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Five Dates

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Some of us are exploring undiscovered Los Angeles this summer at KCET Voices and making lists. My list isn't of destinations, however; it's a list of dates. (Yes. I am a geek.)

1825: The Passing of the Rio Porciúncula. In the torrential rains of 1825, the river that that made possible the Ciudad de los Angeles changed course. The river named Porciúncula by Fr. Juan Crespi had flowed south and west of the plaza into seasonal wetlands that are now buried under the westside. After 1825, the river flowed almost due south, into the great flat that descends from downtown to Long Beach. Floods in 1861 and 1864 swung the mouth of this new river - now the Los Angeles River - from Alamitos Bay to San Pedro. Channelization constrained that river into the one we have. What would Los Angeles have become, if its troubled river had stayed in its bed?

October 24, 1871: The city's first race riot. Los Angeles though the 1860s was a violent, mean, and brutal cowtown known nationally for its "murder a day" reputation. In a post-Civil War slump - the cattle economy had collapsed after years of drought - the city's unemployed ranch hands and hard-luck small merchants were looking for a target. They found it among the hundreds of low-wage Chinese laborers imported during the construction of the transcontinental railroad. A skirmish between rival Chinese gangs on a bar- and brothel-lined street led to the death of an Anglo bystander, which led to a day of mob violence. Chinese homes and businesses were wrecked. Lynchings and shooting killed 17; two more Chinese died later of their wounds. Among the leaders of the mob were Councilman George Fall and county marshal Francis Baker.

September, 1876: A tunnel to the rest of the world. The completion of a single piece of railroad engineering - a 6,940-foot tunnel through the San Fernando Mountains - would give Los Angles its first, more-or-less direct access to the East (by way of San Francisco). The extension of the Southern Pacific into Los Angeles County created a new economy of orange groves and grape vines, but also put Los Angeles in the midst of the bitter fight over railroad control of state politics that would not end until well into the 20th century.

December 16, 1896: Green socialism. Griffith J. Griffith (who called himself a colonel) and his wife Christina gave 3,015 acres of his Rancho Los Feliz estate as a Christmas gift to the people of Los Angeles. "It must be made a place of rest and relaxation for the masses, a resort for the rank and file, for the plain people," Griffith told the city council when he donated the land. "I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happy, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered." Griffith later donated another 1,000 acres along the Los Angeles River and, in 1919, left the bulk of this estate to build the Greek Theater and Griffith Observatory.

1906: The city shaped. The look of Los Angeles - the way it lays on the land - has a history that begins with the dispersed haciendas of the rancho period and continues through the dispersed farming and orchard communities of the steam railroad period, ending with the dispersed communities of the electric trolley period. After 1920, the limited access highway and the automobile filled in the gaps. The filling in process was sped by Charles Mulford Robinson, one of the first professional urban planners. In 1906, the city turned to Robinson to prepare a land use scheme for central Los Angeles. He recommended eradicating Chinatown and the adjacent Sonoratown to make room for a new railroad terminal (not built until 1938). He also picked the location for a new city hall (not built until 1928) and the placement of the city and county civic center. He advocated planting streets with jacarandas and building a boulevard parkway along the Arroyo Seco from Pasadena. Robinson also thought that races and economic classes shouldn't mingle and urged zoning laws to keep high and low separate. The city agreed, despite the novelty and controversy of zoning.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user vgm8383. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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