City of Electric Moons

City of Electric Moons

A Social History of Street Lighting in Los Angeles

by India Mandelkern

Los Angeles is known for many things: the traffic jams, the taco trucks, the palm trees, the sunshine. City of Electric Moons: A Social History of Street Lighting in Los Angeles explores one of its most overlooked architectural legacies––its streetlights. City of Electric Moons shines a light on the power—electric and political—Angelenos once took for granted, but never will again.

Today, we may not give streetlights much thought; after all, they’re everywhere. But Los Angeles was once known for its breadth of innovative designs: products of an active civic imagination and a well-timed real estate scramble. Much more than devices to illuminate the roads, streetlights helped instill a sense of pride and place within a rapidly expanding metropolis, bringing the heavens down to human scale. Timeless and modern, venerated and mundane, streetlights harnessed everyday interests to universal beliefs. They were public art before there was a name for it.

In City of Electric Moons, India Mandelkern examines the art and politics of street lighting in Los Angeles from the 1880s to the present day. Flitting between social history, cultural anthropology, urban studies, and the history of design, she illustrates how street lighting helped frame larger debates about civics and surveillance, infrastructure and traffic, the definition of public space and who should have access to it. Interweaving her narrative with the politicians, planners, preservationists, artists, and dreamers who have given them meaning, Mandelkern argues for the streetlight’s vitality to urban life: a totem for the modern era.

The book concludes with an illustrated field guide to many of Los Angeles’s most noteworthy streetlights, to help the newly minted streetlight aficionado spot unique and interesting poles in the wild.

  • 176 pages
  • 50+ images
  • 7" x 9"
  • softcover; ISBN 978-1-62640-077-1; $25.00
    This book will be published on September 28, 2021 -- order now to receive your copy by then.
$25.00 USD