Gary Krist chooses three...early-20th-century icons of Los Angeles art and commerce to tell his story in The Mirage Factory. They are William Mulholland from Ireland, the self-taught engineer who brought water to the semidesert city and enabled its explosive growth; D. W. Griffith, the Kentucky-born director who helped fashion a new vocabulary for movie storytelling; and Aimee Semple McPherson, the evangelical preacher from Canada, whose congregation came to number in the tens of thousands because of her adroit mixture of media savvy and personal charisma ... As he moves back and forth among his subjects, Krist draws upon some of the best books about the era and its people, enriching them with a virtuoso deploying of detail gathered from deep dives into primary material. Some of these events and individuals are more familiar than others. Griffith’s career has been the subject of numerous studies and the saga of the Los Angeles water wars is, in a distorted form, familiar to anyone who has seen Chinatown Only McPherson’s story is more of a local phenomenon.
Krist has previously profiled the growth of New Orleans and Chicago. Here he tracks the great expansion of Los Angeles between 1904–30 as an 'implausible city.' It has no natural harbor, it is surrounded by deserts, and its weather is often scorching. Most importantly, access to fresh water is a constant problem ... Krist presents a revealing...exploration of the growth of a great city and the lives and work of three visionaries who helped shape it.
The Mirage Factory...looks at early–20th century L.A. through the life stories of three influential individuals: William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith and Aimee Semple McPherson ... While these still-consequential figures are well known to California history enthusiasts (and to a no doubt diminishing sliver of the public), Krist prides himself, as any good historian does, on digging into the archives and uncovering long-lost details of his subjects’ lives. With this book, Krist has succeeded in creating a colorful and fresh narrative of L.A. history, while avoiding a mere retread of their stories ... The Mirage Factory is an enjoyable read, especially in its evocation of early, urban Los Angeles. My only complaint after finishing the book was: more, please. The narrative breezes along at times a little too swiftly, and I found myself wanting more details on some of the tantalizing facts dropped, like so many tasty bread crumbs, by its author.