|History of Los Angeles from
Los Angeles changed rapidly after
1848, when California was transferred to the United States as a result
of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican–American War.
Much greater changes were to come from the completion of the Transcontinental
Railroad in 1876. For the next 120 years of Los Angeles' growth, it was
plagued by often violent ethnic and class conflict, reflected in the struggle
over who would control the city's identity, image, geography and history.
Recent archeological studies show
there was a seafaring culture in Southern California in 8,000 B.C.
By 3,000 B.C. the area was occupied
by the Hokan-speaking people of the Milling Stone Period who fished, hunted
sea mammals, and gathered wild seeds. They were later replaced by migrants
— possibly fleeing drought in the Great Basin — who spoke a Uto-Aztecan
language called Tongva. The Tongva people called the Los Angeles region
Yaa in Tongva.
By the time of the arrival of the
Spaniard in the 18th century A.D., there were 250,000 to 300,000 native
people in California and 5,000 in the Los Angeles basin. Since contact
with Europeans, the people in what became Los Angeles were known as Gabrielinos
and Fernandeños, after the missions associated with them.
The land occupied and used by the
Gabrielinos covered about four thousand square miles. It included the enormous
floodplain drained by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers and the southern
Channel Islands, including the Santa Barbara, San Clemente, Santa Catalina,
and San Nicholas Islands. They were part of a sophisticated group of trading
partners that included the Chumash to the north, the Cahuilla and Mojave
to the east, and the Juaneños and Luiseños to the south.
Their trade extended to the Colorado River and included slavery.
The lives of the Gabrielinos were
governed by a set of religious and cultural practices that included belief
in creative supernatural forces. They worshipped a creator god, Chinigchinix,
and a female virgin god, Chukit. Their Great Morning Ceremony was based
on a belief in the afterlife. In a purification ritual similar to the Eucharist,
they drank tolguache, a hallucinogenic made from jimson weed and salt water.
Their language was called Kizh or Kij, and they practiced cremation.
Generations before the arrival of
the Europeans, the Gabrielinos had identified and lived in the best sites
for human occupation. The survival and success of Los Angeles would depend
greatly on the presence of a nearby and prosperous Gabrielino village called
Yaanga. Its residents would provide the colonists with seafood, fish, bowls,
pelts, and baskets. For pay, they would dig ditches, haul water, and provide
domestic help. They often intermarried with the Mexican colonists.
Spanish Era 1769–1821
Alta California and the settlement of a whole line of missions
and presidios ("military forts"). The military forts were not self-sustaining,
and the missions would supply them with goods and food.
|In 1542 the first Europeans to visit the Los Angeles
region were Captain Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and his crew. They were sailing
up the coast looking for a new passage to Asia. In 1602, Captain Sebastián
Vizcaíno dropped anchor at Santa Catalina Island and near San Pedro.
It would be another 166 years before another European would visit the region.
The Spanish expedition of Alta California
Los Angeles had its beginnings between 1765 and 1771 in
the plans of a royal bureaucrat visiting New Spain, General José
de Gálvez. He was in charge of implementing Bourbon administrative
reforms. His reorganization included plans for the further exploration
The "Old Plaza Church" facing the Plaza, 1869. The brick
reservoir in the middle of the Plaza
was the original terminus of the Zanja Madre.
Galvez petitioned the king to approve these plans with
these arguments: 1. It would provide new revenues for the Vice Royalty
governing New Spain. 2. It would protect the Spanish Empire in North America,
especially from the encroaching Russians. 3. It would provide a base for
increasing trade with Asia. The plans also had the support of the Franciscans
who wanted to open new missions in Alta California.
Galvez's petition resulted in the formation of a joint
land-and -sea expedition. Its primary purpose was to occupy Monterey (which
had been visited by Vizcaíno in 1602) and establish new missions
and presidios there and in San Diego.
To lead the expedition, Galvez appointed the new governor
of California Lieutenant Colonel Gaspar de Portolà and Father Junípero
Serra, Franciscan head of the former Jesuit missions in Baja California.
During the land expedition from San Diego to Monterey,
engineer Michael Costanso and Father Juan Crespí accompanied Portola.
They kept careful notes of all they observed. Reaching the future site
of Los Angeles, the party camped out along side a river. Portola named
the river Porciuncula.
The name came from an approaching Franciscan religious
celebration that honored the mother church of the Franciscans, the Porziuncola
("small piece of land") in the Italian frazione of Saint Mary of the Angels.
Father Crespi made these observations:
|Thursday, 3, 1769. At half past six, we left the camp
and forded the Porciuncula River, which runs down from the valley, flowing
through it from the mountains to the plain. After crossing the river we
entered a large vineyard of wild grapes and an infinity of rosebushes in
full bloom. All the soil is black and loamy, and is capable of producing
every kind of grain and fruit which may be planted. We went west, continually
over good land well covered with grass. After traveling about half a league
we came to the village of this region, the people of which, on seeing us,
came out to the road.
Plans for the pueblo
The one person most responsible for the founding of Los
Angeles was the new Governor of California, Felipe de Neve.
In 1777 Neve toured Alta California and decided to establish
civic pueblos for the support of the military presidios. Neve was a Renaissance
person. The new pueblos would reduce the secular power of the missions
by reducing the dependency of the military on them. At the same time, they
would promote the development of industry and agriculture.
Neve identified Santa Barbara, San Jose, and Los Angeles
as sites for his new pueblos. His plans for them closely followed a set
of Spanish city-planning laws contained in the Laws of the Indies promulgated
by King Philip II in 1573. Those laws were responsible for laying the foundations
of the largest cities in the region, including Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Tucson, and San Antonio—as well as Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Fe, San Jose,
The royal regulations were based on the ancient teachings
of Vitruvius, who set down the rules for founding of new cities in the
Roman Empire. Basically, the Spanish laws called for an open central plaza,
surrounded by a fortified church, administrative buildings, and streets
laid out in a grid, defining rectangles of limited size to be used for
farming (suertes) and residences (solares).
It was in accordance with such precise planning—specified
in the Law of the Indies—that Governor Neve founded the pueblo of San Jose
de Guadalupe, California's first municipality, on the great plain of Santa
Clara on 29 November 1777.
The Los Angeles Pobladores
The Los Angeles Pobladores ("townspeople") is the name
given to the 44 original settlers, 22 adults and 22 children, who founded
In December, 1777 Viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli
y Ursúa and Commandant General Teodoro de Croix gave approval for
the founding of a civic municipality at Los Angeles and a new presidio
at Santa Barbara. Croix put the California lieutenant governor Fernando
Rivera y Moncada in charge of recruiting colonists for the new settlements.
He was originally instructed to recruit 55 soldiers, 22 settlers with families
and 1,000 head of livestock that included horses for the military. After
an exhausting search that took him to Mazatlán, Rosario, and Durango,
Rivera y Moncada only recruited 12 settlers and 45 soldiers. Like the people
of most towns in New Spain, they were a mix of Indian and Spanish backgrounds.
Croix instructed Rivera y Moncada to delay no longer and proceed north.
The soldiers, settlers, and livestock were assembled at Alamos, Sonora,
They were divided into two groups. One group, under Alfèrez
Josè de Zúñiga and Alfèrez Ramon Laso de la
Vega, set out for the coast. They crossed the Gulf of California on launches
and then travelled overland to San Diego and up to San Gabriel.
The second group, under Rivera y Moncada, took an overland
route over the desert, passing by the new missions on the Colorado River,
La Purísima Concepción and Mission San Pedro y San Pablo
de Bicuñer. The group arrived at the Colorado River in June 1781.
Rivera y Moncada sent most of his party ahead, but he stayed behind to
rest the livestock before their drive across the desert. His party would
never reach San Gabriel. The Quechan and Mojave Indians rose up against
the party for encroaching on their farmlands and for other abuses inflicted
by the soldiers. The Quechan Revolt was swift and killed 95 settlers and
soldiers, including Rivera y Moncada.
Governor Neve had arrived in San Gabriel in April to finish
his plans, El Reglamento, and select the exact location for Los Angeles.
He carefully attended to every detail.
While waiting for the colonists to arrive, he visited
Yaanga, the Indian village near his selected site. He selected several
children for reception into the Church and baptized a young couple and
had their marriage blessed. In his Reglamento, the newly baptized Indians
were no longer to reside in the mission but live in their traditional rancherías
(villages). Neve's new plans for the Indians' role in his new town drew
instant disapproval from the mission priests.
Zúñiga's party arrived at the mission on
18 July 1781. Because they had arrived with smallpox, they were immediately
quarantined a short distance away from the mission. Members of the other
party would arrive at different times by August. They made their way to
Los Angeles and probably received their land before September.
The official date for the founding of the city is September
4, 1781. According to a written message sent by Governor Neve to report
the pueblo's juridical foundation, that was when 44 pobladores, or settlers,
gathered at San Gabriel Mission and, escorted by soldiers and two padres
from the mission, set out for the chosen spot that Crespí had recorded
twelve years earlier. According to historian Antonio Rios-Bustamante, however,
the families had arrived from Mexico earlier in 1781, in two groups, and
some of them had most likely been working on their assigned plots of land
since the early summer.
The name first given to the settlement is debated. Historian
Doyce P. Nunis has said that the Spanish named it "El Pueblo de la Reyna
de los Angeles" ("The Town of the Queen of the Angels"). For proof, he
pointed to a map dated 1785, where that phrase was used. Frank Weber, the
diocesan archivist, replied, however, that the name given by the founders
was "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula",
or "the town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula." and that the map
was in error.
The early pueblo
At the end of the first year only eight of the original
founders were still in the pueblo; three had been forced out "for being
useless to themselves and the town." But the town grew as soldiers and
other settlers came into town and stayed. In 1784 a chapel was built on
the Plaza. The pobladores were given title to their land two years later.
By 1800, there were 29 buildings that surrounded the Plaza, flat-roofed,
one-story adobe buildings with thatched roofs made of tule.
By 1821 Los Angeles had grown into a self-sustaining farming
community, the largest in Southern California. Its development conformed
strictly to the Law of the Indies and the Reglamento of Governor Neve.
The pueblo itself included a square of 10,000 varas, five and a quarter
miles on each side. The central Plaza was in the middle, 75 varas (208
ft.) wide and 100 varas (277 ft.) long. On the west side of the Plaza facing
east, space was reserved for a church and municipal buildings. Each vecino
received a solar (lot) 20 varas (55.5 ft.) wide and 40 varas (110 ft.)
Each settler also received four rectangles of land, suertes,
for farming, two irrigated plots and two dry ones. Each plot was 200 square
varas. The farm plots were separated from the pueblo by a tract of land
200 varas wide. Some plots of land, propios, were set aside for the pueblo's
general use and revenue. Other plots of land, realengas, were set aside
for future settlers. Land outside the city, baldíos, included mountains,
rivers, lakes, and forests, and belonged to the king.
When the settlers arrived, the Los Angeles floodplain
was heavily wooded with willows and oaks. The Los Angeles river flowed
all year. Wildlife was plentiful, including deer, antelope, and bear, even
an occasional grizzly. There were abundant wetlands and swamps. Steelhead
and salmon swam the rivers.
The first settlers built a water system consisting of
ditches (zanjas) leading from the river through the middle of town and
into the farmlands. Indians were employed to haul fresh drinking water
from a special pool farther upstream. The city was first known as a producer
of fine wine grapes. The raising of cattle and the commerce in tallow and
hides would come later.
Because of the great economic potential for Los Angeles,
the demand for Indian labor grew rapidly. Yaanga began attracting Indians
from the islands and as far away as San Diego and San Luis Obispo. The
village began to look like a refugee camp. Unlike the missions, the pobladores
paid Indians for their labor. In exchange for their work as farm workers,
vaqueros, ditch diggers, water haulers, and domestic help; they were paid
in clothing and other goods as well as cash and alcohol. The pobladores
bartered with them for prized sea-otter and seal pelts, sieves, trays,
baskets, mats, and other woven goods. This commerce greatly contributed
to the economic success of the town and the attraction of other Indians
to the city.
During the 1780s, San Gabriel Mission became the object
of an Indian revolt. The mission had expropriated all the suitable farming
land; the Indians found themselves abused and forced to work on lands that
they once owned. A young Indian healer, Toypurina began touring the area,
preaching against the injustices suffered by her people. She won over four
rancherías and led them in an attack on the mission at San Gabriel.
The soldiers were able to defend the mission, and arrested 17, including
Because the Indians were exploited, starved, beaten, and
raped in the pueblo as often as anywhere else, the officials knew they
had to protect them to assure a cheap supply of labor. In 1787 Governor
Pedro Fages drew up his "Instructions for the Corporal Guard of the Pueblo
of Los Angeles." The Instructions included rules for employing Indians,
not using corporal punishment, and protecting the Indian rancherías.
As a result, Indians found themselves with more freedom to choose between
the benefits of the missions and the pueblo-associated rancherías.
In 1784 California's first three ranchos were granted
to soldiers, all in Los Angeles County. Rancho San Pedro was given to Juan
José Dominguez, Rancho San Rafael to José María Verdugo,
and Rancho Los Nietos to Mañuel Nieto. The grants stipulated that
Indian employees stay clear of San Gabriel, further drawing them away from
the missions and closer to the life of the pueblo.
In 1795, Sergeant Pablo Cota led an expedition from the
Simi Valley through the Conejo-Calabasas region and into the San Fernando
Valley. His party visited the rancho of Francisco Reyes. They found the
local Indians hard at work as vaqueros and caring for crops. Padre Vincente
de Santa Maria was traveling with the party and made these observations:
|All of pagandom (Indians) is fond of the pueblo of Los
Angeles, of the rancho of Reyes, and of the ditches (water system). Here
we see nothing but pagans, clad in shoes, with sombreros and blankets,
and serving as muleteers to the settlers and rancheros, so that if it were
not for the gentiles there would be neither pueblos nor ranches. These
pagan Indians care neither for the missions nor for the missionaries.
Not only economic ties but also
marriage drew many Indians into the life of the pueblo. In 1784—only three
years after the founding—the first recorded marriages in Los Angeles took
place. The two sons of settler Basilio Rosas, Maximo and José Carlos,
married two young Indian women, María Antonia and María Dolores.
The construction on the Plaza of
La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles took place between
1818 and 1822, much of it with Indian labor. The new church completed Governor
Neve's planned transition of authority from mission to pueblo. The angelinos
would no longer have to make the bumpy 11-mile (18 km) ride to Sunday Mass
at Mission San Gabriel. In 1820 the route of El Camino Viejo was established
from Los Angeles, over the mountains to the north and up the west side
of the San Joaquin Valley to the east side of San Francisco Bay.
Although many Indians benefited
from assimilation into the life of the pueblo, traditional Indians remained
at the bottom of the social ladder and were exploited as workers.
The Mexican Era 1821–1848
Mexico's independence from Spain
in 1821 was celebrated with great festivity throughout Alta California.
No longer subjects of the king, people were now ciudadanos, citizens with
rights under the law. In the plazas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles,
and other settlements, people swore allegiance to the new government, the
Spanish flag was lowered, and the flag of independent Mexico raised.
Independence brought other advantages,
including economic growth. There was a corresponding increase in population
as more Indians were assimilated and others arrived from America, Europe,
and other parts of Mexico. Before 1820, there were just 650 people in the
pueblo. By 1841, the population nearly tripled to 1,680.
Secularization of the Missions
During the rest of the 1820s the
agriculture and cattle ranching expanded, as did the trade in hides and
tallow. The new church was completed, and the political life of the city
developed. Los Angeles was separated from Santa Barbara administration.
The system of ditches which provided water from the river was rebuilt.
Trade and commerce further increased with the secularization of the California
missions by the Mexican Congress in 1833. Extensive mission lands suddenly
became available to government officials, ranchers, and land speculators.
The governor made more than 800 land grants during this period.
Much of this progress, however,
bypassed the Indians of the traditional villages who were not assimilated
into the mestizo culture. Being regarded as minors who could not think
for themselves, they were increasingly marginalized and relieved of their
land titles, often by being drawn into debt or alcohol.
In 1834, Governor Pico was married
to Maria Ignacio Alvarado in the Plaza church. It was attended by the entire
population of the pueblo, 800 people, plus hundreds from elsewhere in Alta
California. In 1835, the Mexican Congress declared Los Angeles a city,
making it the official capital of Alta California. It was now the region's
The same period also saw the arrival
of many foreigners from the United States and Europe. They would play a
pivotal role in the U.S. takeover. Early California settler John Bidwell
included several historical figures in his recollection of people he knew
in March, 1845.
|It then had probably two hundred and fifty people, of
whom I recall Don Abel Stearns, John Temple, Captain Alexander Bell, William
Wolfskill, Lemuel Carpenter, David W. Alexander; also of Mexicans, Pio
Pico (governor), Don Juan Bandini, and others.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles in
1831, Jean-Louis Vignes bought 104 acres (0.42 km2) of land located between
the original Pueblo and the banks of the Los Angeles River. He planted
a vineyard and prepared to make wine. He named his property El Aliso after
the centuries old tree found near the entrance. The grapes available at
the time, of the Mission variety, were brought to Alta California by the
Franciscan Brothers at the end of the 18th century. They grew well and
yielded large quantities of wine, but Jean-Louis Vignes was not satisfied
with the results. Therefore, he decided to import better vines from Bordeaux:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1840, Jean-Louis
Vignes made the first recorded shipment of California wine. The Los Angeles
market was too small for his production, and he loaded a shipment on the
Monsoon, bound for Northern California. By 1842, he made regular shipments
to Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Francisco. By 1849, El Aliso, was the
most extensive vineyard in California. Vignes owned over 40,000 vines and
produced 150,000 bottles, or 1000 barrels, per year.
The Battle of Los Angeles
In May, 1846, the Mexican American
War broke out. Because of Mexico's inability to defend its northern territories,
California was exposed to invasion. On August 6, 1846, Commodore Robert
F. Stockton anchored off San Pedro and proceeded to march inland to occupy
Los Angeles. On August 13, accompanied by John C. Frémont, Stockton
marched into the Los Angeles Plaza with his brass band playing "Yankee
Doodle" and "Hail Columbia." Stockton's troops occupied the headquarters
and home of Governor Pico, who had fled to Mexico. After three weeks of
occupation, Stockton left, leaving Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie in
Subsequent maltreatment by Gillespie
and his troops caused a local force of 300 locals to rise up in protest,
led by Captain José María Flores, José Antonio Carrillo,
and Andrés Pico. Flores demanded the Americans surrender and promised
safe passage to San Pedro. Gillespie accepted and departed, ending the
first phase of the Battle of Los Angeles.
Full-scale warfare came to the area
when Los Angeles residents dug up a colonial cannon that had been used
for ceremonial purposes. They had buried it for safe-keeping when Stockton
approached the city. They used it to fire on American Navy troops on 8
October 1846, in the Battle of Dominguez Rancho. The victorious locals
named the cannon el piedrero de la vieja (the old woman's gun). In December,
the Mexicans were again victorious at the Battle of San Pascual near present-day
Determined to take Los Angeles,
Stockton regrouped his men in San Diego and marched north with six hundred
troops, along with U.S. Army General Stephen Watts Kearny and his guide
Kit Carson. Captain Frémont marched south from Monterey with 400
troops. After a few skirmishes outside the city, the two forces entered
Los Angeles, this time without bloodshed.
Confronted with overwhelming force,
Andrés Pico, who had succeeded Flores as military commander and
acting as chief administrative officer, met with Fremont. At a ranch in
what is now Studio City, they signed the Treaty of Cahuenga on 13 January
1847. That formally ended the California phase of the Mexican–American
War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on 2 February 1848, ended
the war and ceded California to the U.S.
The Transitional Era 1848–1870
According to historian Mary P. Ryan,
"The U.S. army swept into California with the surveyor as well as the sword
and quickly translated Spanish and Mexican practices into cartographic
representations." Under colonial law, land held by grantees was not disposable.
It reverted to the government. It was determined that under U.S. property
law, lands owned by the city were disposable. Also, the diseños
(property sketches) held by residents did not secure title in an American
California's new military governor
Bennett C. Riley ruled that land could not be sold that was not on a city
map. In 1849, Lieutenant Edward Ord surveyed Los Angeles to confirm and
extend the streets of the city. His survey put the city into the real-estate
business, creating its first real-estate boom and filling its treasury.
Street names were changed from Spanish to English. Further surveys and
street plans replaced the original plan for the pueblo with a new civic
center south of the Plaza and a new use of space.
The fragmentation of Los Angeles
real estate on the Anglo-Mexican axis had begun. Under the Spanish system,
the residences of the power-elite clustered around the Plaza in the center
of town. In the new American system, the power elite would reside in the
outskirts. The emerging minorities, including the Chinese, Italians, French,
and Russians, joined with the Mexicans near the Plaza.
The gangs of Los Angeles
In 1848, the gold discovered in
Coloma first brought thousands of miners from Sonora in northern Mexico
on the way to the gold fields. So many of them settled in the area north
of the Plaza that it came to be known as Sonoratown.
During the Gold Rush years in northern
California, Los Angeles became known as the "Queen of the Cow Counties"
for its role in supplying beef and other foodstuffs to hungry miners in
the north. Among the cow counties, Los Angeles County had the largest herds
in the state followed closely by Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties.
With the temporary absence of a
legal system, the city was quickly submerged in lawlessness. Many of the
New York regiment disbanded at the end of the war and charged with maintaining
order were thugs and brawlers. They roamed the streets joined by gamblers,
outlaws, and prostitutes driven out of San Francisco and mining towns of
the north by Vigilance Committees or lynch mobs. Los Angeles came to be
known as the "toughest and most lawless city west of Santa Fe."
Some of the residents resisted the
new Anglo powers by resorting to banditry against the gringos. In 1856,
Juan Flores threatened Southern California with a full-scale revolt. He
was hanged in Los Angeles in front of 3,000 spectators. Tiburcio Vasquez,
a legend in his own time among the Mexican-born population for his daring
feats against the Anglos, was captured in present-day Santa Clarita, California
on May 14, 1874. He was found guilty of two counts of murder by a San Jose
jury in 1874, and was hanged there in 1875.
Los Angeles had several active Vigilance
Committees during that era. Between 1850 and 1870, mobs carried out approximately
35 lynchings of Mexicans—more than four times the number that occurred
in San Francisco. Los Angeles was described as "undoubtedly the toughest
town of the entire nation." The homicide rate between 1847 and 1870 averaged
158 per 100,000 (13 murders per year), which was 10 to 20 times the annual
murder rates for New York City during the same period.
The fear of Mexican violence and
the racially motivated violence inflicted on them further marginalized
the Mexicans, greatly reducing their economic and political opportunities.
John Gately Downey, the seventh
Governor of California was sworn into office on January 14, 1860, thereby
becoming the first Governor from Southern California. Governor Downey was
born and raised in Castlesampson, County Roscommon, Ireland, and came to
Los Angeles in 1850. He was responsible for keeping California in the Union
during the Civil War.
The plight of the Indians
In 1836, the Indian village of Yaanga
was relocated near the future corner of Commercial and Alameda Streets.
In 1845, it was relocated again to present-day Boyle Heights. With the
coming of the Americans, disease took a great toll among Indians. Between
1848 and 1880, the total population of Los Angeles went from 75,050 to
12,500. Self-employed Indians were not allowed to sleep over in the city.
They faced increasing competition for jobs as more Mexicans moved into
the area and took over the labor force. Those who loitered or were drunk
or unemployed were arrested and auctioned off as laborers to those who
paid their fines. They were often paid for work with liquor, which only
increased their problems.
Los Angeles was incorporated as
an American city on April 4, 1850. Five months later, California was admitted
into the Union. Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required the U.S.
to grant citizenship to the Indians of former Mexican territories, the
U.S. did not get around to doing that for another 80 years. The Constitution
of California deprived Indians of any protection under the law, considering
them as non-persons. As a result, it was impossible to bring an Anglo to
trial for killing an Indian or forcing them off their property. Anglos
concluded that the "quickest and best way to get rid of (their) troublesome
presence was to kill them off, (and) this procedure was adopted as a standard
for many years."
When New England author and Indian-rights
activist Helen Hunt Jackson toured the Indian villages of Southern California
in 1883, she was appalled by the racism of the Anglos living there. She
found they treated Indians worse than animals, hunted them for sport, robbed
them of their farmlands, and brought them to the edge of extermination.
While Indians were depicted by whites as lazy and shiftless, she found
most of them to be hard-working craftsmen and farmers. Jackson's tour inspired
her to write her 1884 novel, Ramona, which she hoped would give a human
face to the atrocities and indignities suffered by the Indians in California.
And it did. The novel was enormously successful, inspiring four movies
and a yearly pageant in Hemet, California. Many of the Indian villages
of Southern California survived because of her efforts, including Morongo,
Cahuilla, Soboba, Temecula, Pechanga, and Warner Hot Springs.
Remarkably, the Gabrielino Indians,
now called Tongva, also survived. in 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported
that there were 2,000 of them still living in Southern California. Some
were organizing to protect burial and cultural sites. Others were trying
to win federal recognition as a tribe to operate a casino.
After the transcontinental railroad
was completed, the Chinese sought jobs in the burgeoning California cities,
where they faced massive discrimination on the part of organized labor.
As a result, they filled in where there was less competition, running laundries,
restaurants, and vegetable stands.
An 1887 aerial photo of Los Angeles, taken from a
|Industrial Expansion and Growth 1870—1913
In the 1870s, Los Angeles was still little more than a
village of 5,000. By 1900, there were over 100,000 occupants of the city.
Several men actively promoted Los Angeles, working to develop it into a
great city and to make themselves rich. Angelenos set out to remake their
geography to challenge San Francisco with its port facilities, railway
terminal, banks and factories. The Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles
was the first incorporated bank in Los Angeles, founded in 1871 by John
G. Downey and Isaias W. Hellman.
The Chinese Massacre of 1871
The first Chinese arrived in Los Angeles in 1850. The
great majority came from Guangdong Province in southeastern China, seeking
a fortune in Gum Saan, ("Gold Mountain") the Chinese name for America.
Instead of finding fortunes, they were exploited for their labor in the
gold mines and in building the first railroad into California. Henry Huntington
came to value their expertise as engineers. He later said he would not
have been able to build his portion of the transcontinental railroad without
In a time of great exploitation
and monopoly by the railroad barons, the unions blamed Chinese for lowering
the wages and living standards of Anglo workers. The newspapers of both
Los Angeles and San Francisco were filled with anti-Chinese propaganda.
The thriving Chinatown, on the eastern
edge of the Plaza, was the site of terrible violence on October 24, 1871.
A gunfight between rival Chinese factions over the abduction of a woman
resulted in the accidental death of a white man. This enraged the bystanders,
and a mob of about 500 Anglos and Latinos descended on Chinatown. They
randomly lynched 19 Chinese men and boys, only one of whom may have been
involved in the original killing. Homes and businesses were looted. Only
ten rioters were tried. Eight were convicted of manslaughter, but their
convictions were overturned the following year on a legal technicality.
This was later referred to as the Chinese Massacre of 1871.
The massacre was the first time
that Los Angeles was reported on the front pages of newspapers all over
the world, even crowding out reports of the terrible Chicago fire that
had taken place two weeks earlier. While the racist Los Angeles Star went
so far to call the massacre "a glorious victory", others fretted about
the city's racist and violent image. With the coming economic opportunities
of the railroads, city fathers set themselves to wipe out mob violence.
Their efforts, however, led to more
restrictive measures against the Chinese. In 1878–79, the City Council
passed several measures adversely affecting Chinese vegetable merchants.
The merchants went on strike. Los Angeles went without vegetables for several
weeks, finally bringing the city to the bargaining table. Historian William
Estrada wrote: "This little-known event may have helped the Chinese to
better understand their role in the community as well as the power of organization
as a means for community self-defense. The strike was a sign that Los Angeles
was undergoing dramatic social, economic, and technological change and
that the Chinese were a part of that change."
The coming of the railroads
Historian Blake Gumprecht wrote,
"The completion of a transcontinental railroad to Los Angeles in 1876 changed
Southern California forever."
The first railroad, San Pedro Railroad,
was inaugurated in October, 1869 by John G. Downey and Phineas Banning.
It ran 21 miles (34 km) between San Pedro and Los Angeles.
The town continued to grow at a
moderate pace until its connection with the Central Pacific and San Francisco
in 1876, and more directly with the East by the Santa Fe system (through
its subsidiary California Southern Railroad) in 1885.
The Central Pacific Railroad had
a significant impact in the immediate growth of the City of Los Angeles.
The Central Pacific Railroad owners could have chosen San Diego over Los
Angeles to be their final freight destination but the owners and the City
of San Francisco feared that San Diego would become a rival importing power
with its large natural bay. Instead, Central Pacific picked Los Angeles
to be their southern hub and prompted the rapid expansion of the city's
economic growth and expansion. The completion of the latter line precipitated
one of the most extraordinary of American railway wars and land booms,
which resulted in giving southern California a great stimulus.
Phineas Banning excavated a channel
out of the mud flats of San Pedro Bay leading to Wilmington in 1871. Banning
had already laid track and shipped in locomotives to connect the port to
the city. Harrison Gray Otis, founder and owner of the Los Angeles Times,
and a number of business colleagues embarked on reshaping southern California
by expanding that into a harbor at San Pedro using federal dollars.
This put them at loggerheads with
Collis P. Huntington, president of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company
and one of California's "Big Four" investors in the Central Pacific and
Southern Pacific. (The "Big Four" are sometimes numbered among the "robber
barons" of the Gilded Age). The line reached Los Angeles in 1876 and Huntington
directed it to a port at Santa Monica, where the Long Wharf was built.
April 1872, John G. Downey went
to San Francisco and was successful in representing Los Angeles in discussions
with Collis Huntington concerning Los Angeles's efforts to bring the Southern
Pacific Railroad through Los Angeles.
The San Pedro forces eventually
prevailed (though it required Banning and Downey to turn their railroad
over to the Southern Pacific). Work on the San Pedro breakwater began in
1899 and was finished in 1910. Otis Chandler and his allies secured a change
in state law in 1909 that allowed Los Angeles to absorb San Pedro and Wilmington,
using a long, narrow corridor of land to connect them with the rest of
the city. The debacle of the future Los Angeles harbor was termed the Free
In 1898, Henry Huntington purchased
the Los Angeles Railway (the 'yellow cars') and two years later founded
the Pacific Electric Railway (the 'red cars'). Los Angeles Railway served
the city and the Pacific Electric Railway served the rest of the county.
At its peak, the Pacific Electric was the largest electrically operated
interurban railway in the world. Over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of tracks
connected Los Angeles with Hollywood, Pasadena, San Pedro, Venice Beach,
Santa Monica, Pomona, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Huntington
Beach, and other points and was recognized as best public transportation
system in the world.
Oil was discovered by Edward L.
Doheny in 1892, near the present location of Dodger Stadium. The Los Angeles
City Oil Field was the first of many fields in the basin to be exploited,
and in 1900 and 1902, respectively, the Beverly Hills Oil Field and Salt
Lake Oil Field were discovered just a few miles west of the original find.Los
Angeles became a center of oil production in the early 20th century, and
by 1923 the region was producing one-quarter of the world's total supply;
it is still a significant producer, with the Wilmington Oil Field having
the fourth-largest reserves of any field in California.
Winds of revolution
The immigrants arriving in the city
to find jobs often brought the revolutionary zeal and idealism of their
homelands. These often included anarchists such as Russian Emma Goldman
and Ricardo Flores Magón and his brother Enrique of the Partido
Liberal Mexicano. They were later joined by the socialist candidate for
mayor Job Harriman, Chinese revolutionaries, the novelist Upton Sinclair,
"Wobblies" (members of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW), and
Socialist and Communist labor organizers such as the Japanese-American
Karl Yoneda and the Russian-born New Yorker Meyer Baylin. The Socialists
were the first to set up a soapbox in the Plaza, which would serve as the
location of union rallies and protests and riots as the police attempted
to break up meetings.
Class conflict surges
At the same time that the L.A. Times
was whipping up enthusiasm for the expansion of Los Angeles it was also
trying to turn it into a union-free or open shop town. Fruit growers and
local merchants who had opposed the Pullman strike in 1894 subsequently
formed the Merchants and Manufacturers Association (M & M) to support
the L.A. Times anti-union campaign.
The California labor movement, with
its strength concentrated in San Francisco, had largely ignored Los Angeles
for years. It changed, in 1907, however, when the American Federation of
Labor decided to challenge the open shop of "Otis Town."
In 1909, the city fathers placed
a ban on free speech from public streets and private property except for
the Plaza. Locals had claimed that it had been an Open Forum forever. The
area was of particular concern to the owners of the L.A. Times, Harrison
Grey Otis and his son-in-law Harry Chandler.
At the turn of the century, Otis
and Chandler as part of a syndicate had acquired thousands of acres of
farmland in Baja California that stretched across the border into Imperial
County. It was called the California-Mexican Land and Cattle Company, or
the C-M Ranch.
In exchange for favorable reports
about the presidency of Porfirio Díaz in Mexico, Otis and his associates
enjoyed unfettered business freedom in Baja California. Under Diaz, American
capitalists bought millions of acres of Mexican land, mines, factories,
banks, oil rights (Doheny), public utilities, and most of the nation's
railroads. The Diaz regime was marked with increasing poverty, violent
political repression, and the support of President Wilson.
The Otis-Chandler plans for both
their Mexican holdings and the city required a steady supply of cheap labor
and keeping the unions from succeeding as they had done in San Francisco.
In 1910, the century's first full-scale
revolution took place in Baja California, led by two factions, wealthy
landowner Francisco Madero and the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM). The
PLM was based in the L.A. Plaza and led by anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón,
a talented journalist and charismatic speaker who occupies a special place
in the story of Los Angeles. He is the prototype of the 20th-century Mexican-American
political and social activist.
Publishing the popular bi-lingual
Regeneracion newspaper in Los Angeles, Magon's movement posed a direct
challenge to Otis and Chandler's hold on the border region. The paper not
only reported on the revolution in Mexico, but also social and political
conditions in the U.S. It examined the U.S. penal system, the plight of
agricultural workers, child labor, Margaret Sanger's crusade for women,
and most of all the battle against the open shop in Los Angeles. The paper
also connected readers with the social services and cultural happenings
available in the expanding Plaza area.
Magon wrote: "We do not struggle
for abstractions, but for materialities. We want land for all, bread for
all. Inevitably blood must run, so that conquests obtain benefits for all
and not for a specific social class."
The insurgents of the Baja Revolution
consisted of no more than 200 anarchists, socialists, and Wobblies. Their
basic goal was the redistribution back to Mexican peasants of Baja California
land, of which 78 percent was owned by foreign interests.
The owners of the Times drew the
conclusion that the Mexican rebels and union organizers in L.A. were connected.
This conflict came to a head with the bombing of the Times in 1910, which
killed 10 people, and injured 17. Two months later, the Llewellyin Iron
Works near the plaza was bombed. A meeting was hastily called of the Chamber
of Commerce and Manufacturers Association. The L.A. Times wrote: "radical
and practical matters (were) considered, and steps taken for the adaption
of such as are adequate to cope with a situation tardily recognized as
the gravest that Los Angeles has ever been called upon to face."
The authorities indicted John and
James McNamara, both associated with the Iron Workers Union, for the bombing;
Clarence Darrow, who had successfully defended Big Bill Haywood, Moyer
and Pettibone in Idaho, represented them.
At the same time the McNamara brothers
were awaiting trial, Los Angeles was preparing for a city election. Job
Harriman, running on the socialist ticket, was challenging the establishment's
Harriman's campaign, however, was
tied to the asserted innocence of the McNamaras. But the defense was in
trouble: the prosecution not only had evidence of the McNamaras' complicity,
but had trapped Darrow in a clumsy attempt to bribe one of the jurors.
On December 1, 1911, four days before the final election, the McNamaras
entered a plea of guilty in return for prison terms. The L.A. Times accompanied
its report of the guilty plea with a faked photograph of Samuel Gompers
trampling an American flag. Harriman lost badly.
The Otis-Chandler interests were
further challenged when Madero became President of Mexico in 1911. Commercial
interests in L.A. felt radical measures had to be taken. Mexican and labor
organizers were scapegoated.
In June 1911, the police raided
the offices of Regeneracion. Magon and his younger brother Enrique were
arrested with two others and charged with conspiracy to lead an armed expedition
against a "friendly nation." The trial was a great media event and drew
great crowds. Among those who showed up to speak on behalf of the brothers
were socialist labor organizer Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, American anarchist
Emma Goldman, and Eugene V. Debs.
The four were convicted and sentenced
to 23 months at the federal prison in McNeil Island, Washington.
On Christmas Day, 1913, police attempted
to break up an IWW rally of 500 taking place in the Plaza. Encountering
resistance, the police waded into the crowd attacking them with their clubs.
One citizen was killed. In the aftermath, the authorities attempted to
impose martial law in the wake of growing protests. Seventy-three people
were arrested in connection with the riots. The City Council introduced
new measures to control public speaking. The Times scapegoated all foreign
elements even calling onlookers and taco venders as "cultural subversives."
In 1916, the Magón brothers
were arrested on charges of defamation and sending indecent materials through
the mail. Ricardo was able to get released on bail. He gave a rousing speech
at Italian Hall to 700 of the International Workers Defense League. He
called Mexican President Carranza a "lackey of President Wilson" and Wilson
"the bandit of Wall Street." The speech was given wide circulation in the
press throughout the Southwest and in Mexico.
Ricardo was convicted and sent to
Leavenworth. In 1922, he died in his cell, maybe murdered by a guard. His
body was returned by train to Mexico City, where he was given a hero's
welcome by a crowd of thousands consisting of workers, labor organizers,
and government officials singing La Marsellaise and the Internationale.
The open shop campaign continued
from strength to strength, although not without meeting opposition from
workers. By 1923, the Industrial Workers of the World had made considerable
progress in organizing the longshoremen in San Pedro and led approximately
3,000 men to walk off the job. With the support of the L.A. Times, a special
"Red Squad" was formed within the Los Angeles Police Department and arrested
so many strikers that the city's jails were soon filled.
Some 1,200 dock workers were corralled
in a special stockade in Griffith Park. The L.A. Times wrote approvingly
that "stockades and forced labor were a good remedy for IWW terrorism."
Public meetings were outlawed in San Pedro, Upton Sinclair was arrested
at Liberty Hill in San Pedro for reading the United States Bill of Rights
on the private property of a strike supporter (the arresting officer told
him "we'll have none of 'that Constitution stuff'") and blanket arrests
were made at union gatherings. The strike ended after members of the Ku
Klux Klan and the American Legion raided the IWW Hall and attacked the
men, women and children meeting there. The strike was defeated.
Los Angeles developed another industry
in the early 20th century when movie producers from the East Coast relocated
there. These new employers were likewise afraid of unions and other social
movements: during Upton Sinclair's campaign for Governor of California
under the banner of his "End Poverty In California" (EPIC) movement, Louis
B. Mayer turned MGM's Culver City studio into the unofficial headquarters
of the organized campaign against EPIC. MGM produced fake newsreel interviews
with whiskered actors with Russian accents voicing their enthusiasm for
EPIC, along with footage focusing on central casting hobos huddled on the
borders of California waiting to enter and live off the bounty of its taxpayers
once Sinclair was elected. Sinclair lost.
Los Angeles also acquired another
industry in the years just before World War II: the garment industry. At
first devoted to regional merchandise such as sportswear, the industry
eventually grew to be the second largest center of garment production in
the United States.
Unions began to make progress in
organizing these workers as the New Deal arrived in the 1930s. They made
even greater gains in the war years, as Los Angeles grew even further.
Today, the ethnic makeup of the
city and the politically progressive views of surrounding West Hollywood
and Hollywood have made Los Angeles a strong union town. However, many
garment workers in central LA, most of whom are Mexican immigrants, still
work in sweat shop conditions.
The battle of the Los Angeles
The Los Angeles River flowed clear
and fresh all year, supporting 45 Gabrielino villages in the area. The
source of the river was the aquifer under the San Fernando Valley, supplied
with water from the surrounding mountains. The rising of the underground
bedrock at the Glendale Narrows (near today's Griffith Park) squeezed the
water to the surface at that point. Then, through much of the year, the
river emerged from the valley to flow across the floodplain 20 miles (32
km) to the sea. The area also provided other streams, lakes, and artesian
Early settlers were more than a
little discouraged by the region's diverse and unpredictable weather. They
watched helplessly as long droughts weakened and starved their livestock,
only to be drowned and carried off by ferocious storms. During the years
of little rain, people would build too close to the riverbed, only to see
their homes and barns later swept out to sea during a flood. The location
of the Los Angeles Plaza had to be moved twice because of previously having
been built too close to the riverbed.
Worse, floods would change the river's
course. When the settlers arrived, the river joined Ballona Creek to discharge
in Santa Monica Bay. A fierce storm in 1835 diverted its course to Long
Beach, where it stays today.
Early citizens could not even maintain
a footbridge over the river from one side of the city to the other. After
the American takeover, the city council authorized spending of $20,000
for a contractor to build a substantial wooden bridge across the river.
The first storm to come along dislodged the bridge, used it as a battering
ram to break through the embankment, and scattered its timbers all the
way to the sea.
Some of the most concentrated rainfall
in the history of the United States has occurred in the San Gabriel Mountains
north of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. On April 5, 1926, a rain gauge
in the San Gabriels collected one inch in one minute. In January, 1969,
more water fell on the San Gabriels in nine days than New York City sees
in a year. In February 1978, almost a foot of rain fell in 24 hours, and,
in one blast, an inch and a half in five minutes. This storm caused massive
debris flows throughout the region, one of them unearthing the corpses
in the Verdugo Hills Cemetery and depositing them in the town below. Another
wiped out the small town of Hidden Springs in a tributary of the Big Tujunga
River, killing 13 people.
The greatest daily rainfall recorded
in California was 26.12 inches on January 23, 1943 at Hoegees near Mt.
Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains. Fifteen other stations reported over
20 inches in two days from the same storm. Forty-five others reported 70
percent of the average annual rainfall in two days.
Quibbling between city and county
governments delayed any response to the flooding until a massive storm
in 1938 flooded Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The federal government
stepped in. To transfer floodwater to the sea as quickly as possible, the
Army Corps of Engineers paved the beds of the river and its tributaries.
The Corps also built several dams and catchment basins in the canyons along
the San Gabriel Mountains to reduce the debris flows. It was an enormous
project, taking years to complete.
Today, the Los Angeles River functions
mainly as a flood control. A drop of rain falling in the San Gabriel Mountains
will reach the sea faster than an auto can drive. During today's rainstorms,
the volume of the Los Angeles River at Long Beach can be as large as the
Mississippi River at St. Louis.
The drilling of wells and pumping
of water from the San Fernando Valley aquifer dried up the river by the
1920s. By 1980, the aquifer was supplying drinking water for 800,000 people.
In that year, it was discovered that the aquifer had been contaminated.
Many wells were shut down, as the area qualified as a Superfund site.
Water from a distance
For its first 120 years, the Los
Angeles River supplied the town with ample water for homes and farms. It
was estimated that the annual flow could have support a town of 250,000
people—if the water had been managed right. But Angelinos were among the
most profligate users of water in the world. In the semi-arid climate,
they were forever watering their lawns, gardens, orchards, and vineyards.
Later on, they would need more to support the growth of commerce and manufacturing.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the town realized it would quickly
outgrow its river and need new sources of water.
Legitimate concerns about water
supply were exploited to gain backing for a huge engineering and legal
effort to bring more water to the city and allow more development. The
city fathers had their eyes on the Owens River, about 250 miles (400 km)
northeast of Los Angeles in Inyo County, near the Nevada state line. It
was a permanent stream of fresh water fed by the melted snows of the eastern
Sierra Nevada. It flowed through the Owens River Valley before emptying
into the shallow, saline Owens Lake, where it evaporated.
By July 1905, the Times began to warn
the voters of Los Angeles that the county would soon dry up unless they
voted bonds for building the aqueduct. Artificial drought conditions were
created when water was run into the sewers to decrease the supply in the
reservoirs and residents were forbidden to water their lawns and gardens.[citation
|Sometime between 1899 and 1903, Harrison Gray Otis and
his son-in-law successor, Harry Chandler, engaged in successful efforts
at buying up cheap land on the northern outskirts of Los Angeles in the
San Fernando Valley. At the same time, they enlisted the help of William
Mulholland, chief engineer of the Los Angeles Water Department (later the
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power or LADWP), and J.B. Lippencott,
of the United States Reclamation Service.
Lippencott performed water surveys in the Owens Valley
for the Service while secretly receiving a salary from the City of Los
Angeles. He succeeded in persuading Owens Valley farmers and mutual water
companies to pool their interests and surrender the water rights to 200,000
acres (800 km²) of land to Fred Eaton, Lippencott's agent and a former
mayor of Los Angeles. Lippencott then resigned from the Reclamation Service,
took a job with the Los Angeles Water Department as assistant to Mulholland,
and turned over the Reclamation Service maps, field surveys and stream
measurements to the city. Those studies served as the basis for designing
the longest aqueduct in the world.
Photograph of Bunker Hill in 1900, looking north
from today's Pershing Square
On election day, the people of Los
Angeles voted for $22.5 million worth of bonds to build an aqueduct from
the Owens River and to defray other expenses of the project. With this
money, and with a special Act of Congress allowing cities to own property
outside their boundaries, the City acquired the land that Eaton had acquired
from the Owens Valley farmers and started to build the aqueduct. On the
occasion of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on November 5, 1913
Mullholland's entire speech was five words: "There it is. Take it."
Boom town 1913–1941
Griffith Park fire A devastating brush fire on October 3,
1933, killed 29 and injured another 150 workers who were clearing brush
in Griffith Park.
Swimming pool desegregation An end to racial segregation
in municipal swimming pools was ordered in summer 1931 by Superior Court
Judge Walter S. Gates after Ethel Prioleau, the widow of an Army major,
sued the city, complaining that she, a Negro living at 1311 W. 35th Street,
was not allowed to use the swimming pool in nearby Exposition Park because
of her race but had to travel 3.6 miles to the "negro swimming pool" at
1357 East 22nd street. Other city pools were opened to Negroes but closed
to whites one day a week. The City Council, by a vote of 6 to 6 on one
occasion and 8 to 6 a week later refused to have the city attorney appeal
Summer Olympics Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Summer Olympics.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which had opened in May, 1932 with a
seating capacity of 76,000, was enlarged to accommodate over 100,000 spectators
for Olympic events. It is still in use by the USC Trojans football team.
Olympic Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, honors the occasion.
Wilson Block, Spring & First Streets, 1920
Annexations and consolidations
Olvera Street—an idealized Mexican
|The City of Los Angeles mostly remained within its original
28 square-mile (73 km²) landgrant until the 1890s. The original city
limits are visible even today in the layout of streets that changes from
a north-south pattern outside of the original land grant to a pattern that
is shifted roughly 15 degrees east of the longitude in and closely around
the area now known as Downtown. The first large additions to the city were
the districts of Highland Park and Garvanza to the north, and the South
Los Angeles area. In 1906, the approval of the Port of Los Angeles and
a change in state law allowed the city to annex the Shoestring, or Harbor
Gateway, a narrow and crooked strip of land leading from Los Angeles south
towards the port. The port cities of San Pedro and Wilmington were added
in 1909 and the city of Hollywood was added in 1910, bringing the city
up to 90 square miles (233 km²) and giving it a vertical "barbell"
shape. Also added that year was Colegrove, a suburb west northwest of the
city near Hollywood; Cahuenga, a township northwest of the former city
limits; and a part of Los Feliz were annexed to the city.
The opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct provided the city
with four times as much water as it required, and the offer of water service
became a powerful lure for neighboring communities. The city, saddled with
a large bond and excess water, locked in customers through annexation by
refusing to supply other communities. Harry Chandler, a major investor
in San Fernando Valley real estate, used his Los Angeles Times to promote
development near the aqueduct's outlet. By referendum of the residents,
170 square miles (440 km²) of the San Fernando Valley, along with
the Palms district, were added to the city in 1915, almost tripling its
area, mostly towards the northwest. Over the next seventeen years dozens
of additional annexations brought the city's area to 450 square miles (1,165
km²) in 1932. (Numerous small annexations brought the total area of
the city up to 469 square miles (1,215 km²) as of 2004.)
Most of the annexed communities were unincorporated towns
but ten incorporated cities were consolidated into Los Angeles: Wilmington
(1909), San Pedro (1909), Hollywood (1910), Sawtelle (1922), Hyde Park
(1923), Eagle Rock (1923), Venice (1925), Watts (1926), Barnes City (1927),
and Tujunga (1932).
Christmas in Los Angeles, 1928
Walkway and front façade of Los Angeles
Public Library's Central Library,
In 1926, socialite Christine Sterling
became alarmed when the City Council posted a condemn sign on the old Francisco
Avila Adobe near the Los Angeles Plaza. She became very dedicated to the
preservation of the area and developed the idea of creating a tourist site
with a romantic theme of Old Mexico.
Her efforts finally won the attention
of Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times who staged a $1000-a-plate luncheon
on her behalf. Chandler also set up a for-profit business, the Plaza de
Los Angeles Corporation, with himself and Sterling in charge.
Chandler's interest in developing
the idealized Mexican marketplace was twofold: 1. It would give him a way
to control the level of free-speech activities on the Plaza and 2. it would
present an image of "good Mexicans" who did not include union organizers
and angry workers protesting their exploitation. Ceramic figures of a Mexican
sleeping at the foot of a cactus with a sombrero over his head would symbolize
the stereotype Chandler wanted to project.
Sterling and Chandler's efforts
finally paid off with the opening of Olvera Street in 1930. Sterling spent
the rest of her life managing the tourist attraction as a profitable business.
Civic corruption and police brutality
The downtown business interests,
always eager to attract business and investment to Los Angeles, were also
eager to distance their town from the criminal underworld that defined
the stories of Chicago and New York. In spite of their concerns, massive
corruption in City Hall and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)—and
the fight against it—were dominant themes in the city's story from early
20th-century to the 1950s.
In the 1920s, for example, it was
common practice for the city's mayor, councilmen, and attorneys to take
contributions from madams, bootleggers, and gamblers. The top aide of the
mayor was involved with a protection racket. Thugs with eastern-Mafia connections
were involved in often violent conflicts over bootlegging and horse-racing
turf. The mayor's brother was selling jobs in the LAPD.
In 1933, the new mayor Frank Shaw
started giving out contracts without competitive bids and paying city employees
to favor crony contractors. The city's Vice Squad functioned city-wide
as the enforcer and collector of the city's organized crime, with revenues
going to the pockets of city officials right up to the mayor.
In 1937, the owner of downtown's
Clifton's Cafeteria, Clifford Clinton led a citizen's campaign to clean
up city hall. He and other reformers served on a Grand Jury investigating
the charges of corruption. In a minority report, the reformers wrote:
|A portion of the underworld profits have been used in
financing campaigns [of] … city and county officials in vital positions
… [While] the district attorney's office, sheriff's office, and Los Angeles
Police Department work in complete harmony and never interfere with … important
figures in the underworld.
The police Intelligence Squad spied
on anyone even suspected of criticizing the police. They included journalist
Carey Williams, the district attorney, Judge Bowron, and two of the County
The persistent courage of Clinton,
Superior Court Judge, later Mayor, Fletcher Bowron, and former L.A.P.D.
detective Harry Raymond turned the tide. The police became so nervous that
the Intelligence Squad blew up Raymond's car and nearly killed him. The
public was so enraged by the bombing that it quickly voted Shaw out of
office, one of the first big-city recalls in the country's history. The
head of the intelligence squad was convicted and sentenced to two years
to life. Police Chief James Davis and 23 other officers were forced to
Fletcher Bowron replaced Shaw as
mayor in 1938 to preside over one of the most dynamic periods in the history
of the city. His 'Los Angeles Urban Reform Revival would bring major changes
to the government of Los Angeles.
In 1950, he appointed William H.
Parker was sworn in as Chief of Police. Parker pushed for more independence
from political pressures that would enable him to create a more professionalized
police force. The public supported him and voted in charter changes that
isolated the police department from the rest of government.
Through the 1960s, the LAPD was
promoted as one of the most efficient departments in the world. But Parker's
administration would be increasingly charged with police brutality—resulting
from his recruiting of officers from the South with strong anti-black and
Reaction to police brutality resulted
in the Watts riots of 1965 and again, after the Rodney King beating, in
the Los Angeles riots of 1992. Charges of police brutality dogged the Department
through the end of the century. In the late 1990s, as a result of the Rampart
scandal involving misconduct of 70 officers, the federal government was
forced to intervene and assumed jurisdiction of the Department with a consent
decree. Police reform has since been a major issue confronted by L.A.'s
Social critic Mike Davis has recently
argued that attempts to "revitalize" downtown Los Angeles decreases public
space and further alienates poor and minority populations. This enforced
geographical separation of diverse populations goes back to the city's
World War II and postwar 1941–1950
|During World War II, Los Angeles grew as a center for
production of aircraft, war supplies and ammunitions. Thousands of African
Americans and European Americans from the South and the Midwest migrated
to the West to fill factory jobs.
By 1950, Los Angeles was an industrial and financial giant
created by war production and migration. Los Angeles assembled more cars
than any city other than Detroit, made more tires than any city but Akron,
made more furniture than Grand Rapids, and stitched more clothes than any
city except New York. In addition, it was the national capital for the
production of motion pictures, radio programs and, within a few years,
television shows. Construction boomed as tract houses were built in ever
expanding suburban communities financed by the largess of the Federal Housing
Los Angeles continued to spread out, particularly with
the development of the San Fernando Valley and the building of the freeways
launched in the 1940s. When the local street car system went out of business,
Los Angeles became a city built around the automobile, with all the social,
health and political problems that this dependence produces.
Listening post and air raid lights, Pershing Square,
lined with tall buildings, particularly near Westwood. Century
City, developed on the former 20th Century Fox back lot, has become another
center of high-rise construction on the Westside.
|The famed urban sprawl of Los Angeles became a notable
feature of the town, and the pace of the growth accelerated in the first
decades of the 20th century. The San Fernando Valley, sometimes called
"America's Suburb", became a favorite site of developers, and the city
began growing past its roots downtown toward the ocean and towards the
This is also the time when General Motors persuaded most
urban regions in North America to shut down their light rail street car
systems and replace them for more flexible, but polluting and inefficient,
bus systems. This drastically changed growth and travel patterns in the
city in subsequent years[citation needed and contributed to the severe
air pollution events that Los Angeles became famous for.
The years 1950–2000
Beginning November 6, 1961, Los Angeles suffered three
days of destructive bush fires. The Bel-Air—Brentwood and Santa Ynez fires
destroyed 484 expensive homes and 21 other buildings along with 15,810
acres (64 km²) of brush in the Bel-Air, Brentwood, and Topanga Canyon
neighborhoods. Most of the homes destroyed had wooden shake roofs, which
not only led to their own loss but also sent firebrands up to three miles
(5 km) away. Despite this, few changes were made to the building codes
to prevent future losses.
The repeal of a law limiting building height and the controversial
redevelopment of Bunker Hill, which destroyed a picturesque though decrepit
neighborhood, ushered in the construction of a new generation of skyscrapers.
Bunker Hill's 62-floor First Interstate Building (later named Aon Center)
was the highest in Los Angeles when it was completed in 1973. It was surpassed
by the Library Tower (now called the U.S. Bank Tower) a few blocks to the
north in 1990, a 310 m (1,018 ft) building that is the tallest west of
the Mississippi. Outside of Downtown, the Wilshire Corridor is
"Fifty years ago this house at
201 N. Flower St. was offered
for rental at $20 a month.
Today  its four apartments
are bringing in $70 monthly.
LA Times, 5-7-46 This house no longer
stands, and is in the approximate location
of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
During the latter decades of the 20th century, the city
saw a massive increase of street gangs. At the same time, crack cocaine
became widely available and dominated by gangs in the 1980s. Although gangs
were disproportionately confined to lower-income inner-city sections, fear
knew no boundaries citywide. Since the early 1990s, the city saw a decrease
in crime and gang violence with rising prices in housing, revitalization,
urban development, and heavy police vigilance in many parts of the city.
With its reputation, it had led to Los Angeles being referred as "The Gang
Capital of America".
A subway system, developed and built through the 1980s
as a major goal of mayor Tom Bradley, stretches from North Hollywood to
Union Station and connects to light rail lines that extend to the neighboring
cities of Long Beach, Norwalk, and Pasadena, among others. Also, a commuter
rail system, Metrolink, has been added that stretches from nearby Ventura
and Simi Valley to San Bernardino, Orange County, and Riverside. The funding
of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority project
is funded by a half cent tax increase added in the mid 1980s, which yields
$400 million every month. Although the regional transit system is growing,
subway expansion was halted in the 1990s over methane gas concerns, political
conflict, and construction and financing problems during Red Line Subway
project, which culminated in a massive sinkhole on Hollywood Boulevard.
As a result, the original subway plans have been delayed for decades as
light rail systems, dedicated busways, and limited-stop "Rapid" bus routes
have become the preferred means of mass transit in LA's expanding series
of gridlocked, congested corridors.
The 1995 murder of Stephanie Kuhen in Los Angeles led
to condemnation from President Bill Clinton and a crackdown on Los Angeles-area
Proposition 14 and the battle for space
Since its beginning, the city was geographically divided
by ethnicity. In the 1920s, Los Angeles was the location of the first restrictive
covenants in real estate. By the Second World War, 95 percent of Los Angeles
housing was off-limits to blacks and Asians. Minorities who had served
in World War II or worked in L.A.'s defense industries returned to face
increasing patterns of discrimination in housing. More and more, they found
themselves excluded from the suburbs and restricted to housing in East
or South Los Angeles, Watts, and Compton. Such real-estate practices severely
restricted educational and economic opportunities.
Historian Peter Radkowski wrote:
|By the 1960s, the fair housing conflict of California
would evolve into a collision of legislative action, racial backlash, and
judicial ruling: the Rumford Act on the floors of the state capitol; Proposition
14 at the ballot box; Mulkey v. Reitman before the Supreme Court of California,
and Reitman v. Mulkey before the Supreme Court of the United States. These
events explicitly shaped a gubernatorial election in California, and arguably
set in motion a sea change in political allegiances and presidential elections.
In 1955, William Byron Rumford, the first black from Northern
California to serve in the California State Legislature, introduced a fair-housing
bill. In 1959, the California Legislature passed the California Fair Employment
Practices Act sponsored by Augustus Hawkins of Los Angeles. That same year,
the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act addressed fair housing but did not have
any teeth. The aggrieved party had to sue to get compensation.
In 1963, California Legislature passed and Governor Pat
Brown signed the Rumford Fair Housing Act which outlawed restrictive covenants
and the refusal to rent or sell housing on the basis of race, ethnicity,
gender, marital status, or physical disability.
In reaction to the Rumford Act, a well-funded coalition
of realtors and landlords immediately began to campaign for a referendum
that would amend the state Constitution to protect property owners' ability
to deny minorities equal access to housing. Known as Proposition 14, it
caused a storm of deep and bitter controversy across the state. Radkowski
|The debate over Proposition 14 cultivated a whirlwind
of information and misunderstanding, marked by angry exchanges on the merits,
and running through the entire debate a plague of bitterness, ill feelings,
and slurs. On any given day, the effort to overturn the Rumford Act might
involve highbrow jurisprudence, righteous indignation, or racial epithet.
In many ways, the Rumford Act played as bawdy and violent as the land and
mineral grabs of the original California Gold Rush: Rumford received an
invitation to a stag dinner party—complete with one hour of "entertainment"—that
was sponsored by the Associated Home Builders of the Greater East Bay;
while across the state, pamphlets and pickets revealed the ugly fascist
undercurrents of support for Proposition 14.
While conservatives such as Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles
argued that blacks are "better off in Los Angeles than anywhere else",
blacks knew that they were kept out of participating in the city's prosperity.
On May 26, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told a crowd of 35,000 at
Wrigley Field, "We want to be free whether we're in Birmingham or in Los
In November, 1964, California voters passed Proposition
14 by a wide margin.
In August, 1965, the Watts Riots broke out. Lasting six
days, it left 32 dead, 1,032 injured, 3,952 arrested, $40 million in damage,
and 1,000 buildings damaged or destroyed. According to later reports, the
riot was a reaction to a long record of police brutality by the LAPD and
other injustices suffered by blacks, including discrimination in jobs,
housing, and education.
In 1966, the California State Supreme Court, in Mulkey
v. Reitman, ruled that Proposition 14 violated the State Constitution's
provisions for equal protection and due process.
In 1967, in Reitman v. Mulkey, the U.S. Supreme Court
confirmed the decision of the California Supreme Court and ruled that Proposition
14 had violated the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The
federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 also addressed the issue, but made few
provisions for enforcement.
The U.S. Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1968) introduced meaningful federal enforcement mechanisms.
The last of the automobile factories shut down in the
1990s; the tire factories and steel mills left earlier. Most of the agricultural
and dairy operations that were still prospering in the 1950s have moved
to outlying counties while the furniture industry has relocated to Mexico
and other low-wage nations. Aerospace production has dropped significantly
since the end of the Cold War or moved to states with better tax conditions,
and the entertainment industry has found cheaper areas to produce films,
television programs and commercials elsewhere in the United States and
Canada. However, many studios still operate in Los Angeles, such as CBS
Television City at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard and
20th Century Fox in Century City.
Those macroeconomic changes have brought major social
changes with them. While unemployment dropped in Los Angeles in the 1990s,
the newly created jobs tended to be low-wage jobs filled by recent immigrants
and other exploitable populations; by one calculation, the number of poor
families increased from 36% to 43% of the population of Los Angeles County
during this time. At the same time, the number of immigrants from Mexico,
Central America and Latin America has made Los Angeles a "majority minority"
city that will soon be majority Latino. The unemployment rate dropped from
6.9% to 6.8% in 2002, and is around 11.6% currently.
The desire for residential housing in the downtown area
has been noticed, and several historical buildings have been renovated
as condos (while maintaining the original outside design), and many new
apartment and condominium towers and complexes are being built.
Since the 1980s, there's been an increasing gap between
the rich and the poor, making Los Angeles the most socioeconomically divided
city in the United States.
On November 10, 2004, the Los Angeles Daily News reported
plans to turn the northeast San Fernando Valley into an industrial powerhouse,
which would provide new and more jobs.
Many communities in Los Angeles have changed their ethnic
character over time. For many decades, the population was predominantly
white and mostly American-born until the late 20th Century. South L.A.
was mostly white until the 1950s, but then became predominantly black until
the 1990s, and is now mainly Latino. While the Latino community within
the City of Los Angeles was once centered on the Eastside, it now extends
throughout the city. The San Fernando Valley, which represented a bastion
of white flight in the 1960s and provided the votes that allowed Sam Yorty
to defeat the first election run by Tom Bradley, is now as ethnically diverse
as the rest of the city on the other side of the Hollywood Hills.
By the end of the 20th century, some of the annexed areas
began to feel cut off from the political process of the megalopolis, leading
to a particularly strong secession movement in the San Fernando Valley
and weaker ones in San Pedro and Hollywood. The referendums to split the
city were rejected by voters in November 2002.
The population of Los Angeles reached more than 100,000
with the 1900 census (Los Angeles Evening Express, October 1, 1900), more
than a million in 1930, more than two million in 1960, and more than 3
million in 1990.
Special topics in Los Angeles history
African-Americans in Los Angeles
Despite the fact that Los Angeles is one of the few U.S.
major cities founded by settlers who were predominantly of African descent,
the city had only 2,100 Black Americans in 1900, according to census figures.
By 1920 this grew to approximately 15,000. In 1910, the city had the highest
percentage of black home ownership in the nation, with more than 36 percent
of the city's African-American residents owning their own homes. Black
leader W. E. B. Du Bois described L.A. in 1913 as a "wonderful place" since
they were less subjected to racial discrimination due to their population
being small and the ongoing tensions between Anglos and Mexicans. That
changed in the 1920s when restrictive covenants that enforced segregation
became widespread. Blacks were mostly confined along the South Central
corridor, Watts, and small enclaves in Venice and Pacoima, which received
far fewer services than other areas of the city.
After World War II, the city's black population grew from
63,774 in 1940 to 170,000 a decade later as many continued to flee from
the South for better opportunities. By 1960, Los Angeles had the fifth
largest black population in the United States, larger than any city in
the South. Still, they remained in segregated enclaves. The Supreme Court
banned the legal enforcement of race-oriented restrictive covenants in
the Shelley v. Kraemer case (1948), yet black homeownership declined severely
during this period.
Decades of police mistreatment and other racial injustices
eventually lead to the Watts riots of 1965, after a minor traffic incident
resulted in four days of rioting. Thirty-four people were killed and 1,034
injured at a cost of $40 million in property damage and looting. So many
businesses burned on 103rd Street that it became known as "Charcoal Alley."
The City strove to improve social services for the black
community, but with many of the high-paying industrial jobs gone black
unemployment remained high. The growth of street gangs and drugs in minority
communities exacerbated the problems.
By 1990, the LAPD, which had followed a para-militaristic
model since Chief Parker's regime in the 1950s, became more alienated from
minority communities following accusations of racial profiling. In 1992,
a jury in suburban Simi Valley acquitted white Los Angeles police officers
involved in the beating of a black motorist, Rodney King, the year before.
After four days of rioting, more than fifty deaths, and billions of dollars
of property losses, mostly in the Central City, the National Guard and
the police finally regained control.
Since the 1980s, more middle-class black families have
left the central core of Los Angeles to settle in other California municipalities
or out of state. In 1970, blacks made up 18 percent of the city's population.
That percentage has dropped to 10 percent in 2010 as many continue to leave
to settle elsewhere. Los Angeles still has the largest black population
of any city in the Western United States.
Latinos in Los Angeles
The anti-union, open-shop heritage of the Chandlers and
the Los Angeles Times continued to assure Los Angeles of a steady supply
of cheap labor from Mexico and Central America throughout the 20th century.
This was met by the increasing opposition of anti-immigration forces throughout
A steady migration of Mexicans to California from 1910
to 1930 expanded the Mexican and Latino population in Los Angeles to 97,116
or 7.8%. In 1930, a large repatriation of 400–500,000 Mexican immigrants
and their children began after the onset of the Depression, massive unempoyment,
encouragement by the government of Mexico, the threat of deportation and
welfare agencies willing to pay for the tickets of those leaving (some
2 million European immigrants left as well).
At the same time, the city celebrated its 150th anniversary
in 1931 with a grand "fiesta de Los Angeles" featuring a blond "reina"
in historic ranchera costume. By 1940 the Latino population dropped to
7.1%, but remained at sightly over 100,000.
During World War II, hostility toward Mexican-Americans
took a different form, as local newspapers portrayed Chicano youths, who
sometimes called themselves "pachucos" as barely civilized gangsters. Anglo
servicemen attacked young Chicanos dressed in the pachuco uniform of the
day: long coats with wide shoulders and pleated, high-waisted, pegged pants,
or zoot suits.
In 1943, twenty-two young Chicanos were convicted of a
murder of another youth at a party held at a swimming hole southeast of
Los Angeles known as the "sleepy lagoon" on a warm night in August 1942;
they were eventually freed after an appeal that demonstrated both their
innocence and the racism of the judge conducting the trial. Today, the
event is known as the Zoot Suit Riots.
In the 1990s, redistricting led to the election of Latino
members of the City Council and the first Latino members of the Los Angeles
County Board of Supervisors since its inception. In 1994, California Voters
passed Proposition 187, which denied undocumented immigrants and their
families in California welfare, health benefits, and education.
With the growth of the Latino community, primarily immigration
from Mexico, but also from Central America and South America, it is now
the largest ethnic bloc in Los Angeles. By 1998, Latinos outnumbered Anglos
in the city by over a million and account for 50 percent of the County's
City Council member Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor
in 2005, the first Latino elected to that office since the 1872.
In 2006 anti-immigration forces supported the federal
The Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control
Act (H.R. 4437). The act would make "unlawful presence" an "aggravated
felony." On 25 March, a million Latinos staged La Gran Marcha on City Hall
to protest the bill. It was the largest demonstration in California history.
Similar protests in other cities across the country made this a turning
point in the debate on immigration reform.
Asians in Los Angeles
Less than a century after the founding of Los Angeles,
Chinatown was a thriving community near the downtown railroad depot. Thousands
of Chinese came to northern California in the 1850s, initially to join
the Gold Rush and then taking construction jobs with the railroads. They
began moving south as the transcontinental railroad linked Los Angeles
with the rest of the nation. The town's continuous Chinese presence dates
from 1850, when two house servants, Ah Luce and Ah Fon, appeared in the
census. The Chinese population increased to 16 in 1860 and 178 in 1870.
Eighty percent of the Chinese residents then were male, and most worked
as launderers, cooks and vegetable peddlers.
Later, Chinese workers who helped to build the aqueduct
to the Owens River and worked in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley spent
their winters in a segregated ethnic enclave in Los Angeles. In 1871, eleven
years before the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a violent
anti-Chinese demonstration swept through Los Angeles' Chinatown, killing
Chinese residents and plundering their dry good stores, laundries and restaurants.
The labor vacuum created by the Chinese Exclusion Act
of 1882 was filled by Japanese workers and, by 1910, the settlement now
known as "Little Tokyo" had risen next to Chinatown.
During the years between the two world wars, Los Angeles'
Asian American community also included small clusters of Korean Americans
and Filipinos, the latter filling the void which followed the exclusion
of the Japanese in 1924.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States
government authorized the evacuation and incarceration in concentration
camps of all Japanese living in California irrespective of citizenship.
Since World War II, immigration from Asia and the Pacific
has increased dramatically. The influx of immigrants from the Philippines,
Korea, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia has led to the development
of identifiable enclaves such as Koreatown in the central city and Samoans
in Wilmington and a Thai neighborhood in Hollywood.