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In Smog and Thunder, The Great War of the Californias – SF vs LA

January 29, 2010
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California was teetering on the edge of doom. Animosity between Los Angeles and San Francisco had grown out of control. War was looming in the hearts of men and women from Petaluma to Pacoima. Then, in early May, General Juan Gomez de los Angeles led his Southern troops in an offensive against the Bay Area. Once the Battle of San Francisco began there was no turning back . . .

So says the introduction to In Smog and Thunder, the alternate history of a California at war with itself: SF vs LA.

Telstar Logistics points out this epic 2002 Ken Burns-style mockumentary available on DVD made by Sean Meredith, Sandow Birk and Paul Zaloom, based on a 2000-2001 art show by Birk.  I was completely oblivious of both.

In 1996, Southern California artist, Sandow Birk, was invited to have an exhibit in San Francisco at Catherine Clark Gallery. “I spent a month living with a friend up there, painting and hanging out,” Birk recalled. “And everywhere I went, people would hassle me for being from Los Angeles.  I’d be sitting in a bar and people would ask where I was from and then they go off on me: `It’s so horrible,’ and `How can you live there?’ At first it was kind of comical, but it became annoying. And that’s how I started having this idea about a fake war.’’ Birk imagined San Francisco’s worst nightmare: an invasion by Los Angeles.

Over the next six years, Birk created over 100 artworks in the series. The paintings developed into a wonderful critique and send up of 19th century romantic period history paintings. He saw all the overly dignified and majestically painted portraits of generals and battle scenes of the past as ripe for the picking.

So of course, LA attacked first:

The Battle of San Francisco – (detail, click image to zoom)

The Battle of Fort Point

There was a battle for the Mission:

Major General Juan Gomez de los Angeles had only been the Supreme Commander of the Southern Army for six months before he led his troops into its offensive against the North, which he held no love for. In his teens Gomez lost his virginity in an unsatisfying manner in San Francisco at a Grateful Dead concert and had despised the city ever since. Despite facing superior firepower in entrenched positions, his veterans were able to gain a crucial foothold in the Battle for the Mission.

(Ha, don’t think so.)


“Goodyear Blimp vs. Fuji Blimp” (Battle of Los Angeles)

Wounded morally as well as physically, San Francisco rebuilds. It ups military spending, re-commissions a large navy, and sets sail southward for Los Angeles. Letters from sailors tell of conditions on the ships at sea and the pain of being away. Civilians tell of the hard times and depravities at home. The San Francisco Navy surprises the Los Angeles Navy at sea and a battle ensues, in which Los Angeles suffers great losses. The San Francisco Army attacks Los Angeles in force . . . Fighting for key landmarks is intense, especially at the Getty Museum of Art which sits overlooking a freeway pass from the Valley. The San Fernando Valley, recently seceded from Los Angeles, is laid to waste.

I have yet to see the DVD but there’s a trailer available on the website.

At the end, the initial attack was obviously instigated by burrito inadequacy. Nice try, LA. Just send up your korean taco truck and we’ll keep our mighty navy at bay (because you know Gavin would want one…)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2010 4:28 pm

    Side-note: Paul Zaloom is best known as playing Beakman on the children’s science TV show “Beakman’s World.”

  2. laurie permalink
    January 30, 2010 1:58 pm

    Call me willingly ignorant but I was never aware of SF/LA rivalry until moving to SF. (Not Richmond or Berkeley, but “The City”!)

    In defense of Angelenos, most stereotypes are perpetuated by ambitious transplants groomed on reality tv buying into the Hollywood/ beach lifestyle myth. Most natives or long-term residents I’ve known are pretty down-to-earth.

    Burritos are better here, for sure! But I dare you to go past the Orange Curtain into Little Saigon for some pho justice.

  3. January 30, 2010 2:58 pm

    Yeah, I was fairly amused by it when I moved here. Seems unrequited.

    On the one hand you have this sense of smug superiority on the behalf of many SFites, while SF doesn’t even occur to most Angelenos as far as I can tell.

    Same thing with Chicago-NY, Seattle-NY, Vancouver-Toronto. They obsess in a rather insecure fashion, while the cool cities in high school are oblivious.

    SF-NY is a different case. I think Manhattanites think SF is cute, like a little brother or cousin, while SFites have a mixed sense of superiority and respect.

    • proefound permalink
      May 20, 2011 2:43 pm

      you are dead on. little too late (found this link today), but yes. dead right. moved up to sf a year ago and was surprised to learn about the tension. as an la native (and with many friends that are la natives, obviously), we never really gave two thoughts about san francisco. and when we did, they were always positive:

      “it’s a nice place to visit.”
      “it’s cool.”
      “it’s a cute town.”

      never had anything bad to say. i thought it was all cali-love.

  4. Jim permalink
    February 9, 2010 12:03 pm

    Sandow Birk also illustrated the Divine Comedy(translated into American English by an editor of Surfer magazine) Gustav Dore style, with LA as the Inferno, SF as Purgatory, and NYC as Paradise. Worth looking up.


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