How Jackie Robinson fought racism in the Army

Jackie Robinson, who emerged from a small house on Pepper Street in Pasadena to become an American icon, was born this week in 1919. Before he broke baseball’s color barrier, Robinson was an Army second lieutenant at Camp Hood in Texas. As recounted in “Jackie Robinson: A Biography,” on the evening of July 6, 1944,…

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The white crosses of the Mojave Desert

About 50 simple white crosses line a dusty road leading to a military post in the Mojave Desert. They’re not for soldiers killed in combat, but motorists who died in crashes along the 31-mile Fort Irwin Road linking the Barstow area and Fort Irwin National Training Center. The accidents have been blamed on the design of the…

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The Day a San Diego Freeway Was Free to Bicyclists

For one beautiful day nearly 50 years ago, bicyclists had a freeway in San Diego all to themselves. Before opening a new section of Interstate 805 to vehicle traffic, highway officials invited bicyclists for a Community Cycle Day along 7 miles of roadway on March 19, 1972. According to news accounts from the time, they…

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The Man Who Saved Gerald Ford’s Life

Oliver Sipple was an accidental hero. On a Monday afternoon in September 1975, he happened to be standing next to Sara Jane Moore, a would-be assassin, as she pulled a .38 revolver from her purse and pointed it at President Gerald Ford outside San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel. A Vietnam veteran, Sipple grabbed Moore’s arm…

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The Quotable John Wooden

John Wooden, the quintessential American coach, arrived at UC Los Angeles in 1948 to take over a little-known basketball program that played in a cramped gym. He left in 1975, having transformed the Bruins into a powerhouse with 10 national championships. Wooden was said to be as conversant in Shakespeare and the Bible as basketball,…

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A photographic trip to 1970s California

In 1971, the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency announced a groundbreaking photo project designed as a “visual baseline” against which to measure progress on cleaning up our air, land, and water. Over the next six years, about 100 freelance photographers fanned out across all 50 states for the Documerica series, capturing the environmental toll of…

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Edwin Hubble’s Cosmic Discovery

A century ago, astronomers believed the Milky Way was all there was to the universe. The Andromeda galaxy, while visible in the night sky, was thought to be a cauldron of birthing stars within the Milky Way. But Edwin Hubble wasn’t convinced. He and a small group of fellow astronomers hypothesized that Andromeda was its…

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The Unlikely Story of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’

“Me and Bobby McGee,” a gentle tune about heartbreak on the road, was written for the voice of a male country singer. Its title character, Bobby, was inspired by a pretty young secretary in the music industry in Tennessee. The country crooner Roger Miller was the first to record the song in 1969. Roy Clark, Kenny Rogers,…

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California’s Mysterious Cook Pines

All of California’s Cook pines lean conspicuously in the same direction, as though buffeted by strong winds. The quirk of the otherwise unremarkable tree was discovered a some years ago by Matt Ritter, a botany professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He reached out to a colleague in Australia to ask about the Cook pines…

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The Last Notable American Duel

In a wooded ravine just south of San Francisco, a pair of stone pillars, 10 paces apart, commemorate the last notable American duel. U.S. Sen. David Broderick, a Democrat who made a fortune in Gold Rush San Francisco, was once friends with the Chief Justice of California, David Terry, but slavery tore them apart. Broderick opposed…

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Chiura Obata’s California landscapes

In 1903, Chiura Obata, then 17, left Japan for San Francisco to pursue a career as a painter. He met acclaim but also racial animus, as Japanese immigrants were denied entry to restaurants, barred from owning land, and forced behind barbed wire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Obata’s disappointment with the human world could help…

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Jessica Chou’s “Suburban Chinatown”

In the 1980s, a wave of Asian newcomers moved into a band of predominantly white bedroom communities in the San Gabriel Valley, a cultural transformation attributed in part to relaxed immigration laws and rising economic mobility. Once moribund business strips sprang to life with Filipino grocers, Vietnamese cafes, and Japanese bakeries. Sociologists declared Monterey Park the first…

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The nudist bridge of Palm Springs

Fun fact: There’s a footbridge across a busy road in Palm Springs that connects two parts of a nudist resort. Known as the Naked Bridge, it includes canvas panels to shield the prying eyes of motorists. News of its debut in 2003 became fodder for international headlines and jokes on late-night talk shows. Jay Leno…

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The longest car ever built

In the late 1980s, Jay Ohrberg had a dream. One of Hollywood’s top car customizers, he had built KITT from “Knight Rider,” Herbie from “Herbie the Love Bug,” and the “Back to the Future” DeLorean. Now he aimed for a place in the record books with the longest car ever built, a Cadillac limousine that stretched 100 feet,…

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The beer made from 45-million-year-old yeast

In the early 1990s, a California professor stunned the scientific community by reviving 45-million-year-old yeast — and using it to make beer. Raul Cano, a microbiologist at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, found the spores in the gut of an ancient bee encased in tropical amber and spread it on a growth medium to see…

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The ‘A-bomb sunrises’ of 1950s California

In the 1950s, Angelenos would sometimes see two “sunrises” — one from the sun and another from atomic bomb tests in the Nevada desert. Between 1951 and 1962, 100 detonations were conducted above ground at the site northwest of Las Vegas, some so brilliant that they could be seen from points across the California coast. People…

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From carpentry to Han Solo: Harrison Ford’s unlikely path

In 1970, Sérgio Mendes, a Brazilian musician, employed a shaggy-haired young carpenter (above right) to build a music studio in his backyard in Encino. The worker was an aspiring actor, but had taught himself carpentry to support his young family. At the time, there was little to suggest that Harrison Ford, then 28, was destined…

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