Incredible images of Los Angeles before it was a city

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Los Angeles, circa 1886.
source
Library of Congress

Long before Hollywood’s stars descended on Los Angeles, the city was a modest farming settlement inhabited by thousands of Native Americans.

Now home to approximately 3.9 million residents and counting, Los Angeles has clearly changed a lot since then.

Here are the maps, illustrations, and old-time photographs that show the journey of the City of Angels.


The Chumash people, a seafaring group of Native Americans, were the first to settle in the Los Angeles area around 9,000 BC.

source
Los Angeles Public Library

Source: National Park Service


In 1542, Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo journeyed along California’s coast. He called the city’s present-day San Pedro Bay the “Bay of Smokes,” due to rising smoke from fires made by Native Americans.

source
Los Angeles Public Library

Source: Los Angeles Almanac


When the first Spanish missionaries arrived in 1602, there were approximately 22,000 Chumash living there. But it wasn’t until over a century later that Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola founded LA’s first official settlement in 1769.

source
Wikipedia Commons/Ord’s survey map of 184

Source: Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians


Felipe de Neve became the new Governor of California in 1775. Established two years later, Los Angeles’ first district was named San Jose de Guadalupe.

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The “Old Plaza Church” facing Los Angeles’ plaza, 1869.
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: “History of California”


Neve set up Los Angeles’ city plan, which called for a central public plaza surrounded by a church, administrative buildings, and streets laid out in a grid with some blocks designated for farms and homes.

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An 1887 aerial photo of Los Angeles, taken from a balloon.
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: City of Los Angeles


The city of Los Angeles, which translates to “The Angels,” was officially founded in 1781. Many families from Mexico came to live there.

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Los Angeles, circa 1886.
source
Library of Congress

Source: Los Angeles Almanac


By 1821, Los Angeles had grown into the largest self-sustaining farming community in Southern California.

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A Los Angeles farm, circa 1900.
source
California Historical Society Collection

Source: LA Times


To accommodate its growing population, LA built up its transportation infrastructure in the late 19th century. The Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, pictured below, were the city’s first.

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The Los Angeles & San Pedro Railroad was the first railroad in Los Angeles, circa 1880.
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: USC


The Los Angeles City Oil Field, which still emits tar today, was discovered in 1892. It set off California’s first major oil boom by producing about 45 barrels per day.

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Oil wells in 1904
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: American Oil and Gas Historical Society


LA’s population exploded in the early 1900s. Over 319,000 people lived there by 1910.

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Huge crowds on the corner of Spring Street and Sixth Street in Los Angeles, April, 1910
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: Los Angeles Almanac


In the mid-20th century, Southern California started started construction on massive highways, which connect LA to other centers, like San Francisco and San Diego. LA displaced a quarter-million residents to build its 527-mile freeway system from the ’40s to ’60s.

source
USC Libraries

Source: Gizmodo


Today, Southern California’s freeway system is one of the busiest in the country.

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Judge Harry Pregerson Interchange in Los Angeles, 2009.
source
Wikipedia Commons

Source: San Gabriel Valley Tribune


Roughly 3.9 million people call Los Angeles home, according to the most recent census.

source
View Apart/Shutterstock

Source: US Census


Its population is expected to grow to 4.6 million by 2040, which would make it one of the densest cities in the US.

source
Marshall Astor / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Curbed