Pre-colonial period, up to 1771
The Los Angeles coastal area was settled by the Tongva (Gabrieleños) and Chumash tribes. A Gabrielino settlement in the area was called iyáangẚ (written Yang-na by the Spanish), meaning "poison oak place."
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese-born explorer, claimed the area of southern California for the Spanish Empire in 1542 while on an official military exploring expedition moving north along the Pacific coast from earlier colonizing bases of New Spain in Central and South America. Gaspar de Portolà and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí, reached the present site of Los Angeles on August 2, 1769.
Spanish period, 1771 to 1821
In 1771, Franciscan friar Junípero Serra directed the building of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, the first mission in the area. On September 4, 1781, a group of forty-four settlers known as "Los Pobladores" founded the pueblo they called "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula"; in English, this translates as "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula". The Queen of the Angels (feast day August 2) is an honorific of the Virgin Mary; the present-day city still retains an active Roman Catholic Archdiocese, and remains the largest such archdiocese in the United States. Two-thirds of the settlers were mestizo or mulatto with a mixture of African, indigenous and European ancestry. The settlement remained a small ranch town for decades, but by 1820, the population had increased to about 650 residents. Today, the pueblo is commemorated in the historic district of Los Angeles Pueblo Plaza and Olvera Street, the oldest part of Los Angeles.
Mexican period, 1821 to 1847
New Spain achieved its independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821, and the pueblo continued as a part of Mexico. During Mexican rule, Governor Pío Pico made Los Angeles Alta California's regional capital.
American period, 1847 to the present
|Old Los Angeles
Los Ángeles Plaza in 1869, looking north towards Upper Town.
- The Old Aliso, giant sycamore, historical symbol of Los Angeles.
- The Covered Bridge (Macy Street)
- Fort Moore
- The Calaboose (original adobe jail)
- Poundcake Hill
- Council Chamber
- Government House, seat of the Asamblea of the "free and sovereign state" when Don Pío Pico was governor.
- Clocktower Courthouse, courtroom/theatre was on the upper floor, market was on the ground floor, and clocktower was on top, with copper dome.
- St. Athanasius's Episcopal Church, first Protestant church in Los Angeles, on Temple Road ("Salvation Alley").
- Calle de los Negros
- Mellus Block, Gen. Kearney's headquarters
- Gov. Downey's house
- Old stage road, to Cahuenga Valley & the back way to San Fernando.
- Placita Church
- Wine Street, (Calle de las vides)
- Main Plaza
- Water wheel on the Zanja Madre
- Approximate run of the original Los Angeles River bed, to current USC, through the former swamps of Leimert Park, and out to sea at Ballona Creek and Venice Beach.
LP: Lower Plaza
ECR: El Camino Real
Mexican rule ended during the Mexican–American War: Americans took control from the Californios after a series of battles, culminating with the signing of the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847.
Railroads arrived with the completion of the Southern Pacific line to Los Angeles in 1876. Petroleum was discovered in the city and surrounding area in 1892, and by 1923, the discoveries had helped California become the country's largest oil producer, accounting for about one-quarter of the world's petroleum output.
By 1900, the population had grown to more than 102,000, putting pressure on the city's water supply. The completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, under the supervision of William Mulholland, assured the continued growth of the city. Due to clauses in the city's charter that effectively prevented the City of Los Angeles from selling or providing water from the aqueduct to any area outside its borders, many adjacent city and communities became compelled to annex themselves into Los Angeles.
Los Angeles created the first municipal zoning ordinance in the United States. On September 14, 1908, Los Angeles City Council promulgated residential and industrial land use zones. The new ordinance established three residential zones of a single type, where industrial uses were prohibited. The proscriptions included barns, lumber yards, and any industrial land use employing machine-powered equipment. These laws were enforced against industrial properties after-the-fact. These prohibitions were in addition to existing activities which were already regulated as nuisances. These included explosives warehousing, gas works, oil-drilling, slaughterhouses, and tanneries. Los Angeles City Council also designated seven industrial zones within the city. However, between 1908 and 1915, Los Angeles City Council created various exceptions to the broad proscriptions which applied to these three residential zones, and as a consequence, some industrial uses emerged within them. There are two differences from the 1908 Residence District Ordinance and later zoning laws in the United States. First, the 1908 laws did not establish a comprehensive zoning map as the 1916 New York City Zoning Ordinance did. Second, the residential zones did not distinguish types of housing: it treated apartments, hotels, and detached-single-family housing equally.
In 1910, Hollywood merged into Los Angeles, with 10 movie companies already operating in the city at the time. By 1921, more than 80 percent of the world's film industry was concentrated in L.A. The money generated by the industry kept the city insulated from much of the economic loss suffered by the rest of the country during the Great Depression. By 1930, the population surpassed one million. In 1932, the city hosted the Summer Olympics.
During World War II, Los Angeles was a major center of wartime manufacturing, such as shipbuilding and aircraft. Calship built hundreds of Liberty Ships and Victory Ships on Terminal Island, and the Los Angeles area was the headquarters of six of the country's major aircraft manufacturers (Douglas Aircraft Company, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed, North American Aviation, Northrop Corporation, and Vultee). During the war, more aircraft were produced in one year than in all the pre-war years since the Wright brothers flew the first airplane in 1903, combined. Manufacturing in Los Angeles skyrocketed, and as William S. Knudsen, of the National Defense Advisory Commission put it, "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible.
Following the end of World War II, Los Angeles grew more rapidly than ever, sprawling into the San Fernando Valley. The expansion of the Interstate Highway System during the 1950s and 1960s helped propel suburban growth and signaled the demise of the city's electrified rail system, once the world's largest.
The 1960s saw race relations boil over into the Watts riots of 1965 which resulted in 34 deaths and over 1,000 injuries. In 1969, Los Angeles became the birthplace of the Internet, as the first ARPANET transmission was sent from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to SRI in Menlo Park.
In 1984, the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games for the second time. Despite being boycotted by 14 Communist countries, the 1984 Olympics became more financially successful than any previous, and the second Olympics to turn a profit until then – the other, according to an analysis of contemporary newspaper reports, being the 1932 Summer Olympics, also held in Los Angeles.
Racial tensions erupted on April 29, 1992, with the acquittal by a Simi Valley jury of four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers captured on videotape beating Rodney King, culminating in large-scale riots. The California Army National Guard, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Marine Corps were called in to assist local police in curtailing the violence. The riots were the largest in U.S. history, causing approximately $1.3 billion in damage as well as 63 deaths and over 2,000 injuries.
In 1994, the 6.7 Northridge earthquake shook the city, causing $12.5 billion in damage and 72 deaths. The century ended with the Rampart scandal, one of the most extensive documented cases of police misconduct in American history.
In 2002, voters defeated efforts by the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood to secede from the city.
Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games, making Los Angeles the third city to host the Olympics three times.