“From Acorns to Warehouses”

New book by UC Riverside anthropologist analyzes transformation of Inland region from agrarian roots to Warehouse Empire

Thomas Patterson

Anthropology professor Thomas Patterson has published a new book, “From Acorns to Warehouses: Historical Political Economy of Southern California’s Inland Empire,” that tracks the social, political and economic changes in the Inland Empire from thousands of years ago to the present.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – When Spanish missionaries arrived in Alta California and the region known today as the Inland Empire in the late 18th century, they found a highly manicured landscape farmed by Indian people. Today the Inland region is the Warehouse Empire, the gateway for nearly half of all goods imported into the United States from China and East Asia.

How the region transformed from vibrant, self-sufficient Native American communities thousands of years old to 21st century cities that host a burgeoning warehouse economy is the subject of new book by Thomas C. Patterson, distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of California, Riverside.

“From Acorns to Warehouses: Historical Political Economy of Southern California’s Inland Empire” (Left Coast Press Inc., December 2014) tracks the social, political and economic changes in the region from thousands of years ago to the present, connecting issues of landscape, resources, wealth, labor and inequality.

Many scholarly books and works of fiction focus on Los Angeles and coastal communities, viewing the Inland region as a reflection of the metropolitan area. Local history books have focused on specific communities, but few writers have attempted to link their development with events elsewhere, Patterson said.

“What happened in the inland valley cannot be explained entirely by forces emanating from the outside,” he explained in the preface of “From Acorns to Warehouses.” “It is also necessary to look at the region through a different lens – one that brings into focus motors of change that are internal to the region and that allow us to explore their relations with what is taking place outside.”

jacket coverOne goal of the book, he wrote, “is to shift the focus away from the metropolis and to begin considering the inland valley as a distinctive space in its own right, one that has changing linkages with the city, its suburbs in the coastal counties, the state, the country, and the global economy.”

Patterson was 15 when his family moved to Pomona in 1952. World War II was over, but the wartime economy remained. Kaiser Steel’s 10,000 employees far exceeded the amount of housing available, prompting some workers to live in chicken coops and pig sties in Fontana. Military bases and the defense industry grew. Subdivisions began replacing citrus groves.

Patterson left the area to attend college and begin a career as an anthropologist. When he returned in 2000 to teach at UC Riverside, the region “was so fundamentally different from what I remembered. The orange groves were gone. Commercial dairy farms had moved out of the L.A. Basin and were replaced by warehouses. The Inland Empire has 27 square miles of warehouses. Ninety-seven percent of warehouses in Southern California are in the Inland Empire.”

“I wanted to know how that happened, and what that means for the future of this area,” he explained.

“From Acorns to Warehouses” examines the region’s development, beginning with Native American societies thousands of years ago, the Spanish colonial experience and Mexico’s War of Independence to the advent of railroads, the citrus industry, war and the defense industry, and today’s warehouse economy.

“My hope is that people in different parts of the Inland Empire will see connections between what’s happened in the past and the problems we all share,” Patterson said.

Key periods of the region’s transformation include:

  • 500-8,500 years ago – Indian people inhabit the area around Lake Elsinore about 8,500 years ago, the San Bernardino Mountains as long as 3,600 years ago, and the Lake Cahuilla area of the Coachella and Imperial valleys 500 years ago. Evidence of human activity on San Miguel Island near Santa Barbara dates back about 8,000 years earlier. Some live in permanent villages, others in campsites. While the diets of coastal villagers depends on marine foods, people in the inland valley collect plant foods and hunt small game. Before the arrival of Spanish colonists, native communities have already “domesticated” the landscape. “They possessed effective tools and methods for extracting, processing, and storing the raw materials they had taken, as well as the knowledge for maintaining or improving the productivity of those landscapes,” Patterson says.
  • Mid 1770s – Spanish missionaries and their livestock transform the landscape to pasture, introducing what Patterson calls a “plunder economy” that devastates indigenous crops and communities. Native food sources are overrun by livestock and the introduction of invasive species. The Spanish colonial period introduces three institutions: the presidio, the mission and the pueblo.
  • Late 1830s – The Mexican governor of Alta California closes the missions, scatters their Indian residents, appropriates their property, and redistributes their lands and livestock to about 40 influential citizens around Los Angeles. The economy is largely a non-monetary one based on credit.
  • 1850s – The U.S. annexation of California results in new laws regarding land ownership that produce a massive redistribution of wealth.
  • 1890s – Gentleman farmers appear in Riverside, Redlands and Loma Linda. Dunn and Bradstreet labels Riverside the wealthiest community in the United States on a per capita basis.
  • Early 20th century – Oil is discovered along the ancient shoreline in the L.A. Basin. Signal Hill rapidly becomes an affluent community, and a regionally specialized economy emerges with competing cities of importance.
  • 1950s – The wartime economy transforms the region with the growth of military bases and factories that support the defense industry, such as Kaiser Steel. Citrus production that peaked in the 1940s begins to wane, but packinghouses remain in most towns. Access to water to support these burgeoning industries prompts numerous lawsuits over water rights.
  • 2010 – High-tech warehouses dominate the landscape of the Inland Empire, connected to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach by a maze of highways, railroads and airports. Approximately 45 percent of goods imported into the United States from China and East Asia pass through the region each year. A sea of rooftops is evidence of the housing boom that made the region one of the fastest-growing in the country in the 1990s and early 21st century.

Media Contact


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Additional Contacts

Thomas Patterson
Tel: (951) 827-2050
E-mail: thomas.patterson@ucr.edu

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