1. 1781: The Founding of Los Angeles

Under orders of King Carlos III of Spain, the governor of California Felipe de Neve laid out a small settlement along a river valley and, on September 4, called it El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (the Town of the Queen of the Angels) (see El Pueblo de Los Angeles), another name for the Virgin Mary.

2. 1850: LA Becomes a City

After the US-Mexican War (1846–48), Los Angeles became part of the US on April 4, five months before California became the 31st state. With a population of only 1,600, this lawless backwater lacked even such basic urban infrastructures as graded roads and street lights.

3. 1876: The Arrival of the Railroad

Few events have stimulated LA’s growth more than its connection to the railroad. A small army of Chinese immigrants built the Southern Pacific track from LA to San Francisco. The last spike – made of gold – was driven in ceremoniously on September 5.

4. 1911: The Movies Come to LA

British immigrants David and William Horsely founded Hollywood’s first permanent movie studio, the Nestor Film Company, in an old tavern at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street, a site now occupied by a production studio. Within a decade, the district became the world’s movie capital, and, by the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood had officially entered its “Golden Age.”

5. 1913: The Opening of the LA Aqueduct

“There it is! Take it!” is how William Mulholland, father of the world’s longest aqueduct, famously greeted the first spurt of water to arrive in LA from the Owens Valley, some 250 miles (400 km) north, on November 5. Even today, the LA aqueduct continues to supply over 75 percent of the water needed by the residents of this metropolis, which is partly located in a subtropical desert.


The LA aqueduct in the desert

6. The 1920s: The Birth of the Aviation Industry

In possession of just $1,000, but driven by a dream, 28-year-old Donald Douglas began designing airplanes in the back of a barber shop. A year later, the first Cloudster cargo plane propelled his Douglas Aircraft Company into prominence. It went on to become one of the world’s leading commercial airplane manufacturers.


Donald Douglas and his partner David Davis

7. 1965: The Watts Riots

The arrest of a young black motorist suspected of drunk driving by white policemen on August 11 sparked off six days of rioting and resulted in 34 deaths, over 1,000 injuries, and $40 million in damage.

8. 1968: The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

On June 5, just minutes after wrapping up a speech to celebrate his victory in the California primary, presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was brutally gunned down by Palestine-born Sirhan Sirhan.

9. 1992: The LA Riots

Violence erupted again on April 29 after the acquittal of four white police officers on trial for beating up black motorist Rodney King – an incident famously captured on videotape. The toll: 55 dead, 2,300 injured, and $785 million in damage.

10. 1994: Northridge Earthquake

Millions were jolted awake on January 17 by a violent earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale. It caused 57 deaths and 6,500 injuries, interrupting water, electrical, and gas services, and damaging freeways and homes.


Northridge earthquake damage


1. Junípero Serra (1713–84)

Spanish missionary and founder of 21 California missions, including LA’s Mission San Gabriel.

2. Felipe de Neve (1728–84)

The Spanish governor who founded Los Angeles in 1781.

3. Stephen Watts Kearny (1794–1848)

The American general who assisted in the capture of Los Angeles from the Mexican army in 1847.

4. Phineas Banning (1830–85)

The “Father of Los Angeles Harbor,” who also constructed Southern California’s first railroad in 1869.

5. William Mulholland (1855–1935)

The chief engineer of Los Angeles’s Water Department.

6. Edward Doheny (1856–1935)

This miner-turned-multimillionaire discovered oil near Downtown LA and drilled the area’s first oil well in 1892.

7. George Freeth (1883–1916)

This Hawaiian-Irish athlete introduced surfing to Southern California in the early 1900s.

8. Harrison Gray Otis (1837–1917)

City booster and publisher of the Los Angeles Times for three decades.

9. D. W. Griffith (1875–1948)

Pioneering filmmaker and co-founder of United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.


Filmmaker D. W. Griffith

10. Tom Bradley (1917–98)

LA’s first African-American mayor governed for an unprecedented five terms – from 1973 to 1993.

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