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Step back in time to California in the 1930s with the ‘WPA Guide to the Golden State’

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The WPA California Guide to the Golden State
Library of Congress
The WPA California Guide to the Golden State

The "WPA Guide to the Golden State" is a travel book with exceptional literary flair that transports its readers to Depression-era California.

The Depression of the 1930s hit California – and the rest of the country – hard. 

To help the economy moving again, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration created the Works Progress Administration, which thought the solution was to get people working again. From infrastructure to the arts, Americans could find employment through WPA projects.

These projects resulted in products are still enjoyed today, like many of the roads we drive on. 

Among the musicians, painters and the like were out-of-work writer. So began the Federal Writers Project, which led the way to WPA travel guides to the then-all-48-states, putting America's great writers back to work again (although mostly anonymously).

This granted California with the "WPA Guide to the Golden State" –  a travel guide crafted with exceptional literary flair that also serves as a snapshot in time, transporting its readers to Depression-era California.  

That's why we've included it in Take Two's summer book series, The California Canon. 

Editor and book critic 

 wrote the introduction to the book's re-release. He stopped by Take Two to explain why today's Angelenos would get a kick out of California in the 1930s. 

On how it wasn't only writers who benefited:

"The intent ... was to get people on the road in their flivvers and jalopies so as to buy gasoline and prop up the still, rather sputtering economy. Also to create a sense of national, fellow feeling."

On how the WPA guides were crafted in a unique way, compared modern day travel books:

"They're so much better written, better edited, and funnier than anything I've seen from Frommer's. There's a kind of affection for the terrain that people are writing about because these are written by locals ... they were meant to put local writers back to work."  

And if you've ever wondered what L.A. was like in 1939, this is the book for you:

"1939 is such a fascinating moment in Southern California history. There's a passage that really gets at what a turning point that may well have been. It goes ‘another Los Angeles is steadily coming to the fore. The Los Angeles is libraries, art galleries, concerts, museums, universities....’ and it goes on. It was kind of a crucible for the city and so to have a snapshot of it like this – to have a kind of trapped door into a history of how the city started to become the city it is today, is invaluable."

To hear the full segment, click on the media player above. 

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