Local Girl Makes History
Local Girl Makes History
Exploring Northern California's Kitsch Monuments

Oped published in "The Guardian" UK
Sep 3, 2020

Wildfires rage, Covid spreads: in California, life as we knew it has disappeared . . .

Oped published in "The San Francisco Chronicle"
Nov 30, 2020

In rebuilding Big Basin, which history do we want to remember? Dana Frank discusses in this essay published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Santa Cruz Sentinel
"There's a lot of humor in Frank's book, quite a few opinions, gobs of interviews, and, of course, plenty of history. . . . Each of the book's chapters is a mixed bag of fun and serious study."—Chris Watson

Kirkus Reviews
"A wacky, illuminating exploration of the political and cultural currents swirling around four public monuments.

Lurking behind even the most seemingly innocent object is a story of power and exploitation, avers self-styled “radical historian” Frank (History/Univ. of Calif., Santa Cruz; Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America, 2005, etc.). She opens with a dazzling consideration of the redwood trunk that has long attracted tourists to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. In the 1950s, someone added date markers connecting some of the redwood’s rings to great historical events—almost all of which, Frank notes, involved 'conquest, invasions, or expansion.' The preservationists who campaigned to save the redwood trees from extinction 'projected onto these innocent trees…the notion of human history as the rise and fall of civilizations.' Many of them were also eugenicists, urging Americans to practice 'selective breeding' in order to create a fit race that could lead the world. Another fascinating chapter looks at Santa Cruz’s Cave Train Ride, a child’s amusement-park entertainment with an adult cult following. Built in 1961, the ride features cavemen and cavewomen playing cards and hanging out at the Laundromat. Frank sensitively examines the race and gender scripts on which these vignettes draw, shedding light along the way on such diverse cultural icons as The Flintstones, Li’l Abner and Clan of the Cave Bear. The final two sections are more predictable. Frank’s investigation of two giant stone cats along California’s Highway 17 quickly leads her into a saga of 'the unequal politics of history' as embodied in the relationship between the wealthy couple that commissioned the sculptures and their domestic servants. Her discussion of the Pulgas Water Temple at the Crystal Springs Reservoir focuses unsurprisingly on its function as 'a charming but powerful pawn in the grand scheme of California’s environmental politics.' Nonetheless, Frank’s personal engagement and punchy prose enliven even the slighter chapters.

Will delight nostalgic Californians—and make all readers think differently about the monuments in their own towns."

Fall preview: New books from Sebold, Junot Diaz, Roth
Aug 26, 2007
"Go ahead. Call your friends and family now, let them know you'll see them when you see them - most likely in late December. The lineup of fall books this year is that good. . . The following are some of the other fall titles of note. . . Dana Frank's Local Girl Makes History: Exploring Northern California's Kitsch Monuments (City Lights)." - Oscar Villalon, San Francisco Chronicle

UCSC professor explores Northern California's 'kitsch monuments'
Oct 17, 2007
"How does a 2,000 year-old tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park trace the history of imperialism? Who are the 'Cave People' at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk? Why were two giant white stone cats erected by Highway 17 in Los Gatos? What is the real story behind the Greco-Roman-style Pulgas Water Temple built on the San Francisco Peninsula?" - Scott Rappaport, UC Santa Cruz

In the Shadow of the Cat
Oct 17, 2007
"To paraphrase Mark Twain, everyone talks about the Los Gatos stone cats, but no one does anything about them. But now Dana Frank has tracked down their history in her new book on the area's kitsch monuments. . .

I love when you talk about the process—'I was nervous about doing this or talking to this person,' and setting the scene and showing the drama of the research and interview process, in a way.

That's interesting, because I just kind of take for granted that that's in there. It's also a way of pulling the reader into the story. This is a piece of creative nonfiction, that's the genre I'm playing around with. I wanted to write a book using every literary skill I could marshal or develop to make people feel things—I wanted to make people laugh, and I wanted to make them cry. Every time I read the very end, I cry. The part about Ramona and me. I feel like the conclusion to the last chapter is the best thing I ever wrote."

- Steve Palopoli, Metro Silicon Valley

Bookends: Historian looks sideways at local landmarks
Oct 29, 2007
"The Boardwalk's Cave Train has its friends and foes

But few in either camp have ever thought of the kitschy, campy ride in socio-political terms.

Not so Dana Frank, a regular visitor to the Boardwalk in the '60s when her family made trips to the seashore from Los Altos."

- Chris Watson, Santa Cruz Sentinel

HISTORY: 'Ces' Wood cut a dashing figure, built 'The Cats'
Nov 13, 2007
"It is unlikely that Los Gatos was ever home to a more multifaceted and colorful citizen than C.E.S. Wood. Books have been written about his life, each trying to capture the essence of a man who was a soldier turned pacifist, a lawyer who could inflame public passions for the International Workers of the World at the same time he was representing powerful corporations, and a land-owning, self-described anarchist who counted among his friends Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger and Mark Twain." - Peggy Conaway, San Jose Mercury News

Los Gatos Cats immortalized in local author's book
Nov 26, 2007
"Anarchy. Living in sin. Housewives in revolt. Sounds like something from the 1960s, but actually it's Los Gatos in the 1920s and '30s as seen through the eyes of author Dana Frank." - Judy Peterson, San Jose Mercury News

One for the Road: Local Girl Makes History
Dec 11, 2007
"Like yesterday's selection, today's book pick comes via a San Francisco book store. Local Girl Makes History: Exploring Northern California's Kitsch Monuments is a unique title that grabbed my eye while browsing the City Lights website. The famous SF bookseller is also the publisher of this niche kitsch guide to Northern Cali's special structures. Author Dana Frank is a Bay area historian who takes a series of local daytrips to places she has visited since her youth, uncovering secrets and exploring urban myths of popular spots like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's Cave Train Ride and the Puglas Water Temple.

The result is a smart and funny memoir mixed with historical research and reflections on politics and culture too." - Kelly Amabile, Gadling

The Psychogeographer Afoot 1
Dec 14, 2007
"Briefly noted:

in Local Girl Makes History, Dana Frank, historian at Santa Cruz, revisits the kitschy landmarks of her childhood, and Californian history is delightfully illuminated from all sides by her examination of these most marginal, and thus most interesting, of public monuments. History is recollection, not the mere fact of the past, and Professor Frank is a funny, smart, and amiable guide not only to the sites she revisits, but also to the practice of good history, which is always as much made as found, and is always local. She pays attention to all sorts of stories, not only the sort to which too many historians confine themselves, and has a real conversation with the communities telling them, and lets herself be one of the tellers too. Historians too rarely trust their own memories, but Dana Frank does, and her blend of narrative wit, personal engagement, and eye for detail make for a very good little book." - Wunderkammer: The Online Journal of Baltasar VanHonkytonk

Professor melds curiosity, research into book of funky milestones
Jan 10, 2008
"Dana Frank - historian, author, UC Santa Cruz professor and Los Altos native - didn't plan on using her skills as a researcher to dig up her own childhood monuments when she returned to her alma mater to teach, but questions arose.

Whatever happened to that beloved and incredibly offensive Cave Train Ride on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk? Who was behind the two cat sculptures on Highway 17 near Los Gatos? What urban legends about the mysterious Pulgas Water Temple on the Peninsula could be true? And what is up with the engravings on 2,000-year-old redwoods in Big Basin Redwoods State Park?"

- Reyhan Harmanci, SF Chronicle