Sometimes maps are just pure fun. A Gay Geography, an extremely rare book loaned to the Central Library by Chuck and Bernadette Soter, is a collection of just such maps by Ruth Taylor.
A Gay Geography is kind of hard to label, but the original purpose of the whimsical masterpiece, which was produced in 1935, was to detail the land and culture of the United States, focusing on the people who inhabited the forty-eight states plus territories like Alaska and Hawaii, along with Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands, “Porto” Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and the Canal Zone. While the maps may have been created to teach school kids the inventiveness of the illustration has a broader appeal.
Our focus is on the book’s distilled view of Southern California and the Los Angeles of the mid-1930s, where movie stars and oil wells shared space with the citrus and avocado belts that appear to be a stones throw from city hall on its map. Large ships are anchored at the ambiguous port while ocean-bathers frolic in the surf near Malibu. Close by are recreation destinations including Palm Springs, the beautiful Salton Sea, and Catalina Island with bathing beauties, the glass-bottom boat, a flying fish and a Chicago Cub ballplayer who is chewing gum in tribute to P.K. Wrigley (Wrigley owned the team and the island where Spring Training took place for the club from 1921 to 1951). Ironically, the Cubs won the National League pennant in 1935. The map also depicts the Mt. Wilson Observatory and its Hooker telescope, the largest in the world at that point.
Ruth Taylor was an extremely talented graphic artist working out of San Francisco in the 1920s and ‘30s. She teamed up with her brother Frank to create “Our USA” and other wonderful pictorial maps of places ranging from the National Parks to the Hawaiian Islands.
Above: “California” Our U.S.A.: A Gay Geography. Maps by Ruth Taylor, 1935
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.