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Iconic Hispanic Angelenos in History: Cristóbal Aguilar

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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15, join us as we celebrate the Hispanic individuals that have influenced culture, social justice, and progress in Los Angeles and, in some instances, the nation. Check back often as we highlight a new iconic Hispanic Angeleno throughout the month.

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Today we celebrate Cristóbal Aguilar:

The son of one of California's first prominent families, Cristóbal Aguilar's life (1814-1883) was dedicated to public service. Known for being the first L.A.-born mayor of the city (and the last Hispanic mayor until the election of Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005), Aguilar's career is connected to many firsts in the city's history. For example, the house he grew up in -- an adobe located on North Main Street -- was used as the first hospital in the city in 1858.

Before becoming mayor, Aguilar started his life in public service in the Common Council, a legislative body that would later be known as the City Council. He served in the council on and off from 1850 to 1862. During that time he was also elected to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 1854. After leaving the Common Council, Aguilar was once again elected to the board from 1862 to 1864.

In 1866 Aguilar made the jump to Mayor. In a strange political maneuver, during a three month period from May to August in 1867, he was unseated from the position by Canadian-born Damien Marchesseault -- who later committed suicide inside City Hall. Once Aguilar was reinstated, he pushed through an ordinance that would create La Plaza Abaja, now known as Pershing Square.

One of Aguilar's most important decisions -- one that would help Los Angeles grow in later years -- was his 1868 veto of an ordinance to sell the city's water works to a company headed by Dr. J.A. Griffen. By preventing the sale of the city's water works to a private company, Aguilar guaranteed L.A.'s success.

Aguilar became mayor again from 1870 to 1872, winning the vote in a contentious election that resulted in a recount -- with 436 votes against 428 votes garnered by his opponent, Northeast L.A. pioneer Andrew Glassell. In 1872 he failed to win re-election when his opponent James R. Toberman played a dirty campaign, pointing out Aguilar's poor English skills.

Upon leaving the mayoral office, Aguilar became the City Zanjero, or water manager, a position he had held momentarily during his 3-month hiatus from the Mayor office. This position, considered to be one of the most important in the city, paid Aguilar a salary 50% higher than that of Mayor. In this position, Aguilar was in charge of municipal water and oversaw Zanja Madre operations.

Later in life Aguilar wrote a column for La Cronica, a Spanish-language newspaper, about local community issues. He passed away at the age of 68 in his house on Water Street -- fitting for a man who did so much to keep water flowing in the early days of Los Angeles.

  • Last Hispanic mayor until the election of Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005
  • Member of the L.A. Common Council, later to be known as the City Council, from 1852-1864
  • Founded the park that is now known as Pershing Square
  • As the city's Zanjero, he oversaw the Zanja Madre, a system of ditches that brought water into the homes in the early days of the city.
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