Destination guide: Los Angeles, United States
The city of Los Angeles is on the south coast of California in the United States and attracts thousands of fans of both movies and glamour. Among its main attractions are Hollywood, Disneyland, the Universal, Warner Brothers and Paramount studios, Griffith Park and the famous beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu and Laguna Beach.
From Los Angeles, you can visit other fabulous destinations such as Las Vegas, the California coast, Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Don’t put it off any longer and fly to the United States sooner that you expected.
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Los Angeles - History Overview
The coastal Chumash and Gabrielino tribes inhabited the region for thousands of years, living a relatively peaceful existence as hunter-gatherers until the arrival of Spanish explorers and missionaries in the late 1700s. Pursuant to King Carlos III’s directive to establish missionaries and agricultural outposts in Alta (Upper) California, Gaspar de Tortola led a Spanish expedition through the area in 1769, traveling north from Baja, California, and eventually wandering west along a footpath now known as Wilshire Blvd.
Mission San Gabriel, the fourth in what would become a chain of 21 missions, was established in 1771 under the guidance of Father Junipero Serra. Mission life was no great salvation for the Indians in the ensuing years; many of them suffered abuses at the hands of the soldiers and caught European diseases such as smallpox and syphilis. In 1781 a tiny band of settlers left the mission, traveling 9 miles west to set up an agricultural community near the river. This isolated village, known as El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles – the Town of the Queen of Angels – became a thriving farming community.
In 1821 Mexico won independence from Spain and the missions were soon secularized. Mexican governors granted large swaths of land, or ‘ranchos, ’ to worthy soldiers and citizens. The first overland settlers arrived in Los Angeles in 1841, a trickle before the flood that followed President James Polk’s rallying cry for America’s Manifest Destiny and the settling of the West. Following this lead, the US declared, fought and won a war with Mexico between 1846 and 1848, taking claim to LA and the rest of California. Pushed along by the booming Gold Rush scene in San Francisco, California was declared America’s 31st state in 1850. That same year, Los Angeles was incorporated.
In the ensuing years, many rancheros lost their land as the American government questioned their title under the 1851 Land Act. During this loose governmental period, LA was a true Wild West town, filled with saloons, brothels and gambling dens. Added to the mix were thousands of Chinese immigrants who’d arrived for the gold rush and railroad work. These foreigners were viewed by many with suspicion. Suspicion turned to hostility in 1871 during the Chinese Massacre when a local mob took the law into its own hands and murdered 19 Chinese men and boys following the death of a white citizen caught in the crossfire of a dispute in the Chinese community.
The perception of the city as a lawless backwater began to change in 1876 when the first Southern Pacific train arrived from San Francisco, followed by the Santa Fe Railroad less than a decade later. City boosters began marketing Los Angeles as a sunny paradise, and wealthy Midwesterners heeded the sirens’ call, traveling by train to LA and Pasadena to escape the hard winters. Many of them decided to settle here permanently, drawn by the weather and perceived health benefits. At the same time, the success of orange groves and oil fields was pushing the economy forward, and the Los Angeles Times, led by publisher Harrison Gray Otis, was leading the boosterism charge.
A Growing City
There were a number of important firsts for the city in the ensuing decades. The first car appeared on LA streets in 1897, Irish-Hawaiian George Freeth first surfed California waves in 1907 to admiring crowds, and in 1910 spectators looked to the skies for America’s first aviation show – where the planes actually flew – north of Long Beach.
Important developments were unfolding behind the scenes too. Division of Water & Power (DWP) chief William Mulholland and other city business leaders realized that still-growing Los Angeles would need water beyond that found in the LA River. Deciding that a 233-mile aqueduct carrying snow-fed waters from Owens Valley would do the trick, the men secretly began buying up property in Owens Valley under false pretenses, only going public once enough water rights and land parcels were secured. The project was completed in 1913 and development surged ahead, buffeted by newfound water now pouring into the city. LA began its march to national prominence while the formerly fertile Owens Valley became a dusty, barren wasteland.
Entrepreneurial movie-makers – most of them European immigrants – were establishing the city’s first great movie studios at this time. German- born Carl Laemmle built Universal Studios in 1915, selling lunch to curious guests come to watch the magic of movie-making. Polish immigrant Samuel Goldwyn joined with Cecil B DeMille and others to form Paramount Studios. Jack Warner and his brothers arrived a few years later. With the perpetually sunny weather, most outdoor locations could be easily shot, and movie-making flourished. Fans loved early film stars like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and the first ‘big’ Hollywood wedding occurred in 1920 when Douglas Fairbanks wed Mary Pickford. Hollywood hit its stride in the 1920s as the glamorous movie palaces opened their doors along Hollywood Blvd.
LA’s hubris was on full display by the end of the decade, with both inspiring and disastrous effects. The 32-story City Hall was completed in 1928 – an eye-catching, chest-thumping skyscraper towering above the downtown skyline, a bold exception to the earthquake-conscious height limitations imposed on other downtown buildings. That same year, the St Francis dam, constructed 45 miles north of LA under the hurried, careless watch of Chief Mulholland, collapsed, and the resulting rush of water killed more than 400 people.
This odd mix of reckless disregard and unfettered rah-rah continued into the Depression years. Not only were LA police officers regularly loading Hispanics onto trains and deporting them, they also at one point physically prevented Dust Bowl refugees from entering the state. In the same decade, however, LA created Olvera St, a shopping and dining destination downtown that celebrated Hispanic heritage, and welcomed the world to the 1932 Olympics. Media darlings at the time included the madcap gymnasts at Santa Monica’s Muscle Beach and Hollywood’s Shirley Temple, who was tap-dancing her way into the hearts of millions.
But LA had more cause to tap-dance than the rest of the country. The aviation industry had been booming since WWI when the Lockheed brothers and Donald Douglas established aircraft manufacturing plants in LA. By the 1930s the aviation industry, helped along by billions of federal dollars for military contracts, helped lift LA out of the Great Depression.
WWII to Today
The deluge of new residents arriving after WWII, not to mention the construction of 160-plus miles of freeways, drove LA forward, shaping it into the megalopolis it is today. Unconstrained growth, however, brought attendant problems including suburban sprawl, air pollution and racial strife. Major riots in 1965 and 1992, as well as a police-corruption scandal in the 1990s, created an abyss of distrust between the police department and various ethnic groups.
Beginning in the late 1990s, though, civic pride returned as dynamic new buildings – the Getty Center, the Staples Center, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Walt Disney Concert Hall – cropped up all over the LA landscape. Energy and buzz, not to mention condos and upscale residents, returned to downtown and Hollywood, and new restaurants, bars and businesses are still eager to join the scene. Violent crime has dropped under the watch of new police Chief William Bratton, who arrived from New York City in 2002. In May 2005 the city elected Antonio Villaraigosa, its first Latino mayor since 1872. Although pollution, traffic and soaring real-estate prices are continuing problems, the economy remains strong, and unemployment and crime rates remain low. And the sun still shines 300 days out of the year.