We Are In Overdrive: L.A. Constructs The Future, 1940-1990

“Every city has had its boom, but the history of Los Angeles…should be regarded as one continuous boom punctuated at intervals with major explosions.” 
—Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land, 1946

Overdrive exhibit

Metro Transportation Library, Archives & Records is proud to announce our participation in a landmark joint exhibit of the Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute.
Overdrive: L.A. Constructs The Future, 1940-1990 opens this week and runs from April 9 through July 21, 2013.  It will move to the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. in October, 2013.

Overdrive is the first major exhibition to survey Los Angeles’ complex urban landscape and diverse architectural innovations.

We have supplied The Getty with many different items from our unique and valuable collection to include in this exhibit.
Suggested Down Town Traffic Solution Program
These resources include:
  • a 1937 Traffic Survey of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
  • a 1946 brochure for a proposed regional freeway system
  • a 1946 proposal for a traffic solution program based on removing sidewalks in downtown Los Angeles
  • a 1954 study proposing an undergound road network for express buses in downtown Los Angeles
  • a 1962 rendering of a proposed Alweg monorail station at Wilshire Boulevard & Fairfax Avenue
Our 1948 “Rail Rapid Transit Now!” report will also be featured in the exhibit catalog publication.
Rail Rapid Transit Now
As the exhibit website notes:
During the 20th century, Los Angeles rapidly evolved into one of the most populous and influential industrial, economic, and creative capitals in the world.
Innovations promoted by enlightened patrons and visionary planners and architects transformed an expansive, latent landscape into a vibrant laboratory for cutting-edge design.Overdrive refers to the extraordinary pace and worldwide impact of L.A.’s impressive growth.
The term also alludes to the fact that an engine churning at incredible speed may overheat.
In the face of complicated civic, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges, L.A. has continued to recalibrate and foster bold new cycles of architectural exploration.This groundbreaking exhibition provides an engaging view of the region’s diverse urban landscape, including its ambitious freeway network, sleek corporate towers, whimsical coffee shops, popular shopping malls, refined steel-and-glass residences, and eclectic cultural institutions.
Drawings, photographs, models, films, animations, oral histories, and ephemera illustrate the complex dimensions of L.A.’s rich and often underappreciated built environment, revealing this metropolis’s global impact.
Those involved with transportation will find two areas of the exhibit of particular interest.


Car Culture


Los Angeles’s identity is inextricably linked with the automobile. During the mid-20th century, cars were strategically transformed from convenient modes of personal transportation into rapidly produced, gleaming symbols of self-expression.
Major components of this section of the exhibit include Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles and a retrospective of Googie Architecture.
Once a disparaging term for a new type of roadside commercial building, “Googie” has become a beloved dimension of Los Angeles.
1946 proposed freeway system

Urban Networks

The daring expansion of Los Angeles’s water and power infrastructure, the aggressive implementation of its pioneering freeway plan, and the strategic development of its major transportation hubs all fueled the metropolis’s phenomenal growth. The urban networks of Los Angeles were the foundation of the region’s transformation into a global powerhouse.

The Overdrive exhibit looks at the rapid development of freeway planning and construction across the city, from the nation’s first — the Arroyo Seco Parkway (1940) — to a freeway comprehensive master plan in 1947.

A retrospective of Los Angeles International Airport and “Water and Power” are also covered.

There is also a fascinating look at public transportation.

Los Angeles’ public transportation system has been a source of fascination and frustration for generations. Established by real-estate developer Henry Huntington, the Pacific Electric Railway was once the largest interurban rail system in the world. Yet escalating levels of automobile ownership, longer riding times due to traffic, deferred maintenance, and declining profitability all contributed to its demise in the 1950s.
Express Busses in Subways, 1954
From the exhibit website:

Plans were constantly devised, though not always implemented, for experimental mass-transportation strategies, including elevated bus lines, monorails, and transit-oriented developments, such as Rail Rapid Transit.

The economic and psychological toll of increased traffic, as well as L.A.’s greater density, made improved mobility an urgent civic need. In 1990, L.A. County purchased the remaining rail right-of-ways from the Southern Pacific Transportation Company, laying the foundation for the light-rail, subway, and rapid-bus networks constructed in the region over the last decades.

Other major sections of the Overdrive exhibit include “Engines of Innovation” (covering media, entertainment, oil, international commerce, higher education; “Community Magnets” (including The Music Center, the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, retail centers and places of faith); and “Residential Fabric” (case study houses, planned communities, multifamily housing, visionary houses).

A wonderful video gallery and oral history collection compliment the exhibit online, and the exhibit catalog publication features some of our works as well.
Meanwhile, many more of our resources will be featured this Summer in an exhibit titled “Never Built: Los Angeles” at the A+D Museum.
This show:
“looks at visionary works that had the greatest potential to reshape the city, from buildings to master plans, parks to follies and transportation proposals any of which could have transformed both the physical reality and the collective perception of the metropolis.
The stories surrounding these projects shed light on a reluctant city whose institutions and infrastructure have often undermined inventive, challenging urban schemes.”
We are honored to continue sharing our rich historical legacy with a wide audience and we look forward to these two wonderful exhibits!