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Time to Learn from our Past

As a new page in history is turned on New Year’s Day 2022, there is an opportunity for all of us to learn valuable lessons from the past – and to improve our personal and collective future.

Take a look back at Los Angeles in 1922. Just 36 months earlier, Los Angeles residents were reeling from the global influenza epidemic known as the Spanish Flu. The deadly virus had been brought to Southern California unknowingly by sailors on a naval training vessel docked at the San Pedro Harbor and the impact on life in our region was cataclysmic.

The epidemic spread like wildfire throughout the communities surrounding Los Angeles. Schools were closed and businesses shuttered. Public gatherings were banned and residents remained quarantined inside their homes. When it appeared that the number of infections from the pandemic were lessening, the City started to open up again only to be hammered by a second wave of illness and death.

So, 100 years ago, Angelenos faced similar circumstances as we’re all dealing with today in this generation’s COVID-19 pandemic. After more than two years, life began returning to normal and businesses began expanding and life returned to normal.

In the foothills west of downtown Los Angeles, residents long prohibited from any kind of social gathering, happily awaited the opening of a new outdoor concert stage which would become known as the Hollywood Bowl. The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was founded by Lynden Behymer. An active Mason, and member of Benevolence Lodge, No. 631, and a member of the Los Angeles Commandery, No.9, Knights Templar, Behymer served as the head of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera. An avid proponent of the arts, he personally arranged to bring many world famous artists to Los Angeles including opera singers Enrico Caruso and Lawrence Tibbet, dancer Isadora Duncan, and the renowned French actress, Sarah Bernhardt who portrayed Floria in “La Tosca”, on stages in Southern California.

The City of Los Angeles’ landscape was changing dramatically by 1922 with new suburban communities incorporating in the valleys surrounding LA. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, areas that had recently been sprawling Spanish ranchos were becoming subdivided communities with new homes and businesses.

The film industry was booming and residents enjoyed attending the cinemas, botanical gardens, music venues, art galleries, and museums again. Just south of Los Angeles, a humble immigrant, Simon Rodia, began in 1922 to work tirelessly with cement and his welding torch for the next 30 years to create the amazing sculptural project which would become known as “Watts Towers.”

With the fear of infection fading, schools opened again and a new college campus, University of California (UCLA), was founded as the “Southern Branch” of California’s university system. In 1923, the university would proudly hail their first graduating class of students who, after earning a two-year degree were eligible to seek a bachelor’s degree by transferring to UC Berkeley or another institute of higher learning to pursue educational opportunities and professional success.

Amelia Earhart began taking flying lessons at Kinner Field near Long Beach which would lead her to worldwide fame as an “aviatrix”. Earhart explained her passion for reaching new heights, ”As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly."

From the skies to the varied landscape of the Southland, the future for residents of Southern California were expanding rapidly from the gloomy restrictions of the pandemic lockdowns. California native, Alphonzo Bell, discovered oil on his ranch in Santa Fe Springs. Alphonzo Bell’s father, James George Bell, a Mason and member of Signet Chapter No. 57 Royal Arch Masons, was an early pioneer in LA and helped to found Occidental College. After Alphonzo Bell established the Bell Petroleum Company, his reputation grew and Alphonzo became known for his personal honesty and ethical business dealings. Like his father, Alphonzo Bell was a Freemason and had a passion to succeed. Aside form his oil company, Bell created many real estate developments including portions of Westwood, Pacific Palisades, and Bel-Air Estates, which would become home to many of Hollywood’s elite.

Film-making had become a mainstay industry in Southern California again following the waves of infections during the pandemic. Movie studios were flourishing including Famous Players – Lasky Studio and the Pickford – Fairbanks Studio.

Harold Lloyd, the talented comedic actor of Hollywood’s silent era was a Mason and later served as Imperial Potentate of the Shrine. Lloyd began filming his iconic silent film, “Safety Last” in 1922 which is considered one of his finest films. Hanging precariously onto the hands of a clock high above the streets of Los Angeles, Lloyd’s comic genius reminds us that even when life’s challenges put us seemingly on the brink – there is always hope to bring us through our most difficult times..

Just as 100 years ago when our predecessors seemed to be teetering on the edge of unfathomable challenges, we are today on our way out of dark days and with common effort, faith and courage, brighter days are ahead of us in 2022.

From all of us at the Grace Dee May Museum, we wish you a healthy and happy New Year and are looking forward to welcoming you again to our Museum where we strive to illuminate the art and history of the West.

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