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CONTACT: Elena Danielson, Hoover Institution Archivist (650) 723-3563, or
Cissie Hill, Archival and Exhibit Specialist, (650) 723-1512

Exhibit on 'Sunset Magazine: A Century of Western Living' opens May 12

A new exhibit, Sunset Magazine: A Century of Western Living, 1898-1998, opens on May 12 in the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion. It is presented by the Hoover Institution and Stanford University Libraries.


Sunset Magazine, February 1929; untitled (Lake Tahoe) by Maurice Logan. First issue under management of Lane Publishing Co.; photography by the California Historical Society, North Baker Research Library.

Sunset, with its focus on home, garden, cuisine, travel and leisure, became known to generations of Westerners as the magazine that celebrated and defined the Far West lifestyle. What is somewhat less appreciated are the contributions it made to larger societal issues, including among others energy conservation, protection of the environment, and policies on state and national parks. Whether the focus was on practical innovations in western living or on larger public policy questions, Sunset imbued its pages with the values and ideals of the West, which it often enriched by introducing influences from distant shores of the Pacific Rim.

In the documentary exhibit, the magazine's story is told using memorabilia, original art, documents, artifacts, photographs, historic magazines and equipment used in the innovative Sunset test kitchens. The magazine has been continuously published for 100 years under four owners and boasts more than 5 million readers.

The magazine's history is interconnected in unexpected ways with the history of both Stanford University and the West. Sunset began as a promotional magazine of the Southern Pacific Co., whose first president was Leland Stanford. Painting the beauties of the West in glowing colors, the magazine encouraged migration to the western states. During its first 30 years it also published the works of leading writers such as Jack London, Stanford University president David Starr Jordan, and the man who became America's first president from the West, Herbert Hoover.

In 1928 the magazine was purchased by Laurence W. Lane Sr., whose vision was to produce a magazine enabling Westerners to take advantage of the West's unique landscape and climate. Editorial policy shifted from writing about the West to writing for the West. Larry Lane, often with the help of his wife, Ruth, developed a staff-written regional magazine with articles covering home, garden, food and travel, each telling the reader "how to do it." His sons, Bill and Mel, worked selling Sunset door-to-door during the Depression and, after graduating from Stanford and serving in the Navy in World War II, joined the magazine full time in 1946. They took over the operating management of the company in 1952. By working together with a dedicated staff for nearly four decades, the Lane Publishing Co., with its magazines, books and, later, films, had its greatest growth by constantly adapting to interests of its expanding audience. Bill eventually became the publisher of Sunset and Mel, the publisher of Sunset Books. During the Lane years Sunset was at the forefront of discussions about conservation of resources and the environment. Articles advocated energy-efficient houses and drought gardening as well as the preservation and creation of state and national parks.

In addition to the exhibition, Stanford University Libraries will publish a book-length bibliography of more than 9,500 selected articles from Sunset's first issue to the present and a chronological bibliography of Sunset books. The Libraries will make the bibliography available without charge to any library in the 13 western states with extensive holdings of Sunset. It is also available for purchase by the general public.

The exhibition can be viewed from May 12 through Aug. 15 in the Herbert Hoover Memorial Exhibit Pavilion next to Hoover Tower. The pavilion is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

The exhibition will move to the California Historical Society at 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, from Sept. 10 through Jan. 2. For additional information or to arrange group tours call 723-3563.


By Kathleen O'Toole

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