LA was once LA, with Santa Monica to its west, Pasadena to its east, and the cloverfields in between. But we get ahead of ourselves…to start at the beginning:
The area now known as Los Angeles was first settled by the Tongva (or Gabrieleños) and Chumash Native American tribes, and was first "discovered" by Europeans in 1542 when Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese-born explorer claimed the area for Spain. But real Spanish colonization didn't begin until 1769 with the arrival of Gaspar de Portola and a group of missionaries who camped on what is now the banks of the Los Angeles River. Two years later in 1771, the town was founded as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula (The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels on the Porciúncula River).Today, this area is preserved and still recognizable in the historic district of Los Angeles Pueblo Plaza and Olvera Street, the oldest part of Los Angeles.
When Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, the town became a part of Mexico, and after the Mexican-American War, Los Angeles and California were purchased as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, becoming part of the United States. Los Angeles was incorporated as a municipality on April 4, 1850, five months before California achieved statehood.
By that time, the town had 1,650 people, while the outlying county was twice as large at 3,530. The railroad arrived in 1876 and by 1900, the population was over 100,000, driven not only by its new accessibility but also by the development of the San Pedro Harbor, as well as the discovery of oil in 1892. By the 1920s, the area was producing one quarter of the world's entire oil supply, an astonishing number and one that would guarantee explosive growth for decades to come.
The growth of Los Angeles during this time, and the location of its suburbs and transportation corridors, was tied closely to the location of the electrically-powered Pacific Electric Railway, which operated over 1,000 miles of tracks in its heyday, serving locations like San Fernando, Santa Monica, San Bernardino, Long Beach, and Newport Beach to central Los Angeles.
LA was adding cities to its footprint by leaps and bounds, annexing everything in site using a carrot and stick approach of access (or not) to water, newly available with the highly-politicized construction of a new aqueduct (the longest in the world) delivering an oversupply of water to the city from the Owens Valley. Most of the annexed communities were unincorporated towns but during this period, LA engulfed 10 incorporated cities: Wilmington (1909), San Pedro (1909), Hollywood (1910), Sawtelle (1922, now named West Los Angeles), Hyde Park (1923), Eagle Rock (1923), Venice (1925), Watts (1926), Barnes City (1927), and Tujunga (1932).
In the 1920s, the motion picture industry came to town, followed by aviation, and LA's boom became an explosive blast, with the population passing 1 million by 1930. The post-war years saw continued expansion, as the car culture came into its own in this new and brash city, and urban sprawl extended the city's borders north to the San Fernando Valley. The city hosted two Olympics, in 1932 and again in 1984, both the only Olympic Games to have ever turned a profit at that point.
In the 1970s and 1980s, downtown LA and other areas constructed some of the city's tallest skyscrapers, even while impoverished neighborhoods were resorting to gang violence and drug trafficking, and the police department engaged in corruption and power plays.
Today, the character of LA is mainly that it almost cannot be characterized. Its sheer scale and the number of its neighborhoods defy simple descriptions. It currently spans over 498.3 square miles, is home to 12.9 million people of every possible color and nationality who speak 224 different languages. It is a world center of culture, technology, media, business, and international trade. Its educational and cultural institutions are powerful players on the world stage, and it is the world leader in the production of popular entertainment.