Ruins of the General Assembly Hall and Hotel, Llano del Rio, Antelope Valley, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"
United States (Artist's nationality)
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After losing his 1911 bid to become mayor of Los Angeles, Job Harriman, a prominent lawyer and a socialist of great conviction, founded Llano del Rio to demonstrate that socialism could work.
The site of a former temperance colony sixty miles northeast of Los Angeles was purchased for a down payment of fifteen dollars, and on May Day 1914 five families, five pigs, a team of horses and a cow came to Llano. Three years later, there were nine hundred residents.
Conditions were harsh and demanding, yet the colony grew and prospered. Many members later recalled those years as the best, most exciting times of their lives. Freedom from capitalism, a varied social, intellectual and recreational life, and mass participation in the democratic process of the community gave Llano an Edenic quality.
The problems that undid the colony were internal dissension and an inadequate water supply. A group of dissidents, who met secretly at night in the surrounding sagebrush, deeply disrupted community discussion and debate. In fact, the “brushers” might have been saboteurs planted by Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, who had opposed Harriman’s mayoral campaign and was known for his underhanded tactics.
When a conflict over water rights arose between the colony and neighboring citizens of the Big Rock Water District, Llano had to go to court over its right to irrigate. The opposing attorney referred to the group as “socialist plunderers,” and the case was lost. From that moment on, the failure of Llano was inevitable.
In 1918, a splinter group moved to a site in Louisiana, where they survived in a limited form for the next twenty years.
In the 1940s, Aldous Huxley lived for a year in a house that had belonged to the original Antelope Valley colony—he wanted to absorb any remaining utopian karma.
From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005
Image: 26.4 × 32.9 cm (10 7/16 × 13 in.); Paper: 27.9 × 35.4 cm (11 × 13 15/16 in.)
Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
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