Lovell’s vision of a healthful California lifestyle was not entirely novel in his day. As author Lyra Kilston describes in her recent book Sun Seekers: The Cure of California (2019), for decades, health-seekers made their way to the Golden State in great numbers, hoping to reap the benefits of its warm, dry climate; ample sunshine; and unspoiled natural beauty. Communities of vegetarians, nudists, and proto-hippie naturalists settled throughout the valleys and canyons in and around Los Angeles; all the while, California’s reputation for healthy living also attracted those rehabilitating from one of the most widespread diseases of the day: tuberculosis.
To those living in urban areas in Europe and the eastern United States in the late 19th century, tuberculosis loomed large. As populations grew exponentially in cities like London, New York, and Boston, overcrowding and insufficient sanitation led to widespread cases of the disease, which killed up to 80 percent of those infected, according to some estimates. The urban poor were infected at especially high rates, and, though social prejudices led to the belief that the illness was the result of genetic deficiencies, inadequate living and working conditions were truly to blame. As an airborne contagion, tuberculosis found optimum conditions to spread in the cramped, dim tenement buildings where many city-dwellers lived, as well as the poorly ventilated factories where they worked.