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MN Gordon is President and Founder of Direct Expressions LLC, an independent publishing company.  He’s the Editorial Director and Publisher of the Economic Prism – an E-Newsletter that brings clarity to the muddy waters of economic policy and targets investment opportunities for ... more

Science for Madmen

Date: Saturday, October 17, 2020 4:00 AM EDT

Here we turn to our own hamlet – the Los Angeles Basin – with purpose and intent. We take a gander back at its heyday for private madmen. We’re after perspective and the clarity it brings to today’s public madness. Where to begin?

By the early 20th century, before the mania to splatter every square foot of the LA Basin’s surface with concrete took hold of the local spirits, the place was already a magnet for eccentrics, delusionals, and hucksters galore. Howard Hughes, a total lunatic, would dream up his latest flying machine and then crash it into Beverly Hills.

There was Italian immigrant Simon Rodia. For reasons unknown, and between swigs of malt liquor, he worked nearly every day from 1921 to 1955 chicken wiring steel pipes and rods together, erecting numerous towering eyesores in his backyard in the Watts district of Los Angeles.

Then, after 34 years of this madness, Rodia, on a whim, deeded the property to his neighbor and hopped a bus to the East Bay. No one in Watts ever heard from him again. But his monstrosities, known as the Watts Towers, are now a National Historic Landmark. Go figure?

There was also Griffith J. Griffith, who amassed a fortune in the mining industry. That was before he shot his wife in a Santa Monica Hotel. To make good for his transgressions – and to commute his time in San Quentin to just two years – Griffith donated the land for Griffith Park to Los Angeles and funded the City’s observatory. Without Griffith’s private act of preservation the City wouldn’t have any remaining land that’s not covered with concrete.

These were the sorts of wacky and wild characters that roamed about when state and local governments were small and feeble. It was the beginning of a long property boom…where, for the next 50-years, property values went up without interruption.

Even the most harebrained business ventures were almost guaranteed to succeed. For example, you could buy an old mail service boat – like John Clearman did – tow it from the Long Beach Harbor up to a wide-open corner lot on Huntington Drive in the San Gabriel Valley, plop it down, and get rich selling cheese toast and red cabbage salad out of it.

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