From bestselling author Gary Krist, the story of the metropolis that never should have been and the visionaries who dreamed it into reality
Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California—bone-dry, harbor-less, isolated by deserts and mountain ranges—seemed destined to remain scrappy farmland. Then, as if overnight, one of the world’s iconic cities emerged. At the heart of Los Angeles’ meteoric rise were three flawed visionaries: William Mulholland, an immigrant ditch-digger turned self-taught engineer, designed the massive aqueduct that would make urban life here possible. D.W. Griffith, who transformed the motion picture from a vaudeville-house novelty into a cornerstone of American culture, gave L.A. its signature industry. And Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist who founded a religion, cemented the city’s identity as a center for spiritual exploration.
All were masters of their craft, but also illusionists, of a kind. The images they conjured up—of a blossoming city in the desert, of a factory of celluloid dreamworks, of a community of seekers finding personal salvation under the California sun—were like mirages liable to evaporate on closer inspection. All three would pay a steep price to realize these dreams, in a crescendo of hubris, scandal, and catastrophic failure of design that threatened to topple each of their personal empires. Yet when the dust settled, the mirage that was LA remained.
Spanning the years from 1900 to 1930, The Mirage Factory is the enthralling tale of an improbable city and the people who willed it into existence by pushing the limits of human engineering and imagination.
Krist (Empire of Sin) reveals how a rural backwater was transformed into a verdant multicultural metropolis through ingenuity, chicanery, and hyperbole in this engrossing history of Los Angeles. Focusing on the years 1900 through 1930, Krist draws from historic documents and firsthand accounts to show how the use of new technology in film production and mass media seduced hopeful dreamers westward with inspirational words and promises of unlimited opportunity. He credits three flawed and ambitious visionaries with the city's meteoric rise: self-taught engineer William Mulholland, who designed the water system that made urbanization possible; film director D.W. Griffith, who overcame meddling film bosses to transform motion pictures into a lucrative industry; and charismatic evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, a pioneering faith healer and radio show host who "founded her own religion and cemented southern California's reputation as a national hub for seekers of unorthodox spirituality and self-realization." With a gift for evocative phrasing ("The images they conjured up... all had elements of the swindle about them, like mirages whose heady promises could evaporate on closer inspection"), Krist serves up intricate stories, rich period atmosphere, and colorful personalities to capture the zeitgeist of this eventful period. The result is a rollicking jaunt through L.A.'s early days.