Dhe Bel Air fire of 1961 was one of the worst wildfires in recorded California history. It destroyed almost five hundred houses and devastated twenty-four square kilometers of land. Driven by Santa Ana winds, the fire almost destroyed a building that would make it famous again in German cultural politics: the Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, the home of the late writer Lion Feuchtwanger and his family Mrs. Marta. The widow “fortunately watered the roof, not with wood, but with tiles, onto which hot ashes flew. Half of the Pacific Palisades was in danger of being engulfed in flames. When finally Marta Feuchtwanger, who held out until the last moment, wanted to call the fire brigade and have them pick her up, the tide turned.” In Hollywood parlance, such a rescue is called a “last minute rescue”. In this case, it was the elements themselves that rushed to help or withdrew.
Thomas Blubacher, who in his book about Pacific Palisades reports on the Bel Air fire in the tone of an experienced lounge chatterer, later benefited personally from the building’s rescue. At the beginning of the noughties he was a scholarship holder at the Villa Aurora, which is now run and supported as an artist residency by the Federal Republic of Germany. The idea for his book dates back to this period of personal observation, when Blubacher, Swiss theater maker and non-fiction author, met some of the last of the many exiles who had come to California in the 1930s and 40s in Pacific Palisades. Thomas Mann, Arnold Schönberg, Salka Viertel, Max Reinhardt, Leonhard Frank, Emil Ludwig, these are just a few of the names of a diverse community of emigrants, some of the most important of whom found a home in Pacific Palisades.
Religious zeal and interest in land speculation
Blubacher talks about them in his entertaining book. Strictly speaking, he does not redeem the subtitles, or only partially. This has to do with the particular perspective he has chosen, because on the one hand he is trying to write something like a biography of the town, which, alongside Beverly Hills (where the rich people live) and Malibu (where the famous live) as the Home of the lucky ones (if one is willing to follow the Palisadian Post, which is naturally biased on this issue). The restriction to Pacific Palisades, which Blubacher does not take very strictly, prevents him from depicting Hollywood’s invention as more than just a side story. So he promises a little too much. On the other hand, the question of what the legacy of exile consists of, which is referred to in the subtitle, is not easy to answer either. This would require discussion, unless one opts for the practical solution, according to which the legacy of exile resides in the Villa Aurora, making Thomas Blubacher himself an heir as a scholarship holder.