Mr. Gary Kurutz, the longtime Director of the Special Collections Branch of the California State Library, Mr. Michael Dolguskhin, State Library archivist, and I are researching employment in California in the 1950s and 1960s. We’d like to ask your participation: hearing from you of your recollections of employment of family, friends and neighbors during these decades.

bernickkurutzAs I have written previously, 1950s and 1960s California in broad stroke was a period of employment growth and job stability. We should not romanticize the period: a good number of Californians were outside of the job mainstream, scuffling around, trying to find steady work. Still, unemployment in 1950s California was consistently under 5%–under 4% for much of the time. Between January 1951 and November 1957, the total number of nonfarm jobs rose from 3,406,900 to 4,524,300—the largest percentage gain the state has seen over a seven year period.

This abundance and stability is reflected in the literature and popular culture of the period—including the television sitcoms (Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver), where each of the adult males is employed in a steady white collar job (General Insurance agent, aeronautical engineer, office executive) and popular novels such as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. It is reflected in the histories of the time by Kevin Starr and DJ Waldie.

We have our own recollections of employment in the 1950s. On my block on 4th Street in Los Angeles near La Cienega, a mix of occupations was present–university faculty, printer, studio musician, wholesaler. Largely middle class occupations, but steady work, often with a single employer over decades.* Gary similarly recalls his father, a commercial artist, working for one company in downtown Los Angeles over many years.

We’d welcome hearing from you of your recollections of employment in California during the 1950s and 1960s—especially relating to the stability and security of employment. Please e-mail me directly at


Speaking of Gary (pictured above), the next time you are at the California State Library in Sacramento you will see that the Reading Room was recently renamed the “Gary Kurutz Reading Room”, in honor of Mr. Kurutz’s service to the State Library. He served as Director of the Special Collections Branch from 1980 until last year.

Gary is a native of La Canada, and received an M.A. in history from the University of San Diego and a master’s degree in Library Science from USC. He has written extensively on California and the Western United States in the nineteenth century, including The California Gold Rush: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853; California Calls You: The Art of Promoting the Golden State (with KD Kurutz), Knights of the Lash: The Stagecoach Stories of Major Benjamin C. Truman.

He has not slowed up. Currently Gary is at work on a book on miners who came to California for the Gold Rush and then went on to Alaska and other points north.

So often the rooms, buildings or roads we seen named for people in Sacramento are politicians who have actively campaigned for the honor. Gary is the exception. He did not even know of the honor, until he returned from a research trip to Calgary. Well-deserved.

*The one unusual employment story we had on our block was our next door neighbor, Sidney Davison. He was a Communist Party organizer in Los Angeles in the 1940s, and appears in the transcript of the House Un-American Activities hearing on Communist activities in Los Angeles that involved Lucille Ball. By the late 1950s, he reportedly was the owner of a number of Laundromats on the West Side—the Marxist dialectic in mid-century California.