The Land of Columbus.

Boris Dralyuk, a longtime LH favorite (see, e.g., this post), has written a marvelous piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books about vanished or vanishing LA bookstores (“By the time I was coming up in LA, the era of the legendary bookmen was over. Gone was Jake Zeitlin’s Big Red Barn on La Cienega, gone was Pickwick on Hollywood…), Little Russia (“a neighborhood that straddles Los Angeles and West Hollywood…. LA’s Russian émigré community, which snowballed in the years around the collapse of the Soviet Union, is one of the largest in the world, but Little Russia is rapidly aging, fading”), and earlier Russian communities in the area:

First came the religious sectarians (Molokans, Holy Jumpers, and others), who settled in Boyle Heights around the turn of the century. This insular group attracted a lot of attention from newspaper columnists and sociologists, but their numbers quickly dwindled. And then the so-called First Wave of Russian emigration washed up on the Pacific shore. Carey McWilliams gives a breezy but accurate account of its fate:

Around 1917 a group of 500 White Russians, all self-styled aristocrats, settled in Hollywood. Refugees from the Russian Revolution, they came by way of China, across the Pacific to San Francisco, and then to Hollywood. To this group of aristocrats and officers was later added about a thousand non-aristocrats, students, artists, engineers, and professional people. From this colony came the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Officers Club, and the Russian cafés of the early ’twenties: the Double-Headed Eagle, the Russian Bear, the Moscow Inn, and the well-known Boublichki night club on Sunset “strip.” The Filmarte Theater in Hollywood was founded by a member of this refugee group. Lacking internal cohesion, the colony soon disintegrated and is today non-existent.

He describes a wonderful trove from that long-gone community he found at the Trading Post, and a quarterly it produced called “The Land of Columbus”:

I was off to the library at UCLA. Zemlya Columba, as its editors called it, was a thick journal published in 1936 and 1937. The “quarterly” tag was, alas, aspirational. Only two issues saw the light of day, but they told me a great deal…

The whole thing is worth your while, as is everything the eloquent and polymathic Dralyuk writes.


  1. Russian culture and History is fascinating and little known for the general public. I’m looking forward to reading this piece.

  2. Unfortunately, Hat, the you’re link didn’t take me (3 times) to the article, but the first page of the LARB, without scrolling (through I suppose that’s my browser’s fault).

  3. The link worked for me.

  4. Michael L. says

    Another Russian emigrant of the first wave, Vladimir Dukelsky, settled in Pacific Palisades in LA County in the ’50s after a moderately successful career as a composer (he is surely better known by the pseudonym Vernon Duke, famous for his songs “April in Paris” and “Autumn in New York”). Few today remember that Dukelsky was also a poet. As a young man, he helped start a Poets’ Guild in Constantinople with Boris Poplavsky during the Civil War and continued to write poetry throughout his career, publishing four books of poems before his death in 1969. He felt most at home writing friendly verse epistles, which perfectly complemented the biting wit that comes across in his essays and his very interesting memoir, Passport to Paris. I’d provide a link to some samples of his poems, but I can’t seem to find them online….

    One could add a few more names to the list of Russian emigres who settled in LA (after the war) and left a literary legacy: Vladimir Markov, Vladislav Ellis, Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovskii… more than a few Russian-speaking survivors from the displaced persons camps ended up in Southern California.

  5. Arguably the most famous (infamous to some) Russian immigrant to LA in the 20s was Ayn Rand. However, I don’t think she was part of the Russian community there.

  6. Michael L.: Thanks, that’s fascinating information!

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