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Kevin Starr analyzes California's midcentury 'Golden Dreams'

July 08, 2009|Juliette Funes

Kevin Starr knows firsthand what it was like to live in California in an "Age of Abundance," the subtitle of the latest book in his multivolume series on the history of the state.

Growing up in San Francisco in that era "was the definitive time my point of view came together," Starr said. "It was also the time of extraordinary development for California and so, consequently, I participated in that growth and that optimism."

The eighth installment in his series, called "Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963," centers on a plentiful and booming economy that provided fertile ground for the state's explosive growth.

"This is a period in which the infrastructure for California as a mega-state, a nation-state, was laid down," Starr said. "It's also the time period when California became the most popular state and largest state in the union."

The population almost doubled in this period, and with the expanding economy -- the aerospace industry in particular was booming -- money was available for transportation, community colleges and other forms of social programs, he said.

"Fifty years later, California is still living off the infrastructure laid down during this era," Starr said.

When Starr began writing the book almost six years ago, he had little idea how much of a contrast this period would be with the climate and conditions facing California today.

Politics of the 1950s "was full of conflict and disagreement, but it moved toward action ultimately," he explained. "But today we have a deeply divided political culture, and the political process has come to an impasse."

This book may be the last in the series, which began in 1973, but Starr said he's considering adding a volume on the '60s and '70s. He is currently working on projects focusing on the Golden Gate Bridge and the history of the Catholic culture in the United States in the 19th century.

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juliette.funes@latimes.com

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