|Like most areas of North America, California's
earliest residents were Native Americans. Prior to the mid 18th century,
several native peoples dominated the area, most notably those from the
Tongva nation. Legend even has it that these early inhabitants were
reluctant to establish large settlements in what is now the LA basin due
to its poor air quality...an ironic premonition of things to come.
The earliest key date in the development of Los Angeles is August 2, 1769. It was on that afternoon that a group of Spanish explorers led by Junipero Serra and Captain Gasper de Portola entered what became Los Angeles from the east, in the area around Elysian Park. The purpose of the expedition was to establish a trail of missions linking San Diego and San Francisco, known as "El Camino Real". Legend also has it that during their brief stay in the area, the men experienced three earthquakes. Unfazed by this, the group decided to establish a large settlement here in spite of the terrestrial shaking...another premonition of things to come.
Los Angeles got its name from Serra who originally called the area "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles," obviously later shortened. Throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the area thrived as a mission under the control of the Mexican government. On March 9th, 1842, Francisco Lopez discovered gold in the Santa Clarita Valley and by 1845, U.S. troops began battling for control of California. On January 9, 1847, Commodore Stockton recaptured Los Angeles for the third and final time and three days later Mexican general Andres Pico surrendered California to U.S. General John Fremont. A subsequent boundary dispute ensued as to where the boarders of the city and county should be but on April 4, 1850, the city of Los Angeles was incorporated, with California officially entering the union five months later.
Los Angeles saw steady but modest growth throughout the late 1800s. In 1913, however William Mulholland built an aqueduct, which allowed water to be brought to Los Angeles from 200 miles north. This one event is considered to be largely responsible for LA's growth into a major population center. By the 20s and 30s, many industries, including motion pictures were beginning to stake their foothold in the city and that's when things really took off. As movies and movie making became more ingrained in American culture during the 40s and 50s, millions began flocking to LA in hopes of becoming a star and striking it rich. By the mid-to-late 50s, the population of LA had reached two million and appeared to be going nowhere but up.
Unfortunately, more people meant more problems. In 1943, a clash between sailors and marines and local Hispanic gangs broke out, known as the Zoot Suit Riots. For several days and nights, downtown LA was transformed into a battle-zone. Although finally quelled by police, this would not be the last time the city witnessed large-scale urban unrest. Devastating race riots erupted in 1965 and again in 1992, giving the city its reputation for being a hotbed of racial tensions. Riots, however weren't the only problem associated with overpopulation. Runaway air pollution and the damage caused by several earthquakes have also given the city its fair share of crises to deal with over the years.
As Los Angeles prepares to enter the new century, however, things are definitely looking up. While the ground may never stop shaking, tougher building codes and better city planning have helped to minimize damage caused by earthquakes. Stricter emissions standards for cars and factories have helped dramatically clean up the air and, while racial tensions continue to simmer, they may finally appear to be on the mend. For as long as this high-profile city remains standing, certain things can always be counted on to thrive in LA: movies, sunshine, gridlock on the 405 Freeway and eager souls arriving each day to the city of angels in search of their own piece of heaven.