Historic Contingency in Dolgeville, Los Angeles 1903-1910

Establishment of the Suburban Socioeconomic Condition


  • Melissa Peter




Contingency, housing, working-class, socioeconomics, development


The socioeconomic divide in American cities can be better understood through the lens of contingency. Toward the start of the twentieth century, speculative developers began capitalizing on suburban land by marketing to new homeowner demographics. “Manufacturing suburbs” were made possible through railroad extension and the migration of production and labor. Many of these worker towns have been razed, as exemplified by the case of Dolgeville in Los Angeles. Imagined in 1903 as a workingman’s Eden, Dolgeville was annexed to Alhambra and publicized as a socialist failure just seven years later. This essay challenges assumptions of failure by exploring contingent affairs which influenced the design of Dolgeville. Housing and associated class distinctions were contingent upon infrastructure and politics. The success of working-class housing was further contingent upon workers’ wages and indentureship to their employer. The geometry of Dolgeville was its own contingency plan, ready to be adapted to changes in market demand. Wealthy suburbs with curved streets and landscaped parks remain, while worker towns have been replaced by commercial and industrial uses.