Date of Degree

9-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Liberal Studies

Advisor

Karen Miller

Keywords

Los Angeles, Housing, Postwar, Redevelopment, Bunker Hill, Public Housing

Abstract

In 1955, Miss Elizabeth McClellan, an elderly resident of Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, handwrote a letter to her city councilman. Her rapidly increasing rent was untenable, she explained: “I find $24.00 is too high on an income of less than $40.00 per month.” She asked the councilman if there was a place in Los Angeles where she could live affordably and within walking distance of a church (McClellan, 1955). As she wrote, a bitter fight over Bunker Hill’s fate was underway. To resolve what they characterized as “blighted conditions conducive to [high] rates of disease, crime, and juvenile delinquency” (CRA, n.d.) the City was poised to evict the Hill’s 9,000 residents, demolish its buildings, and regrade the steep incline as part of a massive Urban Redevelopment Project.

Between roughly 1940-1970 pro-Renewal advocates defeated left-liberal bids for low-rent subsidized housing and successfully promoted a plan for private redevelopment underwritten by public funds (Parson, 2005). The story of Bunker Hill concerns displacement of working-class residents like Ms. McClellan and redistribution of wealth from middle-class property owners and taxpayers citywide to downtown business elites, developers, and city agencies. But this story is somewhat more complex than the manufacture of profit.

By exploring primary and secondary sources, an inquiry into Urban Redevelopment in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles facilitates a nuanced understanding of how political power is made and maintained. Nearly every U.S. city was transformed in the years following WWII by an expanding state, significant demographic change, and political economic flux. As the balance of power swayed, the state and society were pressed into reconfiguration. Such periods of change are occasioned by moral and ideological struggles that ultimately “influenc[e] the conception of the world of the masses” (Hall, 1996 [1989]: 419). Across city council hearings, newspaper broadsides, film and television, and personal and political relations, the extent and significance of “urban decline,” “blight,” “slums,” and “moral delinquency” was defined and contested. These struggles recast political formations and class solidarities in postwar Los Angeles, with long-lasting consequences for the provisioning of the social wage.

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