History of Los Angeles, California

From Academic Kids

The recorded history of Los Angeles, California is a complicated one, going back to the 16th century and a tiny Spanish settlement sometimes called Bahía de los fumos ("Bay of the Smokes"). L.A. was smoggy from the get-go.


Historical population growth

Year Population
1800 315
1830 770
1850 1,610
1870 5,730
1880 11,200
1890 50,400
1900 102,500
1910 319,200
1920 576,700
1930 1,238,048
1940 1,504,277
1950 1,970,358
1960 2,479,015
1970 2,816,061
1980 2,966,850
1990 3,485,398
2000 3,694,820

At the end of 2004, the population is estimated to be 3,912,200.

General history

Native Americans in the Los Angeles area

Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel Islands of California off the Los Angeles coast, is the site of Arlington Springs Woman, human bones dated to 10,000-13,000 B.P., among the oldest remains discovered in the Americas.

The region that became Los Angeles was settled by the Tongva tribe, sometimes called the Gabrieliños, thousands of years ago. A small, but distinct tribe of Tataviam natives lived in the northern San Fernando Valley and became known as Fernandeños. The Cahuillas occupied the eastern deserts and mountains of present-day Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Far to the south were the Kumeyaay, occupying San Diego and Imperial counties. The large Chumash tribe occupied the coast from Malibu northward to San Luis Obispo County. The Channel Islands supported Tongva and Chumash, and their active trade with the mainland led the tribes to achieve what anthropologists regard as the finest boatbuilding skill among the North American tribes. Trade in raw materials and finished products spread across Southern California; soapstone from Santa Catalina Island passed from hand to hand to be traded for obsidian from the Paiutes of the Owens Valley, 200 miles inland. Pitch from seeps like the La Brea Tar Pits was another important trading commodity. Local tribes produced notably high quality baskets, some sealed with pitch, that are prized by museums.

Explorer Juan Cabrillo stopped at present-day San Pedro in 1542 and was greeted by Tongvan men who rowed out to meet his ship in their expertly crafted ti'ats. The explorer died later that year while wintering over at Santa Catalina Island and no white face was seen again locally for 227 years. At the time of the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the late 18th Century, there were an estimated 5,000 Tongvans living in 31 known village sites.

In common with other California tribes in the mission system, the Tongva allowed the missionaries to convert and civilize them. Native religious and hunter-gatherer practices were redirected into Roman Catholicism and agriculture. Though destructive of their culture, the mission system valued the individual Native Americans and employed them on the mission farms and ranches. When the missions were disbanded the natives were thrown back on their own much-reduced resources. The Tongva tribe still exists, with perhaps a few thousand members but no reservation. The other local tribes that have reservations have survived and have achieved new prominence with the advent of Indian gaming.

Spanish and Mexican era 1769 - 1850

The Spanish conquest of Mexico did not reach Alta (upper) California until 1769, when explorer Gaspar de Portolá reached this part of California. In 1771 the Spaniards returned and founded the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, one of eight missions established by the Franciscans in Southern California. (The mission was originally located in Montebello, but floods in 1776 caused its move to present-day San Gabriel.)

On September 4, 1781 44 "pobladores", recruited from northern Mexico to help cement Spain's control over Alta California, founded the town. Only two of these settlers identified as Spaniards; the rest came primarily of African or Indian descent.

The small town received the name El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Ángeles de la Porciuncula, "The Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels of the Small Portion" from its Franciscan founders. The "small portion" referred to the tiny property (or porziuncola in Italian) on which St. Francis of Assisi lived in the 13th century in a ruined chapel. After St. Francis' death, the chapel became a place of pilgrimage with a fresco being painted on the wall behind the altar depicting the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels. Hence the chapel became known as "Saint Mary of the Angels at the Little Portion", and the Californian settlement took its name from that original Franciscan chapel.

Located on the Los Angeles River, the town became a cattle ranching center. The oldest house in Los Angeles County was built in 1795 on what became the Rancho San Antonio. It is now known as the Henry Gage Mansion and is in Bell Gardens.

Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821 did not change life in Los Angeles, other than to allow the secularization of the missions: land grants distributed the mission properties to rancheros.

In about 1834, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. visited San Pedro as a sailor. His book, Two Years Before the Mast, includes a brief depiction of the area, then dependent on the export of cattle hides and tallow.

In 1842 a shepherd discovered gold in Placerita Canyon, just outside current city limits, and sparked a minor gold rush. In subsequent decades mining became an important industry, employing hard rock and placer techniques. The local mountains are still riddled with adandoned mines, and hopeful prosectors still pan for gold in the San Gabriel River.

Manifest Destiny reached California at the time of the Mexican-American War (1846 - 1848). On 18 June 1846 a small group of Yankees raised the California Bear Flag and declared independence from Mexico. United States troops quickly took control of the presidios at Monterey and San Francisco and proclaimed the Conquest complete. In Southern California, the Mexicans for a time repelled American troops, but Los Angeles eventually fell to Lieutenant Colonel John C. Frémont. The United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Capitulation at Cahuenga Pass on January 13, 1847.

Initial growth 1851-1913

April 4, 1850 saw the incorporation of Los Angeles as a city. At the same time, the old landowners started to lose their lands. Compelled to secure confirmation of their land grants in U.S. courts, ten percent of the bona fide land owners of Los Angeles County had to move off their land and became reduced to bankruptcy. The more fortunate rancheros finally lost their special status as "Californios" and became absorbed into other communities, depending on their wealth or color.

Other Mexican 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 Mexican revolt. He was hanged in Los Angeles in front of 3,000 spectators. Tiburcio Vasquez, a legend in his own time among the Mexican 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 trial in 1874, and was hanged in that location 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 men descended on Chinatown. They killed 19 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.

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.

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 SP) 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.

Oil was discovered by Edward L. Doheny in 1892, near the present location of Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles became a center of oil production in the early 20th Century (by 1923 the region was producing one-quarter of the world's total supply, and it is still a significant producer).

In order to sustain future growth, the city needed new sources of water. The only local water in Los Angeles was the intermittent Los Angeles River and groundwater replenished by the area's minimal rain. 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. 250 miles (400 km) northeast of Los Angeles in Inyo County, near the Nevada state line, a long slender desert region known as the Owens Valley had the Owens River, a permanent stream of fresh water fed by the melted snows of the eastern Sierra Nevada that collected in the shallow, saline Owens Lake, where it evaporated.

Oil rigs in early L.A.
Oil rigs in early L.A.

Sometime between 1899 and 1903, Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law successor, Harry Chandler, led 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 of the Los Angeles Water Department (later the 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 km&sup2) of land to Fred Eden, Lippencott's agent and a former mayor of Los Angeles. Eden 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, Chandler's L.A. 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 Eden 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."

Missing image
Los Angeles, around 1908.

Boom town 1913 - 1941

Stub section, which could include: WWI, Prohibition, Great Depression (Okies), Film industry, Mayor Shaw and charter reform.

The first round-the-world trip by airplane began on March 17, 1924 in adjoining Santa Monica. Four open cockpit planes built by Douglas Aircraft Company took 175 days to travel more than 26,000 miles before returning (one was destroyed in a crash, but the crew survived). Another round-the-world attempt also began locally, but ended in tragedy. On May 21, 1937 Amelia Earhart began her final, fatal trip at nearby Burbank Airport.

Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Olympic Stadium was built for the occasion, and is still in use by the USC Trojans football team. Olympic Boulevard, a major thoroughfare, honors the occasion.

The devastating Griffith Park Fire on October 3, 1933 killed 29 and injured another 150 workers who were clearing brush in Griffith Park.


The City of Los Angeles mostly remained within its original 28 square-mile (73 km²) landgrant until the 1890s. The first large additions to the city were the districts of Highland Park and Garvanza to the north, and the South Central area. In 1906 the approval of the Port of Los Angeles and a change in state law allowed the city to annex the Shoestring, 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.

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. Otis 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. (As of 2004, the area of the city is 469 square miles (1,215 km²).) 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).

Annexation references: Municipal Secession Fiscal Analysis Scoping Study www.valleyvote.net (http://www.valleyvote.net/lafco/lafcostudy.htm), Annexation and Detachment Map (PDF) lacity.org (http://navigatela.lacity.org/common/mapgallery/mapgallery_lg.cfm?file=pdf/annex34x44.pdf&category=annex_detach).

World War II and postwar 1941 - 1950

During World War II, Los Angeles grew as a center for production of aircraft, war supplies and munitions. Thousands of African Americans and white Southerners migrated to the area 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 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.

The years 1950 - 2000

Beginning November 6, 1961, Los Angeles suffered three days of destructive brush 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 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 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) further to the south in 1990, a 310m (1,018ft) 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 80s as a major goal of mayor Tom Bradley, stretches from North Hollywood to Union Station (as of 11/2004) 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 1980's, 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.

Economic changes

In the last fifty years Los Angeles has lost much of the industry it developed earlier in the century. 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, 21st Century Fox in Century City, NBC-Universal and Disney in Burbank, Universal Studios in Universal City, and Burbank Studios on Olive Avenue in Burbank, as well as other films that use Los Angeles for certain parts. While Los Angeles remains a major center for garment production, it has become far more dependent on the service sector.

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 percent to 43 percent 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 of residential 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.

On November 10, 2004, the Daily News reported plans to turn the north-east San Fernando Valley into an industrial powerhouse, which would provide new and more jobs.

Demographic changes

Many communities in Los Angeles have changed their ethnic character over time. Watts, which once was predominantly black, is now mainly Latino. Compton, which lies outside of the City of Los Angeles, but within the County of Los Angeles, and which has gained a certain notoriety through rap music from N.W.A. and other groups, is also increasingly Latino. While the Latino community within the City of Los Angeles was once centered in East Los Angeles, 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.

Rather than feeling closer, however, the opposite seems to have occurred. 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.

Despite these problems, most of them are not noticeable, and most of Los Angeles is quite enjoyable and stable.

Special topics in Los Angeles history

African-Americans in Los Angeles

Despite the fact that Los Angeles is the country's only major city founded by settlers who were predominantly of African descent, it had only 2,100 African-Americans in the 1900 census; by 1920 there were approximately 15,000. In 1910 the city had the highest percentage of black home ownership in the nation, with over 36% of the city's African-American residents owning their own homes. W.E.B. Dubois wrote in 1913, "Nowhere in the United States is the Negro so well and beautifully housed."

That changed in the 1920's, when racial restrictions in housing, originally aimed at Asians, Mexicans and Jews, were applied to blacks. Blacks were confined to Watts and other communities in South Central Los Angeles, which received far fewer services than other areas of the city.

These policies led to housing problems in the 1940's as growth in the defense industry brought increasing numbers of African-Americans to the city. Efforts to provided integrated housing were turned back under a barrage of red-baiting directed at the public housing authorities in the 1950s.

Watts also had chronically high unemployment, but no employment agencies; three separate bus lines, but no direct lines to major centers of employment. Its schools were substandard and the nearest hospital was two hours away by bus. Watts was a small core of poverty in a city where, by 1965, the black population had multiplied ten times since 1950.

The Watts riots of 1965 nonetheless surprised the powers-that-be. The riot began with a minor police incident and lasted four days. Thirty-four persons were killed and 1,034 injured at a cost of $40,000,000 in property damage and looting. So many businesses burned on 103rd Street, the people called it "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 most ways things only got worse over the twenty-five years after the riots. De-industrialization closed all of the automobile and tire factories and the only steel plants and shipbuilding sites in the area stripped Los Angeles of the high-paying industrial jobs that had opened up for African-American and Latino workers. At the same time the drug trade and gang warfare reached crisis levels. The LAPD, which had followed a militaristic model since Chief Parker's regime in the 1950's, had become even more alienated from and hated by the minority communities it was supposed to protect and serve.

This was brought home in 1992, after a suburban jury in Simi Valley, located in Ventura County, acquitted the police officers who beat Rodney King the year before. After four days of rioting, more than fifty deaths, and billions of dollars of property losses later, the National Guard and the police finally regained control. It remains to be seen if there has been adequate change or if the pattern is destined to repeat itself.

Mexicans, Pachucos, Chicanos and Latinos in Los Angeles

A steady migration of Mexicans to California from 1910 to 1930 expanded the Mexican and Chicano population in Los Angeles to approximately 200,000. In 1930 the United States began expelling them, deporting over a half a million Mexicans and Chicanos from California and 13,332 from Los Angeles County in the 1930's. At the same time the city celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1931 with a grand "fiesta de Los Angeles" featuring a blond "reina" in a historical ranchera costume.

During the Second World War, 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.

Asians in Los Angeles

Less than a century after the founding of Los Angeles, Chinatown was a thriving community adjacent to 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.

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 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 south of Pasadena. Nearly 20,000 of the state's 93,000 Japanese Americans were confined in these quarters before being taken further 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 Chinatown 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.

Los Angeles as an Open Shop town

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." 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 1200 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, Sinclair Lewis 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.

See also

Other articles which contain relevant history sections.

Articles on specific events in Los Angeles history

External links


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