10 Californians Who Are Missing from the Hall of Fame

A new class of Californians was inducted into the state Hall of Fame this week. Here are ten names we'd like to see in the class of 2020.

Visitors to the California Hall of Fame might want to manage their expectations. As Alta contributor Mary Ladd discovered, the Golden State’s official Hall of Fame is merely a “signature exhibit” at the California Museum in Sacramento. Ladd found the honors bestowed on the state’s best and brightest less than satisfying. Read her review here.  

The list of inductees, chosen annually by the current governor, is still an impressive one. (Full disclosure: the Hearst family was among the Hall of Fame’s first class in 2006.) But a number of vital California contributors are absent from the roster. 

We received feedback on Thursday’s newsletter that our list of five Californians missing from the Hall of Fame wasn’t nearly as diverse as the Golden State. The feedback was absolutely correct. Here’s an expanded list of suggestions to better reflect the intellect and talent of Californians covered in Alta:

Stewart Brand: The Whole Earth Catalog founder influenced some of the most innovative minds of Silicon Valley. Brand, who turns 81 on Saturday, is still hard at work on projects focused on conservation and climate change. 

Russell Chatham: Beloved by collectors and landscape enthusiasts, world-renowned painter Chatham gave what would be his final interview to Alta editor and publisher Will Hearst. The artist passed away last month, leaving behind a body of work inspired by the scenery of California and the West. 

Sydney Goldstein: The City Arts & Lectures founder changed the cultural landscape of San Francisco. The intimate and conversational style of live interviews she championed has become a sophisticated standard—one often used as inspiration by Alta and others. 

David Harris: Credited with starting the draft resistance during the Vietnam War, Harris served 20 months in prison for the courage of his convictions. Now 73, living in Marin County, and battling cancer, the noted activist continues to inspire generations of justice warriors.

Ishmael Reed: Poet, educator, author, neighborhood activist, playwright—Reed is a fearless Oakland original whose work reacts to and reflects on the constant evolution of the Bay Area and the Golden State. 

Feng Joe Guey: This under-acknowledged pioneer aviator made the first-ever airplane flight on the West Coast. A Chinese immigrant who lived in Oakland, Feng is more famous in his native country than he ever was in California—where he did most of his groundbreaking work. (An article on Feng appears in the Fall 2019 issue of


Raul Ruiz: Described as a “Renaissance man” of the Chicano movement, Ruiz was a journalist, activist, educator, and leader. He championed California’s Mexican Americans in his constant quest for equal rights. 

Betye Saar: Trailblazing Los Angeles assemblage artist Saar finally has her own show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—at the age of 93. Over the past 60 years, Saar’s work has taken on topics related to race, gender, and politics, challenging viewers throughout the country and in her home state. 

Steve Silver: Many consider the late producer’s wildly successful show, Beach Blanket Babylon, as San Franciscan as sourdough. After 45 years, the city’s iconic campy cabaret mainstay will close its curtain for good at the end of a final (and likely fabulous) New Year’s Eve show.  

Paula West: A jazz and cabaret artist adored by her contemporaries, West has consistently defied convention with her musical choices. In her decades of work, she has challenged expectations and tradition—to the delight of audiences and critics.

Who do you think deserves to be inducted into the California Hall of Fame—and why? Let us know at letters@altaonline.com and you could see your comments in a future newsletter or issue of Alta.

A shorter version of this post appeared in Alta‘s December 12, 2019 newsletter. 

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
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