Lesson Plans, Book Resources
All About Los Angeles
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
Los Angeles, located on the Pacific coast of southern California, is the seat of Los Angeles County. With 3,633,591 (1999 est. pop.) inhabitants, Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States, having overtaken Chicago for that position during the decade of the 1980s with a growth rate of 17.5%. The Los Angeles — Long Beach metropolitan area has a population of 9,329,989 (1999 est.) and includes Pasadena, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and other cities. The greater metropolitan area, which includes Riverside and Orange County, has 16,036,589 inhabitants (1999 est.).
Numerous geologic faults cause periodic tremors, and the strong, dry Santa Ana winds pose the threat of fires spreading into the brush-covered hills around the city. The climate of Los Angeles is Mediterranean, with long, dry summers and rain from occasional winter storms. Annual precipitation averages 305 mm (12 in). Temperatures vary greatly between the milder coastal areas and the interior. In summer, cool sea air drawn in under hotter air creates a temperature inversion, trapping air pollutants from industry and the huge number of automobiles, and causing smog.
About 25% of the city's water needs are supplied from local wells; the remainder is piped in through aqueducts from the Owens River and the Sierra Nevada, from the Colorado River across the desert from the east, and from the Feather River in northern California.
The city's layout today is marked by shopping centers and industrial parks scattered among tract housing, with the whole tied together by freeways. Public transportation is poorly developed; the private automobile is almost the sole means of mobility. The original Los Angeles, "Downtown L.A.," is only one of many commercial centers.
The population is ethnically diverse. According to the 1990 census, 53% of the population is white, a classification that includes many Hispanics. Blacks, who totaled 487,674 persons in 1990, experienced a population decline of more than 3% during the 1980s. Other groups grew very rapidly; Hispanics increased by more than 70%, and Asians and Pacific Islanders increased by 65.5%. (The Hispanic increase came through both migration from Mexico and natural increase.) Japanese Americans have been integrated into the Anglo-American society and economy. Other groups in the city include Koreans, Filipinos, Cubans, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
The economy of Los Angeles was once dependent on agriculture, but industry is much more important today. Modern Los Angeles industry falls largely into two groups: motion picture-recording-advertising and aerospace-electronics-engineering-research. Manufactures include automobiles, farm machinery, chemicals, fabricated-metal products, and textiles. Food processing and printing are also important. Petroleum, first discovered in 1892, is produced from several fields, and the city has large refineries and storage "tank farms." The need to ship petroleum spurred construction of the port of Los Angeles, one of the world's largest artificial harbors.
Included among the many institutions of higher education in the area are the California Institute of Technology (1891), the University of Southern California (1880), Occidental College (1887), and the University of California at Los Angeles (1881). Among the numerous public parks are Disneyland, Griffith Park, and Magic Mountain. The missions of San Gabriel (1771) and San Fernando (1797), El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, and the Watts Towers are notable landmarks. The Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Norton Simon Museum attract many visitors, as do the Hollywood Bowl and the Music Center for the Performing Arts.
HistoryThe Spaniard Gaspar de Portola camped near the site of Los Angeles in 1769. The settlement itself was founded in 1781 by Felipe de Neve, who named it El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula (The Town of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of Porciúncula). U.S. forces won the city in 1847 during the Mexican War and gained all of California in the same year. The arrival of two railroads — the Southern Pacific in 1876 and the Santa Fe in 1885 — encouraged immigration. Los Angeles's rapid growth continued into the 20th century, and the city's population tripled between 1900 and 1910. During World War II defense industries underwent great expansion. The postwar years, however, confronted Los Angeles with the problems of older cities, epitomized by the Watts riot of 1965. Recession and defense-spending cutbacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s exacerbated the problems, as did a major earthquake (centered in Northridge) in 1994. Notwithstanding the 18-year tenure of a black mayor, Democrat Tom Bradley, Los Angeles exploded again in racial violence in 1992 following the acquittal of four white policemen charged in the beating of a black motorist, Rodney King (two were convicted in April 1993 when all were retried on federal civil rights charges). In June 1993, Richard Riordan, a white Republican businessman, was elected mayor. He was reelected in 1997.
Bibliography: Davis, Mike, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990) and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998); DeMarco, Gordon, A Short History of Los Angeles (1987); Klein, Norman, and Schiesl, Martin, eds., Twentieth Century Los Angeles: Power, Promotion, and Social Conflict (1990); Pitt, Dale and Leonard, Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County (1997); Scott, John Allen, and Soja, Edward W., eds., The City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the 20th Century (1997).