Robin Hood Estates, Smythe Avenue, San Ysidro, California, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"
United States (Artist's nationality)
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All that remains of the Little Landers experiment in single-acre sustainability is William Smythe’s name on a street sign in San Ysidro, California, less than a mile from the Mexican border.
Nearly a century ago in 1909, Smythe led the movement to purchase 550 acres, which would be set up with proper agricultural irrigation and subsequently sold as small plots to people who would live on them and cultivate them intensively. Eventually, three “Little Lander” colonies were established in southern California, taking their movement’s name and inspiration from A Little Land and a Living by Bolton Hall. Within a few years, the San Ysidro colony boasted two hundred homes and five hundred settlers. Contemporary newspaper articles praised the prosperous and healthy life to be found there.
In 1915, a severe drought led the city of San Diego to hire men who practiced the new science of pluviculture, or rainmaking. Charles and Paul Hatfield set up great evaporating tanks and twenty-four-foot-high towers; nearby farmers heard explosions and saw flames as billows of smoke filled the sky. Within four days great rains fell across southern California. After three weeks of storms a dam broke, causing massive flooding and the loss of twenty lives. The Hatfields fled San Diego when they learned that a lynch mob was coming after them.
The San Ysidro Little Lander Colony never truly recovered from the effects of the flood, and it eventually ceased to be a true community in 1922. Charles Hatfield was denied his rainmaking fee by the city of San Diego, which refused to pay him unless he assumed liability for the $3.5 million in damages caused by his doings. His life was the subject of the 1956 film The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster.
From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005
26.5 × 33.2 (image); 27.9 × 35.5 cm (paper)
Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall
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