Each day they processed 250 tons of old fill and virgin ore blasted from former pillars as they went.

In 1917, news that a shortage of cyanide had curtailed operations came to the Bradbury Estate Company's offices in the eponymous building. Still, the Bradbury Estate Company had many other things to do. It was finally dissolved in 1965.

Bradbury had money. Lots of money.

Bradbury was old, and he felt old.

Bradbury wanted a monument.

A dream client!

The Spark

Hunt’s drawings didn't answer the needs of a man whose minions tore gold from stone and who had established himself in Southern California by buying a rancho, an expanse of land granted by an old Spanish king; and really, thought Bradbury, the most efficient way to get the point across was to do it himself. He'd invested time in this already, and no number of messages passed back and forth through an agent would give Hunt’s complacent self-assurance the shock Bradbury knew it needed.

Wyman leaned over his drafting table, keeping his head down; but his pencil slowed, and the vision began to break through:

It was the first interior of a twentieth-century public building that I had ever beheld, and the spectacle naturally impressed me deeply. I was in a vast hall full of light, received not alone from the windows on all sides, but from the dome, the point of which was a hundred feet above. Beneath it, in the centre of the hall, a magnificent fountain played, cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray. The walls and ceiling were frescoed in mellow tints, calculated to soften without absorbing the light which flooded the interior. Around the fountain was a space occupied with chairs and sofas, on which many persons were seated conversing.

Had anyone noticed Wyman’s lapse? He glanced past the frustrated Sumner, and Bradbury’s challenging stare froze him.

Bradbury was surprised to remember someone else was in the room, then annoyed, and finally amused. Wyman was transfixed as the old lion advanced. His just-pointed lead snapped and sprayed his drawing with a fine corona of graphite particles.

Other draftsmen dropped their heads even closer to the paper and stared transfixed at their own needle-like pencil points, as if studying fragments of the True Cross.

Sumner turned. Wyman saw fury behind Sumner's icy mask. Tonight, Belle would be in tears. Tomorrow, he'd be looking for another job.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Especially a pin made of solid Mexican gold, incorruptible blood drained from the still-beating heart of conquered earth.

Bradbury knew it all along, of course. Sumner figured it out by the time Bradbury held Wyman’s gaze from the other side of the drafting table. His mask took a more benign shape. Then Wyman knew it, too. The watershed moment. Now the streams ran in a different direction.

Could he do better?


Bradbury tensed, began to turn, dismissing this folly. A waste of time, all of it. Why was he doing this?

The vision passed heavy wings over Wyman’s sight, pounding at his temples.


Bradbury swung back, eyebrow raised.


Bradbury’s lip curled up on one side, then stopped. For just a moment, letting go of Wyman's gaze, he studied Wyman's hands, his drawing, his crisp lines. He looked up, seizing the draftsman's eyes a second time, saw a reflection. Not his own.

vast hall full of light

Bradbury paused. Then put a forefinger down on Wyman's drawing, smudging the immaculate lines. Wyman stared back, not daring to flinch. Bradbury stabbed out his words, grinding his fingertip into the paper with each:

Do you understand that?

Yes. Yes sir. I understand, sir.

But could he really do it? Maybe. Yes. Still. It would be a big leap.

Late that night, Wyman and Belle got out the Ouija board. and had a conversation with Wyman’s dead brother.

...take the
Bradbury building
and you will be

“Successful” was written upside-down.

The Monument

Way over budget! No expense was spared. Glazed brick. Tiling. Polished wood, even in the basement. Delicate filigrees of cast iron. Fine imported marble. Carved stone. And over all, an airy span of glass.

The contractor found a spring in the basement. Bradbury ordered steel rails from Europe to support the building above the water.

Some say the architect was responsible. And indeed, he is remembered for several surviving buildings.

Some say the draftsman was responsible. He sought to consolidate his success by earning real architectural credentials. School taught him that architecture meant dark, massive piles, and he began a career of designing them. His later buildings are object lessons in going to school to learn the wrong thing.

One Man’s Discovery

A writer found work in downtown Los Angeles, a few blocks away from what he knew, where many buildings were a few decades older. He felt the river of time sweep him through the world, and sought to make this time and place his, like others. What was this place? Food. People. Sounds. Buildings.

Waiting for a meeting, 20 floors up, he studied the rough texture of old buildings.

A hypertrophied, glazed canopy almost covered one block of brick and stone. Seemed familiar. Could it be?


Being a variety of excerpts from email, giving some chronology to my personal discovery of the Bradbury Building.

From 5/10/2010 email:

It might be fun to walk through the downtown library, but I'm not sure when it opens. The Museum of Contemporary Art probably doesn't open until the afternoon--or would they be closed Tuesday? And they'll want money. (Free Thursdays, starting 5 PM, I think.) In any case, there's plenty of street life and interesting buildings. (I know the Bradbury building is nearby, and I still haven't seen it.)


I ate in the Gas Company cafeteria today, in a weekly lunch at which many members of the IS department gather. Apparently members of Frank's group find it useful to mix with this group now and then. However, there's something wrong with not leaving the building all day, so I went out for a walk afterward. Continuing the weekend's retro science fiction theme, I found the Bradbury Building and walked through its lobby. I had forgotten that the building's designer actually got his inspiration from a science fiction novel (besides the fact that a number of Blade Runner scenes were filmed there). Cool place. I got a number of cell phone photos.

Also this:

One nice add-on to the Bradbury Building trip was that the nearest cheap, funky breakfast place I saw (e.g. pancakes, eggs, sausage) was called something like "Cafe de China." Maybe that wasn't the exact name, but the point is: Spanish name, promising Chinese food, offering traditional American breakfasts. Yup. [I don't think it's there anymore.]


Two recent co-workers joined me for lunch, and I retraced my previous steps with the Nikon F, instead of just my cell phone. I got some more photos of Grand Central Market (love all those neon signs, among other things) and the lobby of the Bradbury building. (Damn! I forgot to take any exterior shots! What was I thinking?!) (Well, I was talking to friends....) Pretty soon I will have some photos from 35mm which overlap or duplicate previous cell phone photo subjects. It will be a good, direct comparison.


Remember I mentioned I had some 35mm Bradbury Building photos, which might offer a good comparison with what I captured with my cell phone? They're uploading right now. The uploads are actually 50% reductions of what I got from X, to comply with Flickr file size limits. X gives me 7056 x 4680 pixel scans. Not bad!


L, the photographer and gallery volunteer, took the Blue Line up this morning--which he enjoyed, as it happens. He called and met me and J, one of Frank's project managers, on the sidewalk. J led us down an alley a few blocks northeast of here, to the Lost Souls Cafe. I wanted to go there for the name alone, and I knew L would feel the same. In fact, it was a decent and inexpensive place, besides being hipper than most places that would have allowed us in.

On the way back, we detoured a block to walk through the Bradbury Building. We'd all seen it, but L hadn't seen it for a very long time; probably since before it was restored in the 90s, to hear his description. It was a very enjoyable lunch and walk.


We went to downtown LA for dinner. It was pretty nice. Drove up the 110, and then the GPS directed me off the freeway to surface streets for the last 5-6 miles (e.g. up Figueroa past USC). I'm really not clear on all the GPS logic, or even whether I have a subscription to real time traffic data for awhile as part of the purchase. Tonight made me think it might, since the 110 was jammed, and I'm pretty sure the instructions had me going straight up the 110 to a downtown exit when I set up the restaurant's address in the GPS at home. After dinner, I zig-zagged through downtown, past the Bradbury building and on to Little Tokyo, where I'm familiar with how to get back on the freeway and continue a few miles southeast, to the 710. After that, it's easy--except that Alex's random whistling was like an ice pick in my brain. And I had dessert and coffee at the restaurant, so there was no point in following the tug on my heart from the Tierra Mia coffeehouse in South Gate, as I zoomed past the Firestone exit from the 710....


High points of the day:

  1. Discovering that the Mexican seafood place has re-opened.
  2. Trying their fried oysters. Muy bueno! Good idea.
  3. Helping French tourists find the Bradbury Building.
  4. Good session with Leslie.


Anyway, it was fun. I didn't think it was likely that Todd would go for it, since the distance was trivial and we had to drive to get there. But hey, it was my car, not his, and he rode about 35 miles yesterday, so he figured he'd paid his dues. Although he complained a lot about the clownish riders, he also expressed real pleasure about having gone.

I carried the Nikon on a chest harness I bought when I was in college and which I've finally found value in, during the last few years. The UW bookstore carried it. It was marketed as a great thing for e.g. hikers, cyclists, and skiers. (I can just imagine a skier punching a hole in his sternum, skiing into a tree with a bulletproof Nikon F strapped to his chest.) Of course the company that made it went out of business long ago....

After turning around in Boyle Heights, we detoured one block so I could show Todd the Bradbury building. He was intrigued, but wouldn't take me up on my offer to hold his bike while he took a look inside, because he didn't want to go in wearing bike shoes. "I'll come back later." Sigh...right. Dude...carpe diem! He was more impressed by decoration on the building across the street; but you can't really see what makes the Bradbury building so distinctive from the outside.


This might be an interesting place to visit: <http://www.lamountains.com/parks.asp?parkid=32>. It might be a fairly convenient combination with the Bradbury building and seafood tacos.


I drove Dave past the Bradbury Building before getting back on the freeway and coming home to freeze homemade cherry ice cream, for which I'd prepared the ingredients earlier. (Sorry you missed it!) I wanted to pounce on those farmers' market cherries while they're in season. When I don't, I regret it the rest of the year. Next seasonal target: peaches. We talked and I watched Dave's video from Zenshuji and later. Now that I've showered and shaved, I feel like a new person, so I'll go watch his video from this morning.


What's...special...about it.

Dave (relayed by Becky): My dad was an architect. Well...yeah.... So that's by way of explaining an interest in architecture? [This is actually key. I happen to think architecture impacts quality of life. I want to believe that better architecture helps make better people. This is fantasy to most people. The gray flannel view is that architecture has no practical value. The hippie view is that it's crass, material world stuff (apart from feng shui nut cases). In fact, architecture does occupy a peculiar and demanding space between ethereal art (it should be beautiful) and practical engineering (it should keep people dry). Why do I believe that architecture is important?]

Oh, wait. I get it. So there's an extra nostalgic, elegiac, emotional quality to my relationship with architecture. [Wouldn't you know it? This parallels the theme of loss which runs through much of our stuff: that "elegiac" thing. Loss in what sense? Not of anything that physically existed. What we're talking about is the difference between what is and what people hoped might be: "The future ain't what it used to be," as brought to a head in Dave's "Where's My Future?" rant at the 2011 Long Beach SoundWalk. If "loss" is the right word, it's the loss of a hope, a dream, or potential.]

OK. Maybe.

But about that architecture: What is it, really? Not Beaux Arts, really, is it? Maybe it is, in its ornamentation. Not Prairie School. What? Some imitative genre? [Mark Hammons says "Romanesque." Duh! However, he qualifies this with some more specific considerations.]

What distinguishes the building, of course, is sui generis: the hypertrophied skylight and illuminated atrium. ("Into every atrium some rain must fall," quipped Bob Kutak. Maybe, but less in LA than in many other places.)

So one cool thing about the atrium is how it prefigures airy, luminous structures much more easily achieved with more modern materials and engineering. [Mark Hammons suggests that at its debut, the Bradbury Building was probably in the vanguard of quick evolution in fireproof construction, compromised to some extent by the amount of oak trim.] And there is something elegiac: the yearning of something barely in reach, but not graspable. The yearning that motivates heroic effort.

Even if one knew nothing about the Bradbury Building's back story, the relationship of the skylight and pellucid atrium to the massive brick and stone exterior, which appears to support the skylight, suggests this yearning, this struggle, to capture light with hands of clay, to catch butterflies with feet of clay. Golem running through the meadow. Little red ochre boy with Olmec head running through flowers [and that's where something cut me off].

The Reality

What belongs here?

One thing that comes to mind: The lobby usually reeks of Subway sandwiches. Sigh....

But wait! There's the whole noisy bustle of discount shopping (mostly conducted in Spanish) as one approaches from the south. Many of my photos were deliberately intended to document this transit.

Now we're talking.

Belle Epoque

[What goes here? I'm lost.]

[Becky to the rescue.... I've added her findings, so far. wikimaster (talk) 13:30, 26 August 2012 (MST)]

Corporate Headlines 2012

Jeffrey Toobin’s recent exposé in the New Yorker takes aim at the Roberts Supreme Court for its controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down the key provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act prohibiting “corporations from running television commercials for or against Presidential candidates for thirty days before primaries.”

City council runs out of time to discuss shorter meetings

To Toobin, Citizens United was the Supreme Court’s illicit gift to corporations; it recalls the worst excesses of the “Gilded Age,” a time when, Toobin claims (falsely), the Supreme Court “barred most attempts by the government to ameliorate the harsh effects of market forces.”

Army vehicle disappears—an Australian army vehicle worth $74,000 has gone missing after being painted with camouflage

To Toobin, one unfortunate byproduct of the nineteenth-century Court’s worldview was its 1886 decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which held that corporations—railroads, no less—were “persons.”

Mitt Romney says ‘corporations are people’ at Iowa State Fair

They are thus entitled to the protections of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Woman reportedly arrested for painting nails on Southwest Airline flight

A second low point of that Gilded Age, Toobin insists, was the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Lochner v. New York, which, by his account, held “that most attempts to regulate the private marketplace, or to protect workers, were unconstitutional.”

Suspect in Jobs heist gave iPad to clown

It's True: Corporations Are People What else could they be? Buildings don't hire people. Buildings don't design cars that run on electricity or discover drug therapies to defeat cancer.

Panel finds misconduct

The Supreme Court Still Thinks Corporations Are People

Witches and wizards no longer can offer spell or curses on eBay