The Rough Road to Llano Del Rio, L.A.’S Utopian Colony in The Antelope Valley On-demand Webinar

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If you’ve ever driven the Pearblossom Highway (138) between Palmdale and Victorville, you probably wondered about the tall river rock pillars standing near the hamlet of Llano. These are the ruins of a hotel that was the public center of an extraordinary but short-lived Southern California community, Llano del Rio.

Llano del Rio was a hard work socialist co-operative colony founded by the lawyer and philosopher Job Harriman, who very nearly became Mayor of Los Angeles in 1911. On May Day, 1914, Harriman’s friends moved en masse to the Antelope Valley, settling a 2000-acre village site along progressive, socialist ideals.

At the time, the average daily wage for skilled labor was $2.50 for a 10 hour, 6 day week. Llano Del Rio promised better wages and working conditions: $4.00 a day for an 8 hour, 5 day a week. Plus, colonists had an ownership stake.

The settlers built a printing press, planted fruit orchards, alfalfa, raised chickens and rabbits. They established a dairy, fish hatchery and a lime kiln for making their own cement. But it wasn’t all hard work. They had the best baseball team in the Antelope Valley, a mandolin orchestra and wild weekly dances which drew attendees from surrounding communities.

At its height in 1916, the colony had a thousand members and was a flourishing communitarian experiment. But the landscape was rough and unforgiving, and in late 1917, the colonists abandoned their desert home, with many continuing on to New Llano, Louisiana.

The evidence of their high desert adventure still survives, in visible ruins and less obvious ways.

Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, and their special guests Paul Greenstein (co-author of “Bread & Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles”) and Bob Wolfe (Los Angeles legal historian), for an immersive exploration of the Llano experiment, and the fascinating era in Los Angeles politics and culture and the legendary legal battles that inspired its creation.

In 1915 Los Angeles, as today, City Hall was wracked by accusations of rampant civic corruption. Progressives screamed that somebody had to stop L.A.’s relentless hunger for development, fueled by co-opting resources from disenfranchised communities

Angelenos were starting to question the perceived wisdom that what was good for the wealthiest residents of the metropolis was good for Los Angeles. Was there too high a cost to fellow humans and to the natural world in this incessant drive to manifest destiny? General Harrison Gray Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times certainly thought the answer was no. His newspaper sold readers on the merits of annexing the Owens River, the evils of unions and the need to protect the “nation’s white spot,” the City of Angels.

Then early on October 1, 1910, as the Los Angeles Times print shop buzzed before press time, the newspaper building exploded. 21 workers were killed in the blast, more than 100 injured. General Otis called it the “crime of the century,” and vowed revenge. Private detective William J. Burns launched a nationwide search for those responsible.

In April 1911, brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers’ in-house bomb squad, were arrested and returned to Los Angeles for trial.

Iron Workers President Frank Ryan asked Clarence Darrow to defend the McNamaras, who faced the death penalty. Darrow was a labor hero for his successful defense of “Big Bill” Haywood in 1907. Joining Darrow for the defense was attorney Job Harriman, who was also the Socialist candidate for the Mayorship of Los Angeles.

The stage was set for a battle for the soul and future of the city, and the creation of a fascinating socialist experiment as far from General Otis as someone could settle while still calling themselves an Angeleno: Llano del Rio.

After the presentation, Kim, Richard, Paul and Bob will answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.

About Paul Greenstein: Paul is author of “Bread & Hyacinths: The Rise and Fall of Utopian Los Angeles,” a book about Llano Del Rio. In addition to owning a 1913 Metz roadster, the kind of car that Llano colonists might have turned over upon their arrival, he is a designer, fabricator, installer and expert on all things neon and Los Angeles.

About Bob Wolfe: Bob Wolfe, a native Angeleno, is an appellate lawyer and a board member of the California Supreme Court Historical Society, Public Counsel, the L.A. Metro Community Advisory Committee and Hillel at UCLA. Bob conducts occasional legal history walking tours of Downtown Los Angeles, and has written numerous articles on California legal history for publications, including Los Angeles Lawyer, Orange County Lawyer, the CSCHS Review and California Litigation, and served on the statewide board for the centennial celebration of the California Court of Appeal.


About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.

Rights and permissions: By attending an Esotouric webinar, you acknowledge that the entirety of the presentation is copyrighted, and no portion of the video or text may be reproduced in any fashion.

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