What is Your Livermore Story?
We were children growing up in this suburban time capsule at a unique time in history between the end of World War II, the beginning of the cold war, and the escalation of a new war in Viet Nam. We were born at the midpoint of the century and came of age in the mid-sixties.
Prior to the 1950’s, Livermore was known for ranching, cowboys, rodeos, and vineyards — with a population of around 4,000. By 1960 it had grown enough new tract houses for Lab employees, to house 14,000 souls; by 1964, a second public high school was needed, and by 1990 there were nearly 60,000 residents. In 1972, Photographer Bill Owens, a photographer with the Livermore Independent, created a photo essay with images taken in the Livermore-Amador Valley. “Suburbia” catalogued the images of changing times. Acres of new and treeless streets, stucco tract houses, girls with big hair, men in white belts, mothers coming to the end of their usefulness in life, or so it sometimes seemed. Livermore was infused and re-invented by the presence of the lab.
The population boom in Livermore happened because of employment opportunities at the Livermore Laboratory, an industry fueled by the transition from world war to cold war. Our fathers, and those of many of our friends, worked at the lab, or they came to Livermore to work in city services that accompanied the growth – doctors, teachers, roadbuilders, power generators. The lab brought opportunities for a workforce at all levels. There were highly technical scientists, and there were the working class craftsmen who built and maintained the systems. What was the impact of social class on the experience of growing up in Livermore?
UC Berkeley was near by and for many of us, this, or another UC Campus, was a first choice for college. The Free Speech movement had already begun to articulate the case against corporate and government “ownership” of higher education
The Civil Rights movement was ascendant in the early to mid sixties, creating another fundamental wave of social change. Livermore evolved into a suburban community. Unlike the communities that many of us came from, it was predominantly white. How did that experience change us, and how was it different for children of color — African American, Asian, and Latino?
In the early 1960’s, the population had grown to a point where a second high school was needed, and the young people of Livermore were divided, west and east. Granada High School opened in 1963. Was it intent or coincidence that it attracted a youthful and creative faculty? Many were graduates of UC Berkeley. They were willing to create innovations – honors classes, flexible scheduling, interdisciplinary learning, even an epic overthrow of student government.
Our high school classmates were among the first young men to serve, and to die, in Viet Nam, and the antiwar movement was emerging to raise serious questions about this war.
In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a classic work documenting the rising of feminist change in postwar America. In her research, she interviewed suburban women and tapped a deep vein of unhappiness with the limitations of their lives. Having found this very book on my mother’s bedside table, and having given years of thought to what her life was like in these years, I know the wave had reached Livermore.
“Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories”. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie speaks eloquently of what she calls “the danger of a single story”. In that spirit, we invite writing which is reflective of a variety of experiences around these cultural and historic themes. Our own exploration has yielded a long list of questions to start your thinking. You need not address every question, and you may have some of your own to add. We are interested in the central role of LLNL (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) in our shared experience, and how this intersected for you with any or all of the cultural changes of the time. But we welcome your stories whether or not you or your family had any direct experience with LLNL
In 1958 my family transferred from the Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Livermore National Lab. Los Alamos was a national compound, so Livermore was freedom. I saw my first plane in flight, we didn’t have evacuation drills every few weeks, we did not have FBI agents checking every six months. I could learn to swim at Livermore High School but I missed ice skating and snowball fights. I went to St. Micheals School and then to Granada High School (in the third graduating class).