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Downtown Los Angeles, California, 1948

Panorama at Broadway Street and Temple Streets in downtown Los Angeles shows the Hall of Justice, the post office, City Hall, and the Hall of Records, 1946.

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!




Phineas Banning excavated a channel out of the mud flats of San Pedro Bay leading to Wilmington in 1871. Banning had already laid track and shipped in locomotives to connect the port to the city. Harrison Gray Otis, founder and owner of the Los Angeles Times, and a number of business colleagues embarked on reshaping southern California by expanding that into a harbor at San Pedro using federal dollars.


This put them at odds with Collis P. Huntington, president of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company and one of California's "Big Four" robber barons.

The line reached Los Angeles in 1876 and Huntington directed it to a port at Santa Monica, where the Long Wharf was built. The San Pedro forces eventually prevailed, although it required Banning to turn his railroad over to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Work on the San Pedro breakwater began in 1899 and was finished in 1910. Otis Chandler and his allies secured a change in state law in 1909 that allowed Los Angeles to absorb San Pedro and Wilmington, using a long, narrow corridor of land to connect them with the rest of the city.

Oil was discovered by Edward L. Doheny in 1892, near the present location of Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles became a center of oil production in the early 20th Century and by 1923 the region was producing one-quarter of the world's total supply. Today, it is still a significant producer.

In order to sustain future growth needed new sources of water. The only local water in Los Angeles was the intermittent Los Angeles River and groundwater replenished by the area's minimal rain. Legitimate concerns about water supply were exploited to gain backing for a huge engineering and legal effort to bring more water to the city and allow more development. Two hundred and fifty miles northeast of Los Angeles in Inyo County, near the Nevada line, a long slender desert region known as the Owens Valley had the Owens River, a permanent stream of fresh water fed by the melted snows of the Sierra Nevada that collected in the shallow, saline Owens Lake, where it evaporated.


Sometime between 1899 and 1903, Harrison Gray Otis and his son-in-law successor, Harry Chandler, led successful efforts at buying up cheap land on the northern outskirts of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. At the same time they enlisted the help of William Mulholland, Chief of the Losa angeles Water Department, and J.B. Lippencott, of the United States Reclamation Service. Lippencott performed water surveys in the Owens Valley for the Service while secretly receiving a salary from the City of Los Angeles. He succeeded in persuading Owens Valley farmers and mutual water companies to pool their interests and surrender the water rights to 200,000 acres of land to Fred Eden, Lippencott's agent and a former mayor ofLos Angeles.


Eden then resigned from the Reclamation Service, took a job with the Los Angeles Water Department as assistant to Mulholland, and turned over the Reclamation Service maps, field surveys and stream measurements to the city. Those studies served as the basis for designing the longest aqueduct in the world.


By July 1905, Chandler's L.A. Times began to warn the voters of Los Angeles that the county would soon dry up unless they voted bonds for building the aqueduct. Artificial drought conditions were created when water was run into the sewers to decrease the supply in the reservoirs and residents were forbidden to water their lawns and gardens. On election day, the people of Los Angeles voted for $22.5 million worth of bonds to build an aqueduct from the Owens River and to defray other expenses of the project. With this money, and with a special Act of Congress allowing cities to own property outside their boundaries, the City acquired the land that Eden had acquired from the Owens Valley farmers and started to build the aqueduct. On the occasion of the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct on November 5, 1913 Mullholland's entire speech was five words: "There it is. Take it."


The City of Los Angeles mostly remained within its original 28 square-mile land grant until the 1890s. The first large additions to the city were the districts of Highland Park and Garvanza to the north, and the South Central area. In 1906 the approval of the Port of Los Angeles and a change in state law allowed the city to annex the Shoestring, a narrow and crooked strip of land leading from Los Angeles south towards the port. The port cities of San Pedro and Wilmington were added in 1909 and the city of Hollywood was added in 1910, bringing the city up to 90 square miles.


Port of Los Angeles, 1930sThe opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct provided the city with four times as much water as it required, and the offer of water service became a powerful lure for neighboring communities. The City, saddled with a large bond and excess water, locked in customers through annexation by refusing to supply other communities. Otis Chandler, a major investor in San Fernando Valley real estate, used his Los Angeles Times to promote development near the aqueduct's outlet. By referendum of the residents, 170 square miles of the San Fernando Valley, along with the Palms district, were added to the city in 1915, almost tripling its area, mostly towards the northwest. Over the next couple of decades dozens of additional annexations were made to the city.


At about the same time, motion picture production companies from New York and New Jersey started moving to sunny California because of the good weather.  Although electric lights existed at that time, none were powerful enough to adequately expose film; the best source of illumination for movie production was natural sunlight. Besides the moderate, dry climate, they were also drawn to the state because of its open spaces and wide variety of natural scenery.


Another reason was the distance of Southern California from New Jersey, which made it more difficult for Thomas Edison to enforce his motion picture patents. At the time, Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production and, in the East, movie producers acting independently of Edison's Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued by Edison and his agents. Thus, movie makers working on the West Coast could work independent of Edison's control. If he sent agents to California, word would usually reach Los Angeles before the agents did and the movie makers could escape to nearby Mexico. Before long, dozens of film studios were established in the Nevada district.


Route 66 Postcard Coloring BookLos Angeles continued to spread out, particularly with the development of the San Fernando Valley and the building of the freeways launched in the 1940s. When the local street car system went out of business Los Angeles became a city built around the automobile, with all of the social, health and political problems that this dependence produces.


In the midst of all this road building, Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and would change dozens of times through the next several decades as Los Angeles continued to grow and expand.


During World War II, Los Angeles grew as a center for production of aircraft, war supplies and munitions. Thousands of African Americans and white Southerners migrated to the area to fill factory jobs.


By 1950 Los Angeles was an industrial and financial giant created by war production and migration. Los Angeles assembled more cars than any city other than Detroit, made more tires than any city but Akron, made more furniture than Grand Rapids, and stitched more clothes than any city except New York. In addition, it was the national capital for the production of motion pictures, radio programs and, within a few years, television shows. Construction boomed as tract houses were built in ever expanding suburban communities financed primarily by the Federal Housing Administration.


The famed urban sprawl of Los Angeles became a notable feature of the city, and the pace of the growth accelerated in the first decades of the 20th century. The San Fernando Valley, sometimes called "America's Suburb," became a favorite site of developers, and the city began growing past its roots downtown toward the ocean and towards the east.

Today, the metropolitan area encompasses 469 square miles and five counties.



See Route 66 in Los Angeles Next Page


Santa Monica Pier, California

Santa Monica Pier at the end of California's ribbon of Route 66, photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!



Union Station, Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles Union Station

This image available for photographic prints and downloads HERE!


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