City of Angels: Essential Facts About Los Angeles

Los Angeles illuminated against sky at night. (Paul Meneshian/EyeEm/Getty)

Origins Of Angels

Los Angeles was officially founded on September 4, 1781, though it was then known as El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, which translates to "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels." It was originally a ranching town created in the era of Spanish colonization. Visitors can still take a peek at the city's history on its oldest road, Olvera Street, which dates back to the 1780s. The California dream was sold early and hard, with advertisements from the 1800s promising sunshine, food, and prosperity to anyone brave enough to travel west. The Gold Rush of the 1850s didn't hurt California's population growth, either. L.A. became an incorporated municipality on April 4, 1850 and, by the end of the century, swelled from just 11 families to a city of more than 50,000.

It's A Dry Heat

But how were all these people expected to live, let alone grow crops, in what is dangerously close to desert conditions? Enter William Mulholland, the man whose dream for the City of Angels was so big, he stole an entire lake for it. From 1907 to 1913, Mulholland built an aqueduct which essentially took all of the water from Owens Lake, a whopping 175 miles away in the Sierra Nevada, to the reservoirs of Los Angeles. The ranchers around Owens Lake obviously put up a fight, but thanks to some devious tricks on Mulholland's part, the city grew beyond what the natural resources of the basin could have ever provided naturally, for better or worse.

The remains of Owens River at Bishop Tuff. In 1913, the watercourse was diverted for irrigation and drinking water in Los Angeles. (Mav/Wikimedia Commons)

Lights, Camera, Action!

Thanks to advancements in technology, the moving picture was creating quite a storm around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but building a thriving industry around the budding new art form was proving too difficult and expensive a task. Thomas Edison in particular was extremely controlling of rights fees for his inventions, so American moviemakers decided to head West and hopefully skirt some of those demands. Eventually, word got out that Los Angeles was the place to be, as it was just hours from snowy mountaintops, vast deserts, sunny beaches, woody forests, and any other backdrop a director could hope for, and the great weather meant they could set up a shooting schedule that wouldn't get rained out or snowed in. Thus, Hollywood was born, and even after 100 years of a global film market, Tinseltown still reigns supreme on profitability and production output.

Olympic Haven

Of course, no entertainment capital could call itself such without hosting the world's greatest stage, the Summer Olympics, an honor the City of Angels has nabbed three times if we count the upcoming 2028 Games. More impressive, however, is the fact that Los Angeles is the only city to actually net a profit from the Olympic Games, which has proven to be more and more of a money pit for hosting cities over the decades. As the city is already equipped with all the sports arenas and technical support needed to host and televise the games, they manage to come out on top. In fact, they claim that 2028 will be a "no impact" event, intending to use the same L.A. Memorial Coliseum where they held the city's first opening ceremony back in 1932.

Griffith Observatory and Los Angeles at night. (Gustavo Gerdel/Wikimedia Commons)

The Big One

Of course, we can't talk about Los Angeles without mentioning her tendency to shake, as the city exists on more than 100 active faults. Deadly earthquakes pepper Los Angeles history, from the 1812 L.A. quake that took 40 lives to the 1933 Long Beach quake that killed 120 to the 61 who perished in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That's nothing, however, compared to the much-feared Big One, a predicted earthquake measuring over 7.8 on the Richter scale that scientists say is not an "if" but a "when" that will occur on the San Andreas fault and rock the Los Angeles basin like no earthquake ever has before. The level of death and devastation it will bring is hard to predict, but the city has taken great effort to retrofit older buildings to withstand such a shake, and the threat of the Big One doesn't seem to keep people away. As of 2022, Los Angeles County boasts a population of 10 million people, more than the entire population of 42 U.S. states.