For the main article, see Los Angeles, California.
The history of Los Angeles, California, begins in the 18th century with a tiny Spanish settlement.
On September 4, 1781 the 44 pobladores gathered at San Gabriel Mission and, escorted by a military detachment and two padres from the Mission, set out for the site that Franciscan missionary and explorer Juan Crespí had chosen. The small town received the name El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles sobre el Río Porciúncula, Spanish for "The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels on the Porciuncula River." The name was derived from that of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Italian: "Holy Mary of the Angels"), a town near Assisi, hometown of St. Francis, and the location of his chapel, the Porziuncola. The Church of Our Lady Queen of the Angels would be the heart of the community.
Some of the residents resisted the new Anglo powers by resorting to social 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 what is believed to be present-day West Hollywood. The bandit was found guilty of two counts of murder by a San Jose jury in 1874, and was hanged there in 1875.
The thriving Chinatown was the site of terrible violence in 1871. A tong war between rival gangs resulted in the accidental death of a white man. This enraged the white populace and a mob of 500 white men descended on Chinatown. They killed 19 Chinese men and boys, only one of whom had been involved in the original killing, as well as a white man who tried to protect them. Homes and businesses were looted. A grand jury investigation followed, but only one man ever served prison time. This was later referred to as the Chinese Massacre of 1871.
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 in order to challenge San Francisco with its port facilities, railway terminal, banks and factories. The Farmers and Merchants Bank was the first incorporated bank in Los Angeles, founded in 1871 by John G. Downey and Isaias W. Hellman.
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.
The San Pedro forces eventually prevailed (though it required Banning to turn his railroad over to the Southern Pacific) and 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.
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.
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. 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."
Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which had opened in May, 1923 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.
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 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, now named 'West Los Angeles'), Hyde Park (1923), Eagle Rock (1923), Venice (1925), Watts (1926), Barnes City (1927), and Tujunga (1932).
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 Administration.
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 of the social, health and political problems that this dependence produces.
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 east.
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 paterns in the city in subsequent years and contributed to the severe air pollution events that Los Angeles became famous for.
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 sky scrapers. 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 lined with tall buildings, particularly in the vicinity of Westwood. Century City, developed on the former 20th Century Fox back lot, has become another center of high-rise construction on the Westside.
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, California, 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.
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 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.
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.
In the 1940s, a booming defense industry, and the need for additional workers, brought increasing numbers of African-Americans to the city, and by 1965, the black population had multiplied ten times since 1950.
The Watts riots of 1965 began with a minor traffic incident and lasted four days. 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."
While the city and county did take some steps to deal with the lack of social services for the black community after the Watts riots — most visibly by building a county hospital to serve the community — in many ways things only got worse over the next quarter century as the drug trade and gang violence increased.
In 1992, a jury in suburban Simi Valley acquitted Los Angeles city police officers involving in the beating of a 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 elsewhre. In 1970, blacks made up 18 percent of the city's population, but in 2000 they made up 11 percent.
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.
Los Angeles-Latino community was largely disenfranchised until the 1990s, when redistricting led to the election of Latino members of the City Council for the first time since the 1950s and the first Latino members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors since its inception. With the tremendous growth of the Latino community, primarily from immigration from Mexico, but also from Central America and South America, it is now the largest ethnic bloc in Los Angeles. While Antonio Villaraigosa lost in his race for Mayor in 2001, Latino political leaders are likely to come to the fore in the next decade. Villaraigosa subsequently won the 2005 mayoral election, becoming the first Latino elected to that office since the 19th century.
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. By the eve of World War I, many Japanese farm laborers had saved sufficient funds to purchase or lease vegetable and fruit farming lands in such outlying areas as Gardena, Beverly Hills and San Gabriel.
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. The Japanese in Southern California were to report to temporary barracks located at the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, just east of Pasadena. Nearly 20,000 of the state's 93,000 Japanese Americans were confined in these quarters before being taken farther inland to the internment camps.
Since World War II, immigration from Asia and the Pacific has increased dramatically. The influx of immigrants from the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia has led to the development of identifiable enclaves such as Koreatown in the central city, a Cambodian community in Long Beach, Samoans in Compton, Hawaiian Gardens and Wilmington, a Thai neighborhood in Hollywood, Vietnamese in Westminster (known as Little Saigon) and in Garden Grove in Orange County, Chinese in Monterey Park and nearby parts of the San Gabriel Valley and Japanese in Gardena.
Asian-Americans are now the third largest racial-ethnic group in Los Angeles, with Latinos and non-Latino whites being first and second, respectively.
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." The culmination of this bitter struggle occurred on October 1, 1910 when a bomb destroyed a good part of the L.A. Times publishing plant.
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 candidate.
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 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 "Wobbly 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. Still, many garment workers in central LA, most of whom are Mexican immigrants work in sweat shop conditions.
Other articles which contain relevant history sections.
Articles on specific events in Los Angeles history