When it comes to history, people are divided. Some people love it, others nod off almost immediately.
In the spirit of fairness, I will now try to briefly explain the history of Los Angeles AND attempt to keep it lively enough so that not too many history-adverse readers fall asleep mid-page. To do so, I will be randomly dropping in bits of Los Angeles trivia into the post to keep it engaging. (The history lovers, of course, will not require such puffery. But they’ll get it for free anyway.)
EARLY, EARLY HISTORY
How early? How about 8,000 B.C. early. That early enough for you? Because there were seafaring folk based in L.A. as early as eight millennia before Christ came along and invented making fishes and loaves appear out of nowhere. (These early Angelinos did it the hard way.)
By 3,000 B.C., the natives had been replaced by migrants who drifted there after the Great Basin Drought. These migrants spoke the Tongva language and dubbed the area “Yaa,” leading to such conversations as:
“You going up north today?
“Great. Where you going?”
“No, I’m looking for the place you’re going.”
“But where are you spending the afternoon?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
The place was untouched by Westerners until the Spanish finally arrived in the 18th century and…well, you can imagine what happened after that. Yes, that’s right: They introduced surfing, cocaine and gluten-free pasta and everything went straight to hell.
No, actually, they did what settlers do: they established missions, converted the locals and then started humping the living crap out of everyone who lived there.
In case you were wondering, the man most responsible for the founding of Los Angeles was a Spanish governor named Felipe de Neve (see below). And when this guy founded something, it stayed founded…er, found.
And easy on the eyes, too, Senor de Neve.
He is responsible not just for L.A., but for the establishment of Santa Barbara, San Jose and, for good measure, oversaw the building of the Presidio in San Francisco. This guy didn’t mess around.
Now, the way you founded something in those days (if you were a Spanish governor, I mean), was to establish a “pueblo.” These were military installations that were created to leech power away from the missions. And they worked. Enlisting settlers from Mexico (oh, the irony), the city was officially established on September 4, 1781. (There is some disagreement, however, over how the area got the name “Los Angeles.”)
After that, the area exploded pretty quickly. They built a chapel on the main Plaza in 1784 which grew to 29 buildings by 1800. By 1821, Los Angeles was the largest self-sustaining farming community in Southern California.
And you’d think that would do it. A large, agrarian society in SoCal grows up to become Tinseltown, right? Wrong. First, they were going to have to switch flags.
TRIVIA TIME! Did you know that the first Boss of a Los Angeles crime family was Iron Man? Not Tony Stark, of course. I am referring, instead, to Joseph “Iron Man” Ardizzone, a mobster who ruled L.A. with an iron grip (thus his nickname) and provided the entire region with booze during Prohibition until, as often happens, he was shot by his own men, escaped the assassins, survived a second attempt on his life, retired as a crime boss and ultimately, despite his early retirement, was snatched from his car in 1931 and mysteriously “disappeared.”
What, you though Jimmy Hoffa was the only one?
BANDERA NUMERO DOS
In 1821, Mexico split off from Spain to become its own country and, to celebrate, they absorbed most of Southern California, including Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The Mexican flag now flew over L.A.
The new Mexican government wasn’t exactly crazy about the indigenous native population, however, and took pains to marginalize them. Meanwhile, the Europeans and early Americans were rushing in and buying up land.
By May of 1846, the Mexican-American War broke out and the Mexican government was unable to keep a grip on its Northern territories. The American forces drove the Mexicans out of the area (it’s a little more complicated, actually, as the area changed hands a couple of times during the war), but by February of 1848, the war was over and California was now the property of the U.S. Government.
Long story short: Flag #3.
California Wine…born in L.A.
TRIVIA TIME! Do you like California wine? If so, you can thank Jean-Louis Vignes, who bought up a bunch of land in the Los Angeles area in 1831 and planted the region’s first vineyard. He first tried the Mission Grapes that had been imported from Spain but wasn’t crazy about them and decided to import vines from Bordeaux (including Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc). By 1840 had made the first recorded shipment of California wine. Frustrated by the fact that not enough people in L.A. drank his stuff to make it profitable, Vignes started exporting his vino North to the San Francisco area and, by 1849, he owned over 40,000 vines and was producing 150,000 bottles (1000 barrels) per year. So…you’re welcome. (BONUS TRIVIA: Vignes also planted L.A.’s first orange grove!)
LOS ANGELES BECOMES LOS ANGELES
You’d think that, after the U.S. took over, that Los Angeles would grow exponentially. Shows what you know. Despite the 1849 Gold Rush (which drew people to Northern California) L.A. remained relatively small. In fact, during this era, the city was mainly known as the “Queen of the Cow Countries” because it was best known for supplying beef to the miners up North.
L.A. was, for all intents and purposes, a cow town!
Southern California cow.
Not only that, once it took over the area from Mexico, the U.S. Government (being the U.S. Government) quickly seized almost all the land and started re-selling it back to the locals, making a packet in the bargain. Then, after the land was sold, the regiment that had governed the area pulled out and the entire region (now without any legal system or form of government) fell into chaos. Gamblers, thieves and prostitutes (driven south out of San Francisco) were now flooding into L.A. turning it into the most lawless city west of Santa Fe.
And it got worse. The native residents of the city (formerly Mexican citizens), who were inclined to resist their new Anglo overlords, began regularly robbing the “gringos” and by 1850 the city had established “Vigilance Committees” to deal with the problem. Over the next 20 years, mobs lynched over 35 Mexicans and the murder rate skyrocketed.
Also during this time, (and despite the Wild West atmosphere of the place) Los Angeles became an official American city (on April 4 of 1850) and, five months later, California was admitted to the Union. (Interestingly, California would not grant the Indians from the former Mexican territories citizenship for another 80 years. Big surprise.)
Still, by the 1870’s, the population of Los Angeles was only 5,000 people. Think about that for a minute. Five thousand. These days, that’s how many people pass you by on the 405 every five minutes.
But after 1880, the place blew up. Several factors would lead to its rapid growth: the railroad, the discovery of oil in the region and the explosion of industrial jobs. By 1900, the city had grown in size to 100,000 residents. That’s a pretty big jump.
And soon, the East Coast movie producers began arriving, snatching up cheap land and establishing studios (among them, Mack Sennett- who established his eponymous studio- and Louis B. Mayer, who set up MGM in Culver City). In love with the climate (which allowed them to shoot outdoors all year long) and the union-free labor atmosphere, the movie producers kept flooding in and within a short amount of time Los Angeles became- drum roll, please- the movie capitol of the world.
TRIVIA TIME! Ever heard of the “Battle of Los Angeles”? Did you know that it took place in February of 1942 and that people actually died during the incident? Here’s the scoop: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, California was in a panic. The residents were convinced that, at any time, the Japanese fleet would start attacking the West Coast. At the height of this panic, at 3:16 on the morning of February 25th, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing .50 caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells into the sky, shooting at a reported aircraft. In all, 1,400 shells would be hurled skyward throughout the night. Buildings and cars were damaged and, by the time the all clear was sounded at 7:21 a.m., five people were dead: three from car accidents and two from heart attacks. The entire incident was later explained as being a result of “war nerves.”
The number of people who suffered from severe pant-shitting during the night was not reported, but is rumored to be very high.
I have skipped over a LOT of information in this brief synopsis of the history of Los Angeles. Entire books could (and likely have) been written about the wars over water, the labor movement, the 1932 Olympics, the post-WWII population explosion, the real estate craze, the radical changes in demographics, the establishment of Disneyland (which sounds trivial but absolutely is not) and, of course, the music industry’s boom but… I feel like I touched upon most of the important points.
Today, Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States (after New York) with almost 4 million residents. It has the third-largest economy of any city in the world, after Tokyo and New York, generating $831 billion every year. And, as previously noted, it is really, really, really big.
And now you know (generally speaking) how it got that way.