A fun, illustrated history of streetlights and their impact on the urban environment.
Los Angeles is known for many things: the traffic jams, the taco trucks, the palm trees, the sunshine. City of Electric Moons: A Social History of Street Lighting in Los Angeles explores one of its most overlooked architectural legacies––its streetlights.
Today, we may not give streetlights much thought; after all, they’re virtually everywhere. But Los Angeles was once known for its breadth of innovative designs, which helped instill civic pride and senses of place in a rapidly expanding western metropolis. Combining a pastiche of design traditions with timeless visual tropes, streetlights were public art before we had a name for it.
In five illustrated essays, India Mandelkern tells the history of street lighting in Los Angeles from the 1880s to the present day. Synthesizing cultural anthropology, urban studies, and the history of design, she shows how the spread of street lighting helped frame larger debates about community, race, social class, and the public space. By interweaving her narrative with the stories of the artists, planners, collectors, and dreamers who have given them meaning, Mandelkern argues that streetlights reflect our urban sensitivity, serving as totems for a modern era.
India Mandelkern, Ph.D is a writer and art historian living in Los Angeles. She holds a PhD. In art history from University of California, Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Curbed LA, Vice, the Huffington Post, and Los Angeles Magazine.