Thousands of years ago the area now known as Los Angeles was a paradise of pristine beaches, mountains and desert. Back then the coastal region was inhabited by the Chumash and Tongva tribes. It wasn’t until 1542 that Joao Cabrilho, a Portuguese explorer, speaking for the Spanish, declared the area ‘City of God’. Cabrilho soon left and it wasn’t until a Franciscan missionary named Juan Crespi came riding into town on 2 August 1769 that the place really began its life as a city. A few years later another Franciscan, Junipero Serra, built the San Gabriel Mission in what is now the San Gabriel Valley. Were he alive, Junipero might be dismayed to know that the site of his mission is now home of the porn industry.

In September of 1781, 44 settlers of Native American, Filipino, African American and Spanish blood founded ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula’ (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the River of Porciuncula). The majority of the settlers had some African ancestry and all of them were of mixed race, beginning the city’s multicultural tradition. Their original pueblo remains today on historic and touristy Olvera Street, where you can presently purchase an excellent taco and an overpriced sombrero.

When Mexico took its independence from Spain in 1821 the little pueblo went along with it and the Queen of the Angels remained under Mexican rule until the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848.

The Southern Pacific Railway rolled into town, and in 1876 completed its line to Los Angeles. Californians soon discovered oil, and by 1923 the city was producing 25% of the world’s black gold. Along with the oil industry, the film and aviation industries began to flourish.

With a booming economy and a war abroad, people began to pour in – both exiles from Europe, and African American labourers from the gulf states. By 1932, when Los Angeles hosted its first summer Olympics, there were more than one million people living in the city.

In 1965, LA exploded in violence as the Watts Riots tore the city apart, and Angelenos continue to struggle with a complicated and wide variety of racial tensions. In the 80s, gang violence, in concert with the introduction of crack cocaine, and corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department, lay the groundwork for what would be known as the Rodney King riots.

Although Los Angeles is plagued by pollution, racial tension, earthquakes and violence, people continue to move to the city. The beaches, the weather and the promise of fame and fortune lure people from around the world. The city is rapidly gentrifying and, despite the recently cooled market, housing is breathtakingly expensive.

Today, more than 10 million people live in Los Angeles County. They live in 88 cities and in 140 ‘unincorporated areas.’ While the city is famous for blonde starlets and the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles is home to one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse populations in the world.

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