Like many entrepreneurial projects, Michael Harris’s series of books about the Westside of Los Angeles arose from the creation of a clever name. Just as a bar in Pittsburgh is named “Olive or Twist” and a wine store in London is called “Planet of the Grapes,” so the Harris books on the Westside Stories series began as a fun variation of the title of the musical, West Side Story. Author, attorney and my brother Michael Harris took great pride in his involvement in the production of the original film version of the Leonard Bernstein show. As he thought about growing up in West Los Angeles in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, he had the idea of putting together a series of vignettes for the Ben Lee newsletter that he could bring together under the title, West Side Stories (plural). The problem was that New York’s “West Side” is a recognized geographical part of Manhattan, always referred to in two separate words. The Westside of Los Angeles, by contrast, is always one word and long-ago set in stone by the Los Angeles Times as the name of a long-running recurring section of the paper.
When Westside Stories — the book — was born, it was so well received that a second volume, called Westside Stories Too (another deliberate play on words), inevitably followed. But Harris was decidedly not done. He asked me to help him explore more of the background and development of this unique part of Los Angeles.
It turns out to be a fascinating story of why multiple movie studios concentrated their facilities on the Westside, how the game of golf came to play an important role in the area’s development, why some neighborhoods became separate cities and others decided to join Los Angeles, how deep racial and ethnic prejudices were overcome with the guile of some and the guts of others, why world class institutions — from the Getty Museum to Cedars Sinai Medical Center and from UCLA to LAX — all came to the Westside rather than go elsewhere in the Los Angeles basin. Equally fascinating is what the future portends for the area in terms of new transportation innovations, burgeoning business trends and significant lifestyle changes. All of these topics — and a lot more — are explored in a third volume, More Westside Stories.
More Westside Stories, expected in the late Fall, is available at a pre-publication discount price of $23 at the publisher’s website, www.americasgroup.com. Westside Stories and Westside Stories Too are available for purchase now at the Americas Group website or on Amazon.com.
By Godfrey (Jeff) Harris