The city that epitomized the first Gilded Age was New York, site of the greatest houses, most glittering social events and the mightiest banks. It was home to the social elite — the so-called Four Hundred (the number that could fit into Mrs. Astor’s ballroom). Its slums, with names like Bandit’s Roost and Misery Row, were the subject of Jacob Riis’ book How the Other Half Lives.
But the capital of America’s second Gilded Age is Los Angeles, where hilltop homes worth tens of millions of dollars look out over a city in which even the middle class struggles to afford shelter and the number of homeless increases daily. The city’s famed sprawl cannot isolate Angelenos from disorienting contrasts many Americans assumed had disappeared after reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society.
The heart of Gilded Age Los Angeles is Bel Air, a community of curving lanes and hillside mansions where a Hollywood legend lurks behind every hedge and gate.
The homeless’ ranks have been swelled by military veterans, young people emerging from foster homes, refugees from domestic abuse and inmates released under an initiative that made it easier to parole non-violent offenders. About three in 10 homeless people are mentally ill, and two in 10 are addicts.
And housing is just too expensive. In California, eight in 10 homes for sale are not affordable on a public teacher’s salary.