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The Sunset Connection

There's another time-track, this one somewhat circuitous, that connects Stanford to that historic junction at Promontory, Utah. In 1898, 13 years after the Central Pacific merged with the Southern Pacific Railroad and assumed the latter name, the company began distributing on its trains a modest magazine called Sunset, promoting tourism in the West (and traffic on its lines). In 1928, an Iowa businessman named Laurence Lane bought Sunset from the Southern Pacific, moved his family to California, and built a publishing empire. His sons, Mel, '44, and L.W. (Bill), '42, took over the operation after World War II and led a brisk expansion. By the time they retired in 1990, the magazine had a circulation of more than 1 million.

In 2005, Bill Lane's $5 million gift helped establish the Bill Lane Center for the Study of the North American West. “The center has positioned Stanford to be a better regional citizen as well as the leading institution for the study of the West,” says co-director David Kennedy. The center has sponsored scholarly conferences on the West's forests and fisheries, Mexican immigration, the region's reliance on direct-democracy devices like the initiative and referendum, managing metropolitan growth, and representations of the West in the national media. Current projects focus on water in the West, California constitutional reform, the effects of migration in Mexico and in the western United States, and the Civil War's consequences for Western development. According to Kennedy, “The journey begun at Promontory continues, as the Bill Lane Center is rapidly establishing itself as the premier locus for the study of the West's past, present and future.”

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