Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States, preceded only by New York. It is famed for its balmy climate, lush scenery, film and television industries, and many motorways-as well as occasional earthquakes, bushfires, and smog.

Los Angeles' population expanded rapidly during the mid-1980s, as immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, and Asia increased. According to the 1990 census, 38 per cent of the city's residents were born outside the United States. Continued immigration has made Los Angeles one of the world's most ethnically diversified cites. It currently has a greater city population of 9,054,000.

Los Angeles started out as a small farming town in an area inhabited by friendly Native American Indians, Yang-Na, which today is Elysian Park near present-day central Los Angeles. Under the orders of King Carlos III of Spain, a “pueblo” was founded to grow food for the soldiers guarding this far-off territory of Spain. The community, known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Poricuncula (the Village of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Poricuncula), was established in 1781 under the direction of the Spanish governor of California, Felipe de Neve.

After Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821, Los Angeles became the market centre for large ranches grazing cattle for the hide and tallow trade with the United States. Mexican rule ended in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded California to the United States. Los Angeles was incorporated as a city in 1850.

However, because of the city’s distance from the populous eastern United States, the main growth of Los Angeles did not begin until after the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1876 and the Santa Fe Railroad in 1885. From 1890 to 1940, Los Angeles was the focus of a prosperous orange-growing area and developed as a resort.

The burgeoning city was inland from any potential port, so a great harbour was constructed between 1899 and 1914. When local water became inadequate for future growth, the city built an aqueduct to the north, tapping Sierran streams in the Owens River Valley. Using this new water supply as an inducement, many nearby communities were annexed.

The city’s population doubled in the 1920s, as new discoveries enriched the oil industry and Hollywood became the centre of the film industry. Aircraft manufacturers became the city’s primary engines of growth during and after World War II. Developers bought up cheap land and built whole new communities, such as Lakewood, for the growing workforce, while old housing in Watts and south-central Los Angeles became home to incoming blacks and Hispanics.

These ghettos became a symbol of American urban ills such as unemployment, housing decay, and poverty. The district of Watts exploded in protest riots in August 1965; 34 people died. One of the worst riots in US history erupted in south-central Los Angeles in April 1992 after the acquittal of four white police officers charged with the videotaped beating 13 months earlier of a black suspect, Rodney King; 58 people died in the rioting. In April 1993, two of the police officers were convicted for their roles in the beating of King, and the two other officers were acquitted.

In late October and early November 1993, bushfires spread through parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area and destroyed thousands of hectares of property. In January 1994, an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale struck Los Angeles. The quake caused three major motorways to collapse, disabling the city’s road system. Fifty-seven people were killed, and thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Today Los Angeles is one of the leading manufacturing, commercial, transport, financial, and international trade centres in the United States. Manufactured goods include electronic equipment, clothing, processed foods, metal goods, chemicals, building supplies, and printed materials.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area is a leading hub of the US aerospace industry, as well as a centre for film, radio and television, and for the recording industry. The city contains the headquarters of many large corporations, research and development facilities, and financial institutions, with tourism an increasingly important part of the city’s economy.