First published in the Oct. 6 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Frank D. Lanterman, grandson of one of La Cañada Flintridge’s founding fathers, Jacob Lanterman, was a man of many storied pursuits.
He was an accomplished organist, real estate developer and a California State Assemblyman for 14 consecutive terms who fought for landmark rights for the aging and developmentally disabled.
Lanterman also, during his time as president of the La Cañada Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1941, spearheaded a local race restriction campaign to keep people of color from ever owning property in the city.
The campaign, called in some documents “The Master Plan of Race Restriction,” called on homeowners to review their property deeds, many of which already had racial covenants in place but were set to expire, and to either renew the clause or add new racial restrictions.
The campaign took place in two phases, with the first launched in the spring and the second in November, just a month before Pearl Harbor.
“The [La Cañada] chamber of commerce coordinated the entire campaign; it charged residents $4 to handle the pulling of deeds and paperwork, and the chamber worked to set up a volunteer committee and a series of committees in each neighborhood that went door to door to get neighbors to sign on,” said historian Becky Nicolaides. “All in all, the chamber stated that this would make La Cañada a better place to live by keeping race problems out of the community.”
The revelation of LCF’s own historic participation in racial segregationist practices was just part of a broader presentation at the Lanterman House on Sunday given by Nicolaides, a research affiliate at USC and UCLA, founding partner of the History Studio and author of the forthcoming book “The New Suburbia: Life in L.A. Suburbs since 1945.” The event was sponsored by the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and the Lanterman House.
Nicolaides’ lecture focused on the widespread racial segregation throughout Los Angeles suburbs like La Cañada and La Crescenta, which increased rapidly in the first half of the 20th century, its lasting legacy and proactive ways to achieve racial justice in those communities.
“This was a harsh history and in a lot of ways can be difficult to confront, but I think it’s so worth doing so as a step toward reckoning with the past and opening pathways for truly inclusive communities,” Nicolaides said. “The suburban dream very much rested on a kind of social basis of racial segregation and exclusion. Segregation was the norm; a very assumed part of local life that many people really did take for granted.”
The everyday practices that created and perpetuated segregation became a normal part of everyday life, Nicolaides explained, and were even sanctioned by the federal government. But while the federal government started to dismantle some of those policies by the 1950s in the gradual movement toward fair housing, “a lot of the residue was still there, and I would argue even some of that residue remains in our own time.”
Nicolaides broke down some of the local practices, which were honed throughout the L.A. suburbs in the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys.
Local efforts at racial exclusion came down to developer initiatives, race restrictive covenants, neighborhood protective associations, professional real estate practices, zoning and ultimately, violence and intimidation.
In one of the documents provided to the Outlook Valley Sun by the Lanterman House, Frank Lanterman signed a letter sent out to La Cañada residents in 1941. It read, in part “It is imperative that La Cañada property owners protect their property values by securing adequate and uniform race restrictions. … Twice recently, colored families, encouraged by the inadequacy of race restrictions, have threatened to move into the Valley, endangering present property values. As you know, nothing will depreciate the value of property more rapidly than the incursion of non-Caucasians in a white community.”
By citing some articles from the La Crescenta Ledger newspaper, Nicolaides gave context to Lanterman’s campaign and the established segregation practices.
“As I was reading the coverage of this, I was struck by an editorial in the Ledger that kind of framed the whole issue,” Nicolaides recounted. “It basically said, ‘hey the residents here are not expressing narrow-minded prejudice,’ but they’re ‘merely taking steps which they deem necessary to ensure a future of peace and happiness in La Cañada Valley.’”
The chamber also took cues from nearby communities and similar covenant-reinforcing campaigns happening in places like Flintridge, Pasadena, Glendale, Alhambra and South Pasadena, she noted. Under the guise of protecting property values, the campaigns used propagated segregation as a positive thing to “prevent social problems that came with race mixing, and to keep the schools free of race problems.”
One editorial, she said, stated that “when folks of one race force their way amongst other racial groups there is often discontent and bitterness.”
“So this was the sort of discourse that was being shared in the community around the issue to get people on board and behind the campaign,” she continued.
As part of her presentation, Nicolaides presented census data, maps of the greater Los Angeles area exemplifying the coding practices of home lenders and realtors, including what came to be known as redlining. She concluded the discussion by offering ideas for community reconciliation, which starts with recognizing a city’s local history.
“Bringing these aspects to light is a really positive step; it just becomes a more complete story,” Nicolaides told the Outlook Valley Sun. “It’s not to say that this is an all-defining aspect of Frank Lanterman, but it’s an important piece of how these communities developed in terms of inequality and segregation. Bringing that to light is important. Listening is important. Letting people tell their own stories is also very important.”
Lanterman House Executive Director Laura Verlaque noted how pleased she was to have helped sponsor the discussion brought by Nicolaides. The Lanterman House is studying how it might organize some of the documents on the racial restriction campaign led by Frank Lanterman and ultimately present them to the public.
“We have to be able to understand our history and put it into context. We can’t hide from any part of it,” she said. “Frank Lanterman had a long career, did a lot of different stuff, some of it good, some of it bad. The role of a historical organization is to shed light on all of it. If you take that role away from historical organizations, who is going to be talking about this? Who is going to be preserving these documents for people to try and understand and do the research?
“We’re here to try and keep making sense of it all. It’s a little daunting sometimes, but I think we can do it,” Verlaque added.