By Levi Clancy for לוי on
El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was established in 1781, the twelfth year of Spanish colonization of the region.
The region was populated by Shoshonean Indians (called Gabrielenos by the Spaniards) who had settled the region in about 500 BC, slowly displacing indigenous Hokan language groups.
In 1769, the Spanish king had decided to colonize Alta California with missions, presidios (military bases) and pueblos (towns). In 1769 an expedition was planned under the military leadership of Gaspar de Portola and the religious leadership of Padre Junipero Serra. Following their arrival in San Diego in July 1769, Portola set off to find a land route to Monterrey (discovered by Vizcaino in 1602).
First Expedition (1769)
Portola's party headed northward, and on August 2nd 1769 they reached a wide and fertile valley with trees, a lovely river and friendly Indians.
The day prior had been the feast day of the Porciuncula (named for the small acreage on which Saint Francis built a chapel at Assisi) so the river was named El Rio de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles de la Porciuncula. It would later be known as the Los Angeles River.
Padre Juan Crespi, diarist of the expedition, noted this site was ideal for colonization.
Planning El Pueblo(1777)
In 1777, Felipe de Neve, governor of Las Californias, was searching for a suitable location for a pueblo and decided that this area was perfect.
|Recruitment||1777||Neve ordered Captain Fernando de Rivera to find 60 recruits for the future pueblo of Los Angeles, but when they were not available he reduced the number to twenty four. He asked for experienced farms, men of the soil without vices nor defects. They were to be given food, a monthly salary of ten pesos, and the loan of two cows, two oxen, two horses, two mares, one mule, two sheep, two goats, all tools and utensils for farming and personal clothing and equipment. Later these were to be repaid with a part of the fruit grains, and an increase of herds.|
|Pueblo Planning||1781||Neve arrived at Mission San Gabriel to lay out the town and select sites for the dam and irrigated land. The town comprised four square leagues (about 28 square miles) should be laid out. He planned the location of the town square with its corners set, following Spanish tradition, at the cardinal points of the compass. Houses were to be built on three sides of the Plaza and the fourth side was left for public buildings and a church.|
|Settlers Arrive||1781 Summer||The settlers travelled from Sinaloa and Sonora to Guaymas, by boat to Loreta and thence northwards on foot in parties escorted by soldiers. Its population consisted of eleven families with a total of 44 people, 22 men and women and 22 children, who had arrived in small groups during the summer months. The settlers were of varied ethnicities -- Indian, Spanish (born in Spain), Negro and of mixed parentage; they had been recruited in the Mexican districts of Sinaloa and Sonora.|
Establishing El Pueblo (1781)
On September 4th 1781, Neve ordered Lt Dario Arguello to lead the settlers to the site. At this time Neve distributed the planting fields and house lots, which were numbered and drawn by lot.
This is why the City's birthday is celebrated on September 4th. By the following March, three of the families asked to be released from their contracts and left the pueblo, which reduced the founding families of Los Angeles to a total of 32 people.
Gabrielinos and other regional Indians served as a work force for the pobladores (and also the missions). Mission Padres complained that the pobladores corrupted the Indians by permitting them to spend their small wages on wine.
The founding families are shown below, as listed on a plaque dedicated at El Pueblo on September 4th 1981, by the Los Angeles Bicentennial Committee.
Laser etching of the pueblo layout
at Biddy Mason Park
Manuel and his wife were mulattoes with no children.
Jose was a 50 year old Spaniard. He had an Indian wife and three children.
Antonio was a 38 year old full African with a mulatto wife and five children.
Jose and his wife were mulattoes.
Antonio was mixed Spanish and Indian. He had a mulatto wife and three children. He was a tailor, and the only man whose trade we know.
Pablo was a 25 year old Indian whose wife was Indian. They had one child.
Luis was a full African with mulatto wife and two children.
Basilio was a 68 year old Indian with a mulatto wife and six children.
Alejandro was a 19 year old Indian with a mulatto wife and no children. Next to Alejandro was a vacant lot.
Jose was a 28 year old Indian whose wife was Indian. They had one child. Vanegas and Rodriguez were the only full-blooded Indian families in the Pueblo and they lived next to each other.
Felix was a 38 year old Spaniard with an Indian wife and one child.
During the period of Spanish control (1781-1821) the pobladores constructed Los Angeles' first streets, adobe buildings and the central Plaza.
The first homes of the pobladores were mud-plastered willow huts. These were soon replaced by adobe homes with flat roofs, later waterproofed with a coat of tar from the pits some miles away. The pioneers also built a dam and brought water to the pueblo by means of ditches. The main ditch was called the Zanja Madre (mother ditch).
By the end of the first decade, the pueblo had increased in population to 139 and had become a productive agricultural community.
Los Angeles was founded under the Spanish flag, but the original 44 pobladores (settlers) were not from Spain.
They were from the present Mexican northwest states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California. Like most Mexicans today, they were mestizos, racially mixed, heterogeneous people mainly Indian, African and Spanish. However, original plans were for twelve families to arrive as Pobladores; the twelfth family was under patriarch Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, who was listed as Chino (likely Filipino) and instead of settling chose to stay behind to tend to a sick daughter.
Spanish institutions would eventually disappear, but the Spanish pueblos San Jose and Los Angeles grew and flourished. Three families lived together on the L-shaped lot in the corner, and on the two lots on the north side. It is unknown which specific lot belonged to each family. They were driven out of the Pueblo before they had lived there for six months.
|Pueblo Established||1781 Sep 04||Some areas were selected to serve as common lands and others as individual fields to be given by lot to the prospective settlers. The town, a civil settlement, was given the name of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (the town of the Queen of the Angels). According to official records sent back to Spain, the date on which Neve completed its establishment was September 4th 1781.|
|Plaza Relocated||1815||The settlers found that the Los Angeles River changed course during floods. After torrential rains in 1815, the pueblo was moved northwest of its present location. Houses were built around the plaza as before and plans were made for a new church.|
|New Church||Plans for the new church had been developed by 1818. Construction started in 1819 and the church was completed in 1822. Sometime between 1825 and 1830, a final location was chosen for the Plaza with the front door of the church opening out midway on its western side.|
|Commisioner||Vicente Feliz had been the solider in charge of protecting the pueblo from Indian attacks. He was appointed comisionado (commissioner) in 1787 and remained effectively in charge of the settlement for years. He later retired with a grant of land in the area which is now known as Griffith Park. Comisionados were appointed continuously in Los Angeles, but civilian rule had take over by 1825.|
|Alcades Installed||Unrest and rebellion began surface in Mexico from 1810 onward, and until ultimate independence, supplies from Mexico were often scarce. The governor had decided that the pueblo should be governed by an alcade (mayor) and two regidores (councilmen). However, these were just honorary posts that bestowed dignity and some influence. Comisionados remained in effective control until civilian rule had taken over by 1825.|
Under Spanish rule, all lands belonged to the Spanish crown and private land ownership was not permitted.
Trade with foreign ships was illegal and the pobladores were dependent on the presidios for supplies, although occasionally some foreign vessels smuggled in needed goods. The settlers at El Pueblo would be given titles to the land after five years of tenancy. In 1784 the land grant system was established when three retired soldiers from the presidio at Santa Barbara were granted permission to use large tracts of land for grazing in what is now Los Angeles County.
Only a few such grants were made before 1821, but private ownership would become the norm in the Mexican era.
Mexican Rancho Era (1821-1848)
During the Mexican period many settlers received ownership titles to varying amount of land.
In this way, southern California became a vast cattle-raising country. The cattle roamed freely, each beast marked with its owner's brand. In 1828, the population had risen to about 800 people -- one visitor counted 82 houses in the pueblo. Under Mexican law, rancheros were permitted to own their own land, and many of them were very wealthy.
They were renowned for their horsemanship. Foreign trade was now allowed. Hides and tallow were bartered in exchange for needed supplies of furniture, cloth and other goods.
By the time of Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Los Angeles was already the largest population center in Alta California.
It was the local and regional economic, political, social, cultural and religious center for the area between San Buenaventura and San Juan Capistrano. The Plaza continued to be the heat of southern California society during the Mexican era. It was a place where the community engaged in a dynamic cattle-based economy where traditional culture and secular and religious fiestas were collectively unified the pueblo's and ranchos, reaffirming traditional loyalties and defining society as a whole.
At that time, some of the families living around the Plaza had names well-known today -- Pico, Carrillo, Avila, Del Valle, Lugo and Sepulveda. In 1813, the Avila Adobe was built near the Plaza on Vine Street, now known as Olvera Street, and is the sole remaining residence from this era. As early as 1818, prominent Mexican rancheros such as Francisco Avila, Jose Antonio Carrillo, Juan Bandini and Francisco Sepulveda had maintained second homes next to the Plaza.
Particularly significant during this era was the development of a Californio regional identity and cultural expression based on the spread of the ranchos or cattle ranches.
Also during this era, leading Mexican Angelinos charted out much of the city's future. Names like Olvera, Pico, Carrillo, Sepulveda and Lugo mark present-day streets and serve as daily reminders of the early Angelenos' leadership and vision.
The secularization of the missions caused a tremendous problem for the Indians who had adapted to life in and around the missions. Suddenly uprooted, they had no place to go.
While originally they had been intended to recieve titles to half the mission lands, almost none of them actually received any land, nor were they able to keep the land they were given. Their vulnerability to foreign diseases and inhumane treatment by Mexicans and Americans caused the decimation of the Indian population. Within a hundred years, almost no members of the original Indian tribes living in coastal California were left.
Foreigners started to arrive in Los Angeles. Several became successful merchants and most of them acquired land. A few became important landowners.
The Californios seemed to accept and welcome them. Many foreigners intermarried with daughters of the rancheros, became naturalized Mexican citizens and were converted to Catholicism. Some well-known foreign settlers include Joseph Chapman, Abel Stearns, John Temple, B D Wilson and Hugo Reid.
|Mexican Independence||1828||There were some skirmishes (with a minimum of bloodshed) over dissastisfaction with Mexican political rule. However, Los Angeles was mainly a peaceful and pastoral area.|
|Capital City||1835||Los Angeles was raised to the status of a city by the Congress of Mexico. It was named the capital of Alta California on May 23rd 1835. However, the government did not relocate from Monterey for another decade.|
|Governor Pio Pico||1845||Pio Pico became the last Mexican governor of California. He moved the seat of government from Monterey to Los Angeles.|
American Rancho Era (1848 - 1860s)
In 1846, the United States invaded Alta California. The Los Angeles Plaza area became the center of widespread Mexican opposition to the invasion. Even after the United States took Alta California in 1848, Los Angeles remained Mexican in terms of population and Spanish as the lingua franca.
When American troops arrived at San Pedro there was very little initial resistance. However, the Californios became infuriated because an American lieutenant named Gillespie, left in command of a detachment of troops at Los Angeles, behaved pompously, preventing the citizens from holding meets and moving freely in and out of towns. The Californios mounted a show of force and drove the American troops out of town.
Though the Californios, under the leadership of Pio Pico's brother Andres Pico, decisively won the battle at San Pasqual near San Diego, the ultimate outcome of the war was never really in doubt. Los Angeles was retaken by Commodore Stockton in January 1847, assisted by reinforcements marching from the north and south. As the story goes, while Dona Encarnacion Sepulveda de Avila and her family took refuge in a friend's home, a young man taking care of the Avila Adobe had left the front door open while listening to the commodore's military band playing in the Plaza. One of Stockton's aides passed by, found the house empty and established the commodore's headquarters there for ten days while peace was negotiated.
|Survey Conducted||1849||The City Council (ayuntamiento decided to sell off some lots; to do this, the town had to be surveyed. Lieutenant E O C Ord was given $3,000 for his work in making Los Angeles' earliest map since Neve's original plan for the pueblo. Because of the many settlers from Sonor, the area north of the Plaza became known as Sonora Town. Many commercial, legal and other interests were moving south of the Plaza.|
|Statehood||1850||No drastic changes occurred following statehood. Los Angeles remained Mexican in both tradition and speech. What changes there were came about gradually.|
|Land Grants Verification||1851||The United States passed a law requiring all rancho land grants to be verified. In most cases, landowners faced years of litigation regarding claims, boundaries, squatters and usury.|
|Brickmaking Begins||The formula for brickmaking came with the arrival of Jesse Hunter in 1852, and by 1855 houses were being constructed of fired brick. This was more stable than sun-dried adobe slabs. The Pelanconi House on Olvera Street, from this era, still stands. In 1860, a brick reservoir was built in the Plaza to provide a water supply for the residents.|
|Saint Vincent's College||1863||St. Vincent's College opened in the former Lugo home on the east side of the Plaza in 1863. The college relocated in 1867, and the Lugo home was later used by the Chinese for business and as a restaurant. Unfortunately it was razed in 1951.|
|Smallpox Epidemic||1862 - 1863||A smallpox epidemic broke out in Los Angeles with 278 reported cases. It wiped out more than half of the town's remaining Indian population.|
Growth and Lawlessness (1850s - 1876)
Times were changing. In 1869 the last bullfight was held and almost simultaneously the first baseball team was formed. Citizen committees organized to bring vigilant action against lawlessness. Vigilante forays were mounted against bandits including Juan Flores and Tiburcio Vasquez, who were terrorizing the countryside with armed bands of marauders. Executions and lynchings were common.
In the 1850s, many immigrants drifted south to the Los Angeles region in search of work. Tensions mounted between Americans and Mexicans, and resentment over inequitable law enforcement. The rancheros, however, prospered from the great demand for cattle and the subsequent price boost. Houses in and around the Plaza were enlarged to two stories in the 1850s. To serve this burgeoning population, three newspapers started publication in the 1850s: Star, El Clamor Publico and Southern Vineyard.
The 1860 census showed a population of 4,399. By this time, many of the old families living in town houses around the Plaza had moved away or back to their ranchos, and Chinese and other newcomers moved into the area. The street to the southeast of the Plaza, known as Calle de los Negros, became a crime and violence hotbed where homicides were common. Floods followed by droughts led to the Californios' loss of much of their land.
|Floods||Winter 1861||Heavy rains caused buildings to collapse. The facade of the Plaza Church fell into piles of adobe rubble in the street.|
|Drought||1861, 1862||Cattle die-offs and usury caused most Californios to lose their land.|
|Water System Update||1860s||Efforts were made to update Los Angeles' primitive water system. Two members of the French community, Damien Marchessault and Jean Louis Sainsevainn, established a system of wooden pipes to replace the open ditches, still relying on the brick reservoir for water storage. They constructed a water company building at the northeast corner of the Plaza on the Juan Sepulveda property.|
Tension between northern and southern California grew acute: the south alleged that it was given inadequate representation and shouldered a disproportionate share of taxes. Pio Pico's brother Andres Pico, the well-known military leader, mounted a political campaign to divide California and create a new territory south of the Tehachapis.
This effort likely failed because of the Civil War. Southern California was considered a hotbed of southern sympathizers. When war erupted, feelings ran high on both sides. Confederate sympathizers fraternized in the Bells Union Hotel on Main Street, just south of the Plaza. The United States army set up headquarters at the Drum Barracks in Wilmington to ensure that peace was preserved.
|Chinese Massacre||1871 Oct 24||American and Mexican community members disliked the Chinese. They were treated as second-class citizens and the City Council passed ordinances discriminating against them for many years. Racial tensions erupted when two members of different Chinese nations were fighting close to the old Colonel Adobe, off the Calle de los Negros. An American bystander tried to intervene and was accidentally killed. This set off a mob that killed 19 innocent Chinese. Though some 500 participated in the mob, only 67 were convicted but were freed on a legal technicality. The rest of the world was outraged by the brutality, but life in Los Angeles went on as normal.|
|Pico House||Built 1869|
|Despite the Plaza's unsavory reputation, Pio Pico valiantly tried to revive it by building a grand hotel. It was popular and renowned, but the Plaza's deterioriation doomed the hotel. In 1880 it sold at auction for $16,000 -- less than 20% of its $85,000 cost.|
|Olvera Street||1877||Vine Street was renamed Olvera Street after Judge Agustin Olvera, whose house frontaged on the north side of the Plaza.|
|Landscaping||1870s||In the early 1870s, trees were planted in a circle and a dolphin-shaped fountain was placed in the center. Sometime between 1875-1877, the large Moreton Bay fig trees were planted.|
|LA Gas Company Bldng||1871||The Los Angeles Gas Company Building was extensively remodled in 1897 as a showeroom for the Brunswig Drug Company.|
|Public Transit||1873||Local transit improved in 1873 when a horse-drawn trolley car line was built. Its route rook passengers past the Pico House in front of the church, which was considered convenient.|
|Transcontinental Railroad||1876 Sep 15||Phineas Banning built the city's first railroad in 1869, a short line from Wilmington to Los Angeles. He also helped bring about the eagerly awaited rail connection with the east coast. This was accomplished when the last spike of the Southern Pacific line between San Francisco and Los Angeles was hammered in at Lang Station (northern Los Angeles County) by Charles Crocker on September 15th 1876. Just five years later, a more southerly transcontinental route was completed to Los Angeles. From this time on, Los Angeles was no longer just a frontier outpost.|
Leaving Behind the Plaza
The arrival of the railroad transformed southern California.
Advertisements extolled its ideal climate, and competitive railroad fares, brought thousands of people to the region. New towns were founded, while established towns such as Los Angeles expanded exponentially. Los Angeles' population peaked at 60,000 then declined to 50,000 in the 1890s. The business and profession center of Los Angeles shifted south of the Plaza and the Plaza lost its role as the nexus.
|Street Adjustments||1883 - 1889||In 1883 a city ordinance called for the elimination of Bath Street and its realignment as a new segment of Main Street. Many old adobes were removed in 1886 during this project. Los Angeles Street was cut through to Alameda Street between 1888 and 1889. This was meant to clean up the area, targeting houses of ill fame, gambling and other vices. The Plaza was relandscaped in 1887 but still deteriorated.|
|Firehouse||1884||In 1884, men of the Volunteer 38's fire engine company built the city's first official fire house on the southeast corner of the Plaza. It became the home of the first paid fire-fighting unit in the city, which operated in this location until 1897. The building was later used as a saloon, lodging house and store.|
|LA Railway Company Plant||1900||The area's deterioration made it a perfect choice for Henry Huntington to build a power transforming plant for his Los Angeles Railway Company. A lot between Olvera and Los Angeles Streets was the site for this substation -- an ideal area since these plants were traditionally never in elegant neighborhoods.|
|Vickrey Building||1888||It was later known as the Brunswick Building after a Frenchman named Lucien Brunswig, who used it as the headquarters for his drug company.|
|Methodist Church||1926||A Methodist Church was built on the site of the Olvera Adobe. The United Methodist Church Conference headquarters were also located next to the Methodist Church -- this building currently serves as the Mexican Consulate-General.|
Restoration and invigoration
In 1926, Christine Sterling found the Plaza in a deplorable state despite it rich history. By 1928 the Avila Adobe had a condemnation notice tacked to its front door.
With the help of Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler and other prominent community leaders, she saved the adobe and in 1930 created the colorful Mexican marketplace in Olvera Street. She restored and lived in the Avila Adobe (where she died in 1963) and her Mexican friends helped her to bring fiestas and life to Olvera Street. In 1953 she helped the area gain recognition and be preserved as a State Historic Park.
Olvera Street was managed by a group of citizens called Plaza de Los Angeles, Incorporated.
Later this was dissolved and a non-profit was formed, El Pueblo Corporation. In 1953, Olvera Street became part of El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park. The historic buildings were acquired. A new State commission created in 1965 began administering the park then. This commission consisted of State, County and City representatives.
However, this group accomplished little and was dissolved along with El Pueblo Corporation. A tripartite Joint Powers agreement was signed on April 1st 1974 under which the City manages the Historic Park, and the State retains the right to review and approve the operating budget and capital improvement expenditures.
|Siqueiros Mural||1932||Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros was hired to paint a mural on the south wall of the Italiano Hall. Siqueiro was considered an extremist by many, and controvery arose over his mural. It was whitewashed, and subsequent exposure to the elements rendered it unrestorable.|
Old Plaza Layout
There were originally just homes surrounding a social commons area.
The lot between the south side of the Pico House and the Masonic Lodge was purchased by William Abbot, a proprietor of a furniture making and undertaking business. He built there the first theater building in Los Angeles, named after his wife Merced. After a few good years, the Merced Theater, like the Pico House, fell on hard times and was used for other purposes.
New Plaza Church
Poole, Jean Bruce. Flow of History of el Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park.