Over the course of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Southern California has been a center for air and space innovation, production, and activity. Blue Sky Metropolis: The Aerospace Century in Southern California, edited by Peter J. Westwick, explores the area’s rise to prominence, the consequences that growth entailed, and the existence of a distinct regional style. The work is a product of the Aerospace History Project at the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. The multidisciplinary essays expand the economic and innovation focus of standard regional and industrial aerospace studies to draw new perspectives from anthropology, architecture, business and labor, the environment, ethnicity and gender, and the history of science and technology.
Westwick begins with a photo essay that draws on the collections of the Huntington Library to document Southern California aviation during the first half of the twentieth century. The topics range from the momentous 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet to the connections between aviation, the oil industry, and Hollywood to the tremendous growth of the aviation industry during World War II.
Blue Sky Metropolis is broken down into five thematic sections. Along the way, Westwick successfully introduces each while drawing connections among the essays. The first section, “The Human Element,” addresses the social dimensions integral to the technological experience. The essays by D. J. Waldie and M. G. Lord reflect their connections to the aerospace industry that reveal its passing from a military-like, male-dominated industry to a civilian and more diverse landscape. In the process, both Waldie’s “Aviation Okies” and Lord’s “Cold Warrior” father suffered the ups and downs of a precarious industry (pp. 39, 45).
Three essays examining California aerospace through the lens of the people who inhabited the industry constitute the second section, “The Work.” Sherman N. Mullin provides a corporate biography of Lockheed [End Page 1023] chairman Robert E. Gross. The comparison of labor-management relations at defense-oriented Lockheed and North American by Anita Seth illustrates that strikes threatened both the bottom line held so dear by executives as well as national security. Mihir Pandya places a focus on white-collar engineers shaped by the cold war culture of secrecy.
Section 3, “Culture,” considers the aesthetic, technological, and ideological influences on broader Southern California culture. Stuart W. Leslie documents the merging of California architectural modernism with spaceage visions on corporate campuses. Westwick offers an essay on the federal origins of computer-generated imagery (CGI) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and its important transfer into highly profitable Hollywood production techniques. W. Patrick McCray explores the “alt-space” movement and its celebration of private entrepreneurs over the federal government as an example of the part-counterculture, part-capitalist “California ideology” (p. 126).
In section 4, “Communities,” two essays relate the ethnic experience through case studies. Zuoyue Wang discusses cold war–influenced discrimination against Chinese American aerospace workers. In a tale recounted by Dwayne A. Day, the U.S. Air Force blamed its problems with a troubled rocket launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base on a supposed “curse” by the Native American Chumash tribe rather than acknowledging the challenges and failures of modern technology. Westwick asserts that section 5, “Geography,” deals with the “footprint of aerospace” (p. 225). Glenn E. Bugos reveals the overlap and interchange between the technological cultures of Northern (Silicon Valley) and Southern (aerospace) California. In an insightful essay, Wade Graham presents the urban and environmental legacies of Southern California’s aerospace industry.
Philip Scranton’s afterword offers a commentary on the essays and recommends points of departure for continued studies not addressed by the authors. His suggestions for additional sources, such as often-overlooked trade and technical journals and government and military archives sources, will add much to future work on the aerospace industry in Southern California. The volume ends with a selected bibliography on California aerospace that accomplishes two things. It lists the standard historical works that point researchers to the broader history of aerospace in the region. It also includes...