Cover Photo by Kevin Fremon
Los Angeles officially became an American city on April 4, 1850, named El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles, meaning “The Town of the Queen of Angels.” While this is still contested by historians, it is now universally referred to as the “City of Angels.”
It was established as a settlement in 1781 by a Spanish governor named Felipe de Neve. Originally part of Mexico, LA became a municipality of the US after the Mexican War of Independence. It was purchased as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo prior to California getting its official statehood in the union.
The city dwells in a basin that is surrounded by mountains as high as 10,000 feet and a sprawling sea by way of the Pacific Ocean. Its first riches came when oil was struck in the 1890s, which led to a surge of settlers claiming Los Angeles as their new home.
Fast-forward a few decades and Los Angeles became (and still is) the busiest container port of all the Americas. With growth came progress, including engineering, technology, design, and eventually film and television. Home to more than 88 cities and 4 million residents within the county limits, Los Angeles is the source of some truly fascinating tales. Below is a look at some of the interesting things you may not know about the City of Angels.
Venice Canal Historic District | 1905
Los Angeles has so many extraordinary features, but this historic district tucked away in photogenic Venice Beach feels more like you’ve been transported to Venice, Italy. Cute waterfront cottages and bridges line this European-like district that’s a mecca for creatives. It’s the vision of developer Abbot Kinney (yes, the man the eponymous district is named for). While the area has changed considerably with the inclusion of modern homes amid classic originals, the district was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Where permitted, residents can take kayaks and rowboats onto the canals that lead through the sea gates of Marina del Rey.
Birth of Hollywood | 1907-1915
Hollywood was once an agriculture mecca before banker and real estate mogul H.J. Whitley purchased property and opened the Hollywood Hotel (now the Dolby Theatre). The first film to be completed in Hollywood, The Count of Monte Cristo, was released in 1908, after ties with Chicago-based studios led by Thomas Edison forced filmmakers to move out West. In 1910, Prospect Avenue was born, which inevitably became the famed Hollywood Boulevard. By 1915, more than 15 studios were in production around town. Today there are more than 100 movie and television shows filmed every day in Los Angeles.
LACMA | 1913
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum are two of the city’s first known museums. Originally called the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, the museum opened to the public in 1913 in Exposition Park. It wasn’t until 1961 that the museum split to become what we now know as LACMA and the Natural History Museum.
Black Dahlia | 1947
Downtown Los Angeles is the last place the Black Dahlia, a.k.a. Elizabeth Short, was seen alive. Rumor has it that on January 9, 1947, she was dropped off by Robert “Red” Manley at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel. Guests claim to have seen her in the cocktail lounge, but the staff at the hotel claims she slipped out one of the many secret exits in the ballrooms (the exits still exist today). An aspiring actress, Short never made it in the film industry. Her body was discovered on the morning of January 15, 1947, by Betty Bersinger, who was out walking with her three-year-old daughter. Her body had been severed into two pieces, completely drained of blood, and she was left on the west side of South Norton Avenue near Coliseum Street in Leimert Park. There were more than 150 suspects, but no one was ever charged. To date, the murder is arguably one of the most notorious cold cases in America, and certainly the most prominent unsolved case in Los Angeles history. The name Black Dahlia is linked to the 1946 noir film The Blue Dahlia, and Short was known for adorning her hair with dahlia blooms.
A fun tidbit is that underneath the Biltmore hotel, there are rooms, tunnels, walkways, and interesting fixtures, many of which have been featured in films. One of the more recognizable is the black and white tiled bathroom used in a prominent scene in Fight Club.
Beverly Hills | 1910-Present
Beverly Hills may be known as the land of the wealthy, Rodeo Drive, and films and shows like Pretty Woman, Beverly Hills Hillbillies, 90210, and Beverly Hills Cop (I-III), but it also happens to be where oil was struck in 1910. In fact, Beverly Hills High once produced 400 barrels of oil a day on its property, earning the school a whopping $300,000 annually in revenue. However, due to concerns about cancer-causing toxic fumes (lawsuits ensued), oil production ceased in 2017. Clearly there was much more than meets the eye at this famously pristine public high school!
Hollywood Sign | 1923
A number of modern films have made the Hollywood sign infinitely epic, like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Superman, and Independence Day, but LA’s iconic signage began construction years prior in 1923. Constructed with 3,700 20-watt light bulbs, spaced eight inches apart, the Hollywood sign was initially a nod to a new housing development called Hollywoodland, which real estate developers Eli Clark, General Moses Sherman, Tracy Shoults, Sydney Woodruff and the Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler invested in. The letters weigh a cumulative total of 480,000 pounds and are each 45 feet tall. According to hollywoodsign.org, after years of neglect, the “land” was removed permanently from the sign in 1973 by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
At one time, visitors could hike all the way to the Hollywood sign, but it has since been closed off due to the number of suicides and accidents reported. You can still hike on trails in Griffith Park, with views of the sign and the Griffith Park Observatory, but direct access is prohibited.