Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990 was an ambitious exhibition that drew on an earlier initiative by the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum, chronicling the transformation of Los Angeles from a “fledgling pueblo in the mid-1800s to a vibrant urban center” in the mid-twentieth century. There has not been any major exhibition on Southern California’s architecture and urbanism since Architecture in California, 1868–1968, the groundbreaking retrospective curated by David Gebhard and Harriette Von Breton in 1968. Thus, Overdrive shouldered a huge burden of expectation.

Los Angeles, America’s second-largest city, has not been as lucky as the Big Apple. When we think of a quintessential twentieth-century American city that embodies exuberant architectural visions for the future and provides a dynamic urban theater for Horatio Alger–type “rags-to-riches” stories, we unconsciously conjure up images of New York. Despite L.A.’s claim of being “one of the most populous and...

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