Saturday, October 25, 2008

Historic Photo Books

We just finished looking through a couple of interesting books of historic photos from a company called Turner Publishing out of Nashville, Tennessee. As new residents of Detroit, we found that Historic Photos of Detroit offered enlightening insights into the Motor City as it rose from an outpost on the frontier to an automobile and military manufacturing powerhouse to the first stages of racial tensions that affect the city to the present time. We showed the book to a couple of our friends, one a long-time Detroit resident, and the other a newbie like us. Our friend from Detroit remarked that while she has grown up with a lot of the landmarks pictured, she had not realized their significance to the city's history. Our newbie friend noted how the book chronicled for her a story of what might have been. The photos are all black and white, and they end in the 1960s, before things took a serious slide. You do get to feeling wistful when you realize that old photos of Detroit and Chicago look so similar, and yet today the cities have drifted apart. Our friend remarked on the contrast of the night life, for instance. We live a block and a half from Alter Road, and as you drive north on Alter and west onto Mack, you see islands of development that float in the sea of neglect that characterizes much of Detroit. The old girl is getting some TLC (in places), and hope remains in some quarters that Detroiters and those friendly to the city's growth can help bring things back. The Book Cadillac has reopened, midtown is picking up, and portions of Jefferson have healthy commercial centers. All in all, the book provided a lot of food for thought and conversation. It will occupy a visible place in our home as a potent history lesson.

To life-long Cali natives such as ourselves, Historic Photos of Los Angeles brought on a complex set of emotions. The last time we went to Southern California together, we noted that no matter what time of day you were out on the freeways, there were cars upon cars upon cars on the road. We know and have been to many of the venues pictured in the book, and it was like looking through our grandparents' old photo albums, but with a context for each photo. Boy, has LA changed, as the panorama of bathing beauties from 1917 will attest. As with the Detroit book, captions beside the photos tell some of the background and significance of the events portrayed. Of special significance was the portion relating to the beginnings of LA's aerospace industry. Our families came to California from Utah and points further east, drawn to SoCal by jobs in new industries. I (Mike) remember my grandma talking about working with the airplane companies, and seeing photos of the factory line workers gave me a feel for what her work could have been like.

We found out that there is a whole series of these picture books, and we'll have to take a look at their Salt Lake title to see what new insights the folks at Turner have to share with us about our former home. To take a look at titles that might interest you, click here.

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