Whimsical old map depicts California at a time when ‘Hollywood was a state of mind’

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A platinum mermaid sips a drink on Catalina. Farther out to sea, a gull steals a fish and taunts the tuna fisherman: “Hi ya Spike!” The Mojave Desert has a helpful label: DRY. A Yosemite bear is up for a handshake. Somebody’s napping in the Modoc Lava Beds. Not much is happening in Sonoma and Napa—sorry, the “Great Wine Center.” In Hollywood, a glamour puss strikes a pose for a director sporting plaid pants.

Those are the scenes depicted in California, the Golden State, a 1946 illustrated map by Lowell E. Jones. The map is an homage to open spaces with few highways, and it has tons of personality.

Jones, a Los Angeles graphic artist, drew pictorial maps from the mid-1930s to the ‘50s and sold them for a quarter apiece at tourist spots around the city. Recently unearthed, the map now makes its home at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Glen Creason, the library’s map specialist and author of the 2010 book Los Angeles in Maps, explains its function: “The map is a perfect example of the push for tourism to boost the local economy during the flush times of postwar America. Hollywood was a state of mind, and the idea of Tinseltown was larger even than the draw of the larger entity of Los Angeles.”

He notes that although Jones’s drawing style is certainly whimsical, “the artwork is slightly more modern than many other maps of its kind. It has an engaging graphic arts quality that ranges from panoramic maps to cocktail-napkin cartoons,” not to mention “a tinge of non–political correctness—see the swordfish saying ‘Woo woo’ to the bathing beauty.”

Thanks to an enterprising map sleuth, Jones’s cartographic vision is about to do its own sightseeing, via a set of iPhone cases, mugs, and luggage tags that zoom in on the map’s mini-scenes, cities, and mini–busy citizens.

Angelenos may find themselves particularly charmed by Jones’s perspective.

“It represents the true golden age of the studio system of Hollywood moviemaking and the city before it became a fully automobile-dominated metropolis,” muses Creason. “There is a still a bit of innocence and ‘Garden of Eden’ quality to L.A. before it became enshrouded by smog.”

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