“A massive frame, dynamic in action, a keen brain, violent passions, and an abundant heart”—in the eyes of one of his contemporaries, Phineas Banning (1830-1885) was a figure larger than life. Banning played a crucial role in Southern California, not only through the blood-and-guts work of building the region's mercantile and transportation infrastructure but also by envisioning its future. In rough mountain passes, dusty plains, and tidal mudflats, Banning saw roads and railways, and the harbor that would one day become the busiest container port in the nation. The Bannings who followed this formidable patriarch shaped the engine of Southern California's growth—tourism—by developing Santa Catalina Island as a leisure destination. And once the physical fabric of the region took shape, they devoted their attention to building the social service, reform, and philanthropy networks that would sustain the modern metropolis. Sitton's balanced and searching portrait reveals the crucial role of this First Family of Los Angeles, whose insight and energies shaped Southern California at every stage.
Tom Sitton is Curator Emeritus of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and author of Los Angeles Transformed: Fletcher Bowron's Urban Reform Revival, 1938-1953.
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