Sunset Magazine and the Phenomenon of the Far West
by Dr. Kevin Starr
Through the influence of the thousands of articles documented in this bibliography, Sunset has shaped the way people live in the Far West and exercise their stewardship of the environment. Without Sunset, in fact, it would be much more difficult to document the evolution of Far Western lifestyle and values. With Sunset, it is possible to understand not only what these values and ways of life are but how they evolved over the course of a century. Very often, the subjects covered in the magazine influence national magazines and lifestyles across the nation. Founded a century ago, Sunset began its existence serving a Far West on the verge of large-scale settlement. In 100 years it has never missed an issue, even when earthquake and fire destroyed its printing press in April 1906. It has enjoyed, moreover, during this century a significant and generally increasing circulation. Today, it continues to serve an expanded Far West, which has become a region of global importance, with powerful connections to Latin America and the Asia Pacific Basin. As Sunset reported to its advertisers in 19891, were the Far West a nation, it would be the sixth largest economic power on earth.
Like the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, and the Overland Monthly,2 Sunset has helped its readers--in this case, the educated people of the Far West--discover and define, in the course of the thousands of articles presented in this bibliography, the values and lifestyles; the intellectual, emotional, and imaginative context; indeed, the very psychological center of the region in which they were pursuing their lives. Like these and other great periodicals--the North American Review, Scribner's Monthly, The New Yorker--Sunset has helped its readers define their intellectual preferences and tastes. Like The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Look, and Life, Sunset verified for them the unfolding pageant of life. Like the Ladies' Home Journal, the Woman's Home Companion, and McCall's magazine, Sunset has helped them articulate and direct their emergent tastes, guiding them through a thousand domestic decisions. Like such partisan reviews as The Nation, The New Republic, and The National Review, Sunset also stands for something--a cluster of values and ideals, a program of action--although Sunset rarely preaches overtly (except in matters of conservation), preferring, rather, in the Lane era to allow ideas and values to emerge ever so subtly by implication from staff-written articles tightly controlled by the editorial process.
In its journey to identity and success, Sunset had to find its own distinctive path and format. Energized by, and serving, the drama of the unfolding Far West--a region without precedent and with few certainties, struggling for idea and metaphor--Sunset was embarked upon a pioneering journey, an odyssey of travel and exploration, as vivid as any of those described by its articles. By the time that journey was nearing completion, in the flush and expectant years following the Second World War, Sunset: The Magazine of Western Living had become more than a magazine. It had become a key prism through which the people of the Far West were glimpsing the possibilities and futures of themselves and their region. Sunset entered the twentieth century primarily as a tourist magazine. Sunset ends the twentieth century as a Far Western institution, its Menlo Park headquarters a place of near-pilgrimage. Through 100 years of Sunset, the Far West, now expanded to include the Mountain states, Hawaii, and Alaska, had voiced, and continues to voice, its deepest hopes and dreams: its collective pursuit of happiness through an equally intense pursuit of the good life.
The railroad hauled people and goods, linking marketplaces throughout the U.S. with the Far West. The Southern Pacific Railroad founded Sunset with the premier issue of May 1898, naming the magazine in honor of its crack overland Sunset Limited, operating between New Orleans and Los Angeles. The Southern Pacific, in establishing Sunset, promoted travel and migration to the states it served. Quite naturally, the Southern Pacific had an interest in promoting travel to the states it served: California, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, Louisiana, and the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, together with hotel resorts en route, culminating in the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, one of the great resort hotels of turn-of-the-century California. It was a time when all California, especially the Southland, with its favorable climate, was attracting visitors and developing its economy via such impressive resort hotels as the Coronado off San Diego, the Horton House in San Diego, the Hotel Virginia in Long Beach, the Hotel Green in Pasadena, the Hotel Wentworth in Santa Barbara, and, later, the Beverly Hills Hotel in the lima bean fields west of Los Angeles. Catering to elite visitors from the Eastern and Midwestern United States, these great resort hotels--so many of them destined to stimulate cities in their immediate environs--were intimately dependent upon the Southern Pacific, which offered package tours, with an emphasis upon long winter sojourns. The Southern Pacific, in fact, owned outright the Hotel Del Monte, and beginning with the first issue, Sunset helped to promote that property. Dedicated to providing, in the words of its founding motto, "Publicity for the attractions and advantages of the Western Empire," Volume One Number One of Sunset, rather expectedly, devoted its lead article to the Yosemite, one of several primary tourist attractions of the Far West. The Yosemite was the Niagara Falls of California, the one place which had emerged in the nineteenth century as the primary icon of all that the Far West offered in the way of scenic grandeur and subliminal release. Ironically, the reference to Yosemite was balanced by the use for the first several issues of the cover image of the Golden Gate, later the setting for two national parks.
There were also chatty descriptions of hotel life throughout the state. At the Hotel Del Monte, for example, Mr. B.F. Jones and a party of Pennsylvanians had arrived in their private railroad car, the Cleopatra, and spent the month of March enjoying the delights of the season. On hand as well were other Pennsylvanians, including Governor Daniel H. Hastings and Mr. J.T. Brooks, second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. From Southern California there was news of the recently remodeled and enlarged Hotel Metropole at Avalon on the island of Santa Catalina. Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson, widow of the author, had made a visit to the Glenwood Tavern in Riverside, en route to Scotland, where she was traveling to settle the estate of her late husband. The Hotel Del Coronado, meanwhile, seemed packed with New Yorkers arriving on the Sunset Limited. California, in short, provided a delightful destination for Easterners and Midwesterners anxious to escape the wintry rigors of the East and Midwest via a luxurious transcontinental journey on the Sunset Limited to hotels on the shores of the Pacific, where one awoke each morning, as one visitor to the Hotel Del Monte put it, to "see one hundred acres of lawn and flowers from my window while the air is fragrant with the perfume of roses, violets, heliotropes, and other flowers."3
Even amidst such gentility in the pages of Sunset, aimed so precisely at the patrician and upper-middle classes, another aspect of the Far West managed to assert itself alongside the discussions of hotels, resorts, and rose gardens. Gold had been discovered in Alaska and the Klondike, and the Southern Pacific was anxious to point out that it might arrange a direct connection from San Francisco to the Far North via the Pacific Coast Steamship Company for adventurers en route to the Klondike via the Chilcoot Pass. (Did young Jack London of UC Berkeley read this notice? He would, in any event, be shortly embarking upon this very journey and later writing about it for Sunset, to the benefit of American literature.) Sunset published arrivals and departures from San Francisco of steamers of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and the Occidental and Oriental Steamship Company for Honolulu, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Thus even in its first issue, Sunset magazine, founded primarily to promote the genteel pleasures of scenic travel and resort life, was noting as well the surviving frontier of the Pacific Northwest, the Yukon and Alaska, the enchanted islands of Hawaii, and the mysterious lands of the Far East. Here from the very start, then, was Sunset country, if only by inference: the Far West as it swept to the Pacific, leapt north to Alaska, and rolled majestically westward toward the Hawaiian Islands, which were the northern edge of Polynesia, and beyond the islands encountered the vast and mysterious lands of the Far East. It would take not even a half-century for Sunset fully to possess on the level of engaged journalism this vast area, this Far West as pivot of continental and Asia-Pacific Empire; but it was there from the first, glimpsed through a glass darkly: the gorgeous and heroic spectacle of an empire that began in the Spanish Southwest and, later, embraced the Rocky Mountain states, the Pacific Northwest, including the Alaskan territory, and the lands and islands of the Pacific.
For nearly 16 years the Southern Pacific continued to operate Sunset on this basis, headquartered in a Mission Revival--style building near the Southern Pacific offices in San Francisco. From one perspective, the magazine, because it was limited to promotional and travel writing, was narrowly focused; yet because the region it covered was so vast and full of future promise, even this promotional magazine possessed imaginative implications. Sunset was about an empire and a way of life in the making. Sunset was about the next great stage of American development.
Reinvention as a Literary and General Review
As of the January 1912 issue, Sunset absorbed its northern counterpart, the Pacific Monthly, founded in 1898 in Portland, Oregon, to promote travel to and settlement of the Pacific Northwest. For the century to come, no matter what subtitle Sunset happened to be using at the time on its cover--The Pacific Monthly, The Magazine of the Border, The Magazine of the Pacific and All the Far West, The West's Great National Magazine, and finally and most successfully The Magazine of Western Living--the rubric Pacific Monthly remained fixed on the table of contents page, suggesting this first merger, which brought Sunset into the Pacific Northwest and foreshadowed its eventual editorial regionalization. When Sunset grew, it absorbed a magazine. Later, when the Far West had grown, Sunset partially subdivided itself better to cope with regional diversity. Sunset's most heroic moment in these years was its issue of May 1906, less than a month after the great earthquake and fire of April 18 had destroyed much of San Francisco, including the Sunset offices. Fortunately, despite the loss of its drawings, photographs, and engravings, its building and printing press, the mailing list and contract records were rescued. Within a few short weeks the more than 65,000 Sunset families in all parts of the world were holding in their hands the New San Francisco Emergency Edition of May 1906, with a cover by Maynard Dixon depicting the enduring spirit of San Francisco rising from the conflagration. No matter, wrote Southern Pacific president E.H. Harriman in the issue's lead article (an issue hastily printed on presses used ordinarily for tickets and schedules in the SP-owned Ferry Building), San Francisco would be rebuilt on a new and better basis. Editor Charles Sedgwick Aiken agreed. Not only would San Francisco be rebuilt, Sunset would reappear more excellent than ever. Aiken made good on his word, and within two years a thoroughly re-established Sunset was publishing an eight-page photographic panorama by H.C. Tibbitts, astonishing in its printing and binding virtuosity, depicting the rebuilt City by the Bay.
By 1914 the Southern Pacific was deciding to get out of the magazine business. Sunset, after all, had been established in great measure to promote the settlement of the Far West, which now stood at 6 million inhabitants and climbing. The economy of the Far West, moreover, was generally booming. The Far West, the Southern Pacific decided, no longer required the promotional efforts of an expensive magazine. Besides, the staff was interested in buying the property, led by editor Charles K. Field, who had succeeded Aiken after Aiken's death in 1911. And so in 1914 Sunset passed from the Southern Pacific to the ownership of its new publisher, Woodhead, Field and Company.
Some of the willingness, indeed eagerness, of the Southern Pacific to divest itself of its magazine property came, no doubt, from the fact that the editorial staff and contributors had long since grown restive with the subordination of Sunset to the corporate policies of the railroad. Editor Charles Sedgwick Aiken, after all, who had guided the magazine from 1902 to 1911, stated that it was his goal to make Sunset "a combination of the Atlantic Monthly, Outing, and McClure's magazines," which is to say, a magazine that would combine literary and intellectual distinction with an outdoor emphasis and an orientation toward usefulness in daily living.4 Even while carrying out the general editorial policies of the Southern Pacific ownership, Aiken began to intensify the literary identity of Sunset by publishing, among other writers, the naturalist Charles Norris (brother of the late great novelist Frank Norris, author of The Octopus (1901), a powerfully anti-railroad novel); humorist Gelett Burgess, one of the demi-urges of the fin de siècle magazine The Lark and the author of the ever-surviving poem "Purple Cow"; a young writer by the name of Jack London, back from the Klondike; London's friend, San Francisco poet George Sterling; prose stylist Mary Austin, whose Land of Little Rain (1903) pioneered the aesthetic appreciation of the high desert plateau and arid back country; and--here from the very founding of California literature itself a half-century earlier--a poem by Bret Harte and several poems by Harte's colleague Ina Coolbrith, the poet laureate of California. Aiken also published such established California figures as John Muir, herald of the Sierra Nevada; the renowned historian Theodore Hittell; the poets Joaquin Miller and Charles Warren Stoddard, survivors alongside Bret Harte and Ina Coolbrith of the post--Civil War San Francisco literary frontier; the renowned horticulturist Luther Burbank of Santa Rosa; the San Francisco--born novelist Gertrude Atherton, then living in Europe; poets Vachel Lindsay, William Rose Benet, Witter Bynner, and Yone Noguchi, each at various stages of an emergent reputation; the young novelist Kathleen Norris, Charles's wife, destined to develop by the 1930s into the highest-earning novelist in the United States; and other aspiring writers--Sinclair Lewis, James Hooper, Stewart Edward White, Peter B. Kyne, Earl Stanley Gardner, Damon Runyon, Frederick Lewis Allen--each destined to win national reputation.
All this proved especially exhilarating to Aiken's protégé and successor, Charles K. Field, who headed the group buying the magazine and continued as editor-owner in the new regime. Now, if anything, the roster of notable writers expanded even further as Field sought to make Sunset the Atlantic Monthly of the Pacific Coast. Writing on nature and Native American life were such renowned figures as Charles Francis Saunders and George Wharton James. Professor E.J. Wickson of Berkeley wrote most gracefully on agriculture. From Stanford came articles by David Starr Jordan, the founding president. Other social commentators included Chester Rowell, later editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and a driving force in California Progressivism; Berkeley socialist Herman Whitaker, whom Jack London so admired; and reporters Rufus Steele, Will Irwin, and Lewis Stellmann, among the best journalists San Francisco has ever produced. Michael Williams, the future founding editor of Commonweal, covered the missions and religious life from San Francisco and Carmel. The renowned Charles Fletcher Lummis, himself the editor of his own regional publication, Land of Sunshine, later Out West, wrote from Los Angeles. Literary and cultural life was covered by Henry Meade Bland, a poet-professor from San Jose, Nellie Van de Graft Sanchez, a respected historian of California, and Rose Wilder Lane. Other writers included Charles Shinn, historian of the mining era, naturalist Galen Clark, artist Maynard Dixon, who contributed poetry as well as cover and other art, cowboy writer Will James, and Western novelist Zane Grey. Writer Walter Woehlke, secretary to the board of owner-publishers, wrote what seemed like hundreds of articles through the 1920s on every conceivable topic.
What did these writers, and hence, Sunset, have in common? The answer to this query is significant because these writers, who today might seem a mere roll call of half-forgotten names, were bound together by shared values and assumptions which would never be lost to the Sunset ethos, despite what may be seen as drastic changes in editorial policy once the magazine was acquired by Laurence W. Lane in late 1928.
First of all, with the exception of such older Literary Frontier figures as Miller, Stoddard, Hittell, and such an arch-conservative figure as Gertrude Atherton, most of the Sunset writers from the Aiken-Field era were Progressives. Whether or not they were overtly political, that is, each of these writers adhered to and exemplified a cluster of values regarding public and private life which in the political world, more formally designated as Progressivism5, was then in the process of reforming California. Progressives were white, Protestant, tending toward the upper-middle class. Instinctively they gravitated toward a reforming middle ground in politics, avoiding corporate monopolies (such as the railroad!) on the one hand, and immigrant-dominated big labor and big city political machines on the other. Progressives valued taste and efficiency in the arts and private life. In the two decades before the First World War, and to a lesser extent after, their sensibility accounted for the simplification and harmonizing of architecture and interior design. They came to a new respect for Native Americans and wrote of Native American culture. They preserved the missions and appropriated, indeed semi-Protestantized, the Hispanic heritage of California as their own. To the Progressive point of view, the entire Far West--California especially--offered a tabula rasa upon which might be projected and achieved a society based upon values of education, taste, beauty, and restraint. Today, at the end of the century they began, a significant percentage of the enduring books defining the California and Southwestern heritage--books by John Muir, Charles Fletcher Lummis, E.J. Wickson, Charles Francis Saunders, Charles Holder, George Wharton James, Joseph Le Conte (whose photographs of the Yosemite appeared in the first issue), and other Sunset writers--bear their names on the title page.
Above all else, they were conservationists. In 1892 they had organized the Sierra Club as the key expression of their conservationism, with Sunset author John Muir, the single greatest figure among them, serving as founding president. Gifted writers in the main, they were skilled at describing the scenic beauties of California and the Far West. Committed activists, they joined forces with their colleagues in the East to help found the National Park Service in 1916 and fought a score of local skirmishes on behalf of conservation throughout the Far West. The loss of one such battle, the fight to prevent the Valley of the Hetch Hetchy from being dammed, is said to have cost John Muir his life.
They were, in the main, university men, although not all of them, for in that era self-educated men and women were more than capable of rising to intellectual careers and good prose. This was the era between 1880 and 1920, when the American university, blending the Germanic ideal of research and the English ideal of collegial instruction, invented itself. Without the presence of such university-educated men and women, in fact, Progressivism would not have gained the momentum it did, nor, indeed, existed at all; for it was the educated classes, the professionals, doctors, lawyers, university professors and administrators--the clerisy as Samuel Taylor Coleridge described them--who provided the intellectual structure and moral force of the Progressive movement. In a very real sense, they were new men and women. Just prior to their generation, it must be remembered, a college or university degree was in general not required, even for many of the learned professions; but from the turn of the century onward, as the American university and its graduate and professional schools emerged on the horizon of American life, university men and women would increasingly take hold of professional and managerial positions. Theirs was a sense of caste, true, as testified to by the founding of University Clubs throughout the major cities of the nation in this era; but it was not a sense of caste based on lineage--but on service. "Princeton in the Nation's Service" was the way that Woodrow Wilson, president of that university, described this Progressive ideal.
The Stanford Connection
Hence an all-important and enduring Sunset trait from the very beginning: the Stanford University connection. True, Sunset writers had other university affiliations, and over the years Sunset would publish articles on the University of California at Berkeley, its second favorite campus, together with articles on such emergent institutions as the California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo, the University of Nevada, the University of Arizona, and other state universities in the Far West; but it was Stanford--as place, as alma mater, as another legacy of the Southern Pacific Railroad--which most nurtured and structured the emerging Sunset ethos. Charles K. Field, after all, had been a member of Stanford's first (and brilliant), Pioneer graduating class of 1895, whose first citizen and lifelong leader was Herbert Hoover, the Chief, as he came to be known in later years. Throughout his life--as a mining engineer in Australia and China, as director of the Commission for Relief of Belgium, as food administrator in the war and postwar period, as secretary of commerce, as president of the United States, as senior statesman and library-builder--Herbert Hoover would surround himself with Stanford classmates, Stanford graduates of other years, and Stanford faculty, whose names (Vernon Kellogg, Will Irwin, Charles K. Field, Rose Wilder Lane, and, above all, David Starr Jordan, founding president and continuing avatar of the Stanford spirit) continued through the 1920s to appear so conspicuously in Sunset. Many, quite naturally, being outdoors men, were early members and supporters of the Sierra Club. Many of the men, such as Herbert Hoover, were lifelong members of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco and spent part of each July in the Bohemian Grove on the Russian River in Sonoma County. Charles K. Field wrote much of the book and lyrics for the annual Cremation of Care ceremony in the Grove, where an amphitheater was later named in his honor.
Stanford University, founded by Leland Stanford, first president of the Southern Pacific, offers a key expression of Progressivism in the Far West. Here was a university which admitted men and women on the same basis and where a significant percentage of students were on scholarship. Here was a university which from the start excelled in such Far Western subjects as mining engineering, geology, economics, and the emergent science of business management. Here was a university whose founding president, David Starr Jordan, a physician by training and an ichthyologist by practice, preached his own version of the strenuous life, based on values of physical fitness, outdoor activity, conservation, a gracious but restrained lifestyle, internationalism, and public service: a prefigurement, it might be said, of the emergent Sunset ethos. All great university campuses--the Palladian grandeur of Jefferson's Virginia, the Gothic spires of Yale, Princeton, and Chicago, the Georgian, Federalist, and Romanesque solidity of Harvard Yard--are in their own way utopian statements of regional life and value. For Jordan and for the first generations of students he produced into the 1920s, so many of them Sunset writers, the Romanesque quadrangles of Stanford University, admixed with Mission Revival (designs first sketched out by the great H.H. Richardson shortly before his death), embodied a shimmering ideal of Far Western life refined and intensified to a new plateau of style, efficiency, and proper social value.
Not surprisingly, then, Stanford found its way into Sunset, for Stanford had shaped so profoundly the founding generation at the magazine. As this bibliography indicates, Stanford received more than its fair share of articles through the early period, including numerous articles by David Starr Jordan and Herbert Hoover, dual embodiments of the Stanford spirit and the Stanford man in the founding generation. This Stanford orientation would continue down to the present, through the two generations of Lane management. Mr. and Mrs. Laurence W. Lane settled in Palo Alto. Each of the Lane sons graduated from Stanford. Sunset would eventually locate its mission-style headquarters in Menlo Park near the Stanford campus, in buildings designed by Cliff May very much in keeping with the Stanford style.
From this perspective, the Sunset spirit and the Stanford spirit, while not fully synonymous, were powerfully and continuously linked not only by the Stanford connections of the Lane family but by deeper connections that came from the founding era of each institution. The same entrepreneurial drive, the same pioneering and adventuresome spirit, and the same family values that nurtured Stanford spilled over into Sunset and remained. The early Stanford style, as preached by Jordan and practiced by the first generations of graduates, was partially transmuted into the Sunset style as well. Like Stanford, Sunset cherished values of education, conservation, social responsibility, and a slightly understated yet enthusiastic lifestyle. Aesthetically, more specifically in terms of architecture and design, Sunset, like the Stanford campus before it, favored a certain dryness of style in dialogue with the water-scarce, semi-arid realities of the Far West. Like Stanford University, destined to nurture twentieth-century engineering sciences and to generate the computer revolution, Sunset had a continuing belief in practical technology, whose fundamental assumption was: The simpler way of doing things was frequently the better way.
Concerns and Interests in the Early Years
But that was for the years to come. In the meanwhile, Sunset continued as a general interest magazine until February 1929, when Larry Lane's first issue was published with completely revised editorial direction. A perusal of this bibliography will reveal how certain subjects treated in these pre-Lane years did not make the transition into the new era. Aiken, for example, published articles on Spanish art in Texas and an essay by Bruce Porter (Henry James's nephew-in-law) on Arthur Putnam's animal sculpture. During the Panama Pacific International Exposition, Michael Williams wrote a key article on Western artists, and sculptor A. Stirling Calder covered sculpture. Other art-oriented articles covered art, bookplates, fabrics, mosaics, and tiles. All this was very much in the Arts and Crafts mood of the early 1900s. Sunset also reviewed the many instances of outdoor drama, and both Charles K. Field and Rose Wilder Lane submitted film criticism. There were also book reviews and literary chitchat aplenty, as befitting a journal which had the Atlantic Monthly as its model. This rapidly disappeared with Lane's new editorial direction.
Social questions--by which is meant politics, economics, industrial relations, and various sociological topics--which occupied a reputable percentage of Sunset pages in the pre-Lane era, did not survive into the 1930s. Between 1914 and 1928, Sunset published 119 notable articles on politics, and only 6 in the ensuing decade. Most of these, however, with the exception of Walter Woehlke's four-part series on the Tom Mooney case in 1919 and an article or two on the IWW, were not gritty, engaged pieces, but more philosophical essays such as David Starr Jordan's "What of the Nation?" series running through 1916 and early 1917 and Jordan's essays on the peace process following World War I. Other writers on politics included Governor, later Senator Hiram Johnson and San Francisco Call editor Fremont Older. After the war, Senator Johnson took over the "What of the Nation?" column. Jordan, Johnson, Older: solid Progressives all, and very much indicative of the politics of Sunset in these early years.
Between 1898 and 1931 Sunset ran 177 notable articles on business and industry, many of them by Walter Woehlke. Interest in these early years was very much on mining, a survival from the frontier Far West, but also upon such new industries as electricity and telephone service, irrigation, oil drilling, ship building, dam building, timber, and cattle ranching in Hawaii (a 1927 article most charmingly entitled "Ukulele Cowboys"). Sunset's coverage of ranching and agriculture, especially the articles by Walter Woehlke, were among the glories of the magazine in its first two decades. Here, after all, was the long-desired Garden of the West being brought to fruition. At the same time that Jack London was ranching in the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County, and setting some of his fiction there, Sunset was also on the scene covering the very same agriculture which London had now declared to be his life's work along with writing. Sheep and cattle raising throughout the Far West; the raising of chickens and ducks; the introduction of rice into the marshy regions of the Delta; the growing of prunes in the Santa Clara Valley; the planting of onions and celery; the growing of olives, almonds, walnuts in the Central Valley (increasingly under irrigation); the spreading orange and lemon groves of the Southland; the hardscrabble life of ranching in the Imperial Valley, so recently seized from the desert; the patient, Virgilian work of bee-keeping--in article after article, the writers of Sunset were there, on the spot, creating a prose Georgic of California and Far Western agriculture for the ages to come.
Nor was this an exclusively California-centered perspective. Sunset, after all, had absorbed the Portland-based Pacific Monthly in 1912 and thus moved easily into coverage of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and even Alaskan agriculture. One is constantly impressed, moreover, by the continuing high-mindedness of the coverage: of seeing agriculture as moral science and art as well as an economic activity. Who else but Sunset could publish such articles as "Among Oregon Apples" by "A Harvard Man" or Walter Woehlke's "The Soul's Awakening and the Price of Prunes"?
Biography and military studies were other editorial categories that did not survive into the 1930s. Historical articles did not represent a large category, only 92 notable entries in this selective bibliography, of which a third appear after 1928; yet such reputable Western writers as the novelist Eugene Manlove Rhodes, Los Angeles Times columnist Harry Carr, and budding journalist John Considine, who would eventually gain a national reputation, submitted articles in this genre. Since 1929, historical context, including military ones, became a significant sub-theme in travel and other articles; such inclusion made Sunset attractive for educational use, especially in the Lane years. Biographical articles, by contrast, received much more attention in the pre-Lane years, 343 notable biographies in all. Some of these--UC Professor Edward Wickson on Luther Burbank, David Starr Jordan on Jane Stanford, Michael Williams on Junipero Serra, Hamlin Garland on Joaquin Miller, Walter Woehlke on Abbott Kenny, Flora Hines Longhead and Madera Holt on Ina Coolbrith, Charles Fletcher Lummis on Theodore Roosevelt, Rose Wilder Lane on Jack London, Lewis R. Freeman on Calamity Jane, Will Irwin on Hiram Johnson, Charles K. Field and Rose Wilder Lane on Herbert Hoover, and Aimee Semple McPherson on herself--remain classics of their kind, possessed as they are of what Edmund Wilson called the shock of recognition: the moment, that is, when writer and subject collaborate in mutual recognition and statement. In Theodore Roosevelt, after all, Charles Fletcher Lummis saw in his Harvard classmate, so quintessentially Eastern in his origins, very much the man of the Far West. In Junipero Serra, Michael Williams, a recent convert to Catholicism, en route to becoming one of the foremost Catholic journalists of his generation, perceived the Roman Catholic dimensions of European culture in California. The articles on Herbert Hoover by Charles K. Field and Rose Wilder Lane are especially interesting; for by this time, Herbert Hoover was on the verge of taking the Stanford style (dare one say the Sunset style?) eastward to the White House itself.
In one pre-Lane genre, military affairs--so seemingly remote from the normal concerns of Sunset--the magazine made a startling contribution. But then again, from the perspective of Sunset's dynamic relation to the Far West, this is not so surprising; for both the Army and the Navy had played major roles in the exploration of the Far West and the conquest of California during the Mexican War. Between 1846 and 1850, in fact, California remained a military territory, with the highest- ranking officer on the coast serving as the de facto civil governor, since Congress, divided on the slavery issue, had proven unable to grant California territorial status. Following the granting of statehood in September 1850, the United States Navy established a yard on Mare Island in San Francisco Bay, which represented the nation's strategic naval presence on the Pacific. Such distinguished Civil War generals as Ulysses Grant, William Sherman, William Halleck, and Albert Sidney Johnston all spent time in California before the war. The military, in short, was the midwife of California and the Far West's American identity in the mid-nineteenth century, and for the half-century to come the Army, and to a lesser extent the Navy, continued to play important roles in the governance and economy of this region, especially in the territories. Generals Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur, and John Charles Fremont served as territorial governors of Arizona. The Army administered the Yosemite until the creation of the national park system. The Army Corps of Engineers exercised enormous influence and jurisdiction over the rivers, lakes, and inland waterways of the entire region.
The military emphasis of Sunset, then (between 1902 and 1928 the magazine published 116 notable articles on military topics), must be seen in this context. The states and territories of the Far West, especially California, Arizona, and Hawaii, had been and continued to be intimately dependent upon the military presence for the development of its society and economy. Hence, when Sunset covered, as it did, the Spanish American War, the Philippine Rebellion, the last phases of Apache resistance in the Far West, the growing naval presence on the Pacific Coast, the acquisition of Pearl Harbor and the creation of the Pacific Fleet, and the expedition against Pancho Villa, it was not only advancing a strategic argument, it was covering one of the important components of Far Western society and identity.
In naval and aviation matters, moreover, Sunset published articles of strategic importance. More than any other state, California, with its more favorable climate, welcomed the new art and science of aviation, beginning with the Los Angeles County Air Show at Dominquez Field in January 1910. Within a few short years both the Army and the Navy had centered their major aviation efforts on the Pacific coast. Hence the importance, among other articles, of "Can the Panama Canal Be Destroyed From the Air?" by Riley E. Scott, published in April 1914. Eight years before Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was court-martialed for advancing the same notion, Scott suggested that great battleships and shore installations were highly vulnerable to air assault. Likewise, in the matter of the projection of Japanese naval presence into the Pacific, Sunset was glimpsing, along with others, the probability of a trans-Pacific clash between the United States and Japan.
The more diversified Sunset became, however, the more it lost its focus. Already, Sunset had defied the odds by remaining in business as a Pacific Coast--based general interest magazine in competition with national magazines for the Far Western dollar. With the exception of the Overland Monthly, no Far Western--based general interest magazine had lasted longer; and yet by the late 1920s, Sunset was in financial trouble. The difficulties facing Sunset were more than a matter of focus, although it could honestly be said that Sunset was trying to be too many things to too many people. On a deeper level, the exhilaration of the early Progressive years had not survived the shock of World War I. Increasingly, middle-class Americans--traumatized by the casualties the United States had experienced in two short years of the AEF--were withdrawing from their previous stance of optimistic internationalism and becoming more cautious, isolationist, and conservative. And besides, the high-mindedness of the Progressive era seemed increasingly out of touch with the cynical syncopations of the Jazz Age. America had become frenzied and materialistic in contrast to the more philosophical and aesthetic stance of the pre--World War I Progressives. It was not so much that their time had passed. Far from it: Had Herbert Hoover been elected president in 1920, or even 1924, he might have emerged as the Progressive Triumphant. Although, even in this speculation one must take into consideration the figure of another shaken and defeated Progressive, Woodrow Wilson, stung by his nation's rejection of the League of Nations, felled by stroke, serving the final months of his presidency as a stricken recluse in an upstairs White House bedroom. Progressivism would never disappear, but it was losing momentum as a full-fledged social and political program. Magazines serve as arsenals, true; but by the late 1920s it was uncertain at Sunset which audience ought to be targeted, and circulation figures and the bottom line began to show the effects of the confusion.