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While, today, the primary economy in Los Angeles revolves around Hollywood and the entertainment industry, this was not always the case. The City of Angels, at various points in history, was home to ancient rhinoceroses and saber-tooth cats, powerful Eurasian migrants, oil barons, and gold rushers. Here is a brief history of L.A., starting from thousands of years ago and moving forward in time until the 1910s, when Hollywood was formally established as the global capital of bread and circus.

The Prehistory Of Los Angeles

For most of geologic history, Los Angeles was underwater -- a basin at the bottom of the ocean. The coastline was somewhere as far inland as modern-day Utah. Starting around 1.8 million years ago, the sea levels started receding, and seismic activity pushed mountains past the surface of the water. The landmass of Los Angeles was further accreted by silt deposits from passing glacial rivers.


Pleistocene megafauna populated the land. The terrain was marshy and full of tar pits. Many of these prehistoric animals were trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits, and a few of their preserved remains have been recovered by archeologists and miners.

Tar pits came from river deposits accumulating in the Los Angeles basin Around 26,000 to 11,000 years ago, humans crossed the Bering Strait that connected Siberia with Alaska. These early migrants are the ancestors of the Clovis people, whose pottery and bones have been found all over North America, including in Los Angeles.

As a result of the Younger Dryas Ice Age, the climate got rapidly cooler and the oceans froze up to form glaciers. As a result, the coastline receded and the Los Angeles environment became more suitable for sustaining complex life. The Clovis Civilization settled along the coast of Los Angeles, particularly in the Ballona wetlands.

One of the most uniquely promising remnants of the Clovis people was recovered from the tar pits of Los Angeles. Around 9,000 years ago, a young woman fell into a tar pit. Her body was preserved by the tar, only to be discovered in 1914. She is known as the La Brea Woman, and she probably lived around the same time as the Los Angeles Man, who was also found relatively recently by construction workers.

Eventually, around 5,000 BC, though this date is controversial, the Clovis Civilization disappeared from the area. It is theorized that the early settlers were driven off the land by climate change. As the land for warmer, the marshlands transitioned to brackish lagoons that were less capable of sustaining human life.


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The Recent History Of Los Angeles Before European Contact

Los Angeles lay abandoned for a few thousand years until 1,000 BC when the ancestors of the Chumash tribe appeared. They were a relatively advanced civilization, advanced enough to contemplate metaphysical questions that compelled them to perform complex funerary practices. This second wave of Los Angeles migrants subsisted primarily on marine life. They engaged in virtually no agriculture as the land was rich and bountiful. Still, an economy with specialized labor started to take hold as the centuries passed.

By the turn of the millennium, the Gabrieleños people arrived in Los Angeles from the Mojave Desert. The Gabrieleños quickly displaced most of the Chumash people, though some pockets of the Chumash still remained in what is now known as Malibu. These residents practiced high culture, engaging in sports competitions, musical instrumentation, and regional trade.


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European Contact And Settlement In Los Angeles

By the year 1500, the entirety of Los Angeles was settled by both Gabrieleños and Chumash tribes. However, this was also the time when fate would intervene and change the land forever. In 1542, the Spanish explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, arrived in Los Angeles with three ships. He was greeted by an army of heavily armed natives. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the first contact ended on friendly terms, and Cabrillo returned to Spain with stories of adventure and discovery.

A few hundred years post-contact with the New World, the Spanish economy had been gutted by the inflow of gold and resources. By relying on precious metals to import basic goods, every internal industry in Spain, apart from the military, was diminished. By the seventeenth century, Spain engaged in a number of costly wars that destroyed their import partnerships with other countries. Since humans cannot eat gold, the Spanish empire fell into debt and declined.

With knowledge of the fertile New World on the West Coast of America, the desperate Spanish sent an armada to Los Angeles in 1769. By 1776, the land had been tamed enough to warrant permanent settlers. The first wave of Spanish settlers was small, comprising merely 30 families.

Colonization took place in the same way it does today, the Spanish used a privileged priestly class to forcibly control and dominate the metaphysical assumptions of the Gabrieleños and Chumash people. This predictably led to the reactionary sentiment among the natives, and in 1785, the Gabrieleños conducted a militarized attack on the priests and soldiers. Unfortunately for them, they were quickly subdued. The rebel leaders included a young shaman woman named Toypurina, who was exiled to Carmel in modern-day San Francisco.

Los Angeles remained a Spanish colony until 1822 when Mexico was established and the people of California eagerly joined the newly independent nation. During this period the region was known as Mexican California.

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In 1833, possibly under the subversive influence of the British and Americans, the government of Mexico passed the Secularization Act, which abrogated the authority of the Catholic Church. Following this, the adhesive fabric of the Spanish-Mexican settlement started to dissolve. Los Angeles was declared a city in 1835, and gold is discovered in the area soon after.

To the east, America was growing in strength, size, desperation, and ferocity. In 1846, America declared war on Mexico. The war resulted in America taking more than half of all Mexican territory. By 1848, California and Los Angeles officially became American territory, and as such, the culture of California was marred by vigilanteism and rebellions. The Los Angeles Rangers formed to hunt the "Mexican Bandits" who did not accept the Anglo colonizers as their leaders.

The problem of banditry greatly diminished after 1864, when a smallpox epidemic broke out and killed off almost all the natives.

As gold, oil, and national trade grew, a wealthy class of aristocrats, barons, and elites emerged in Los Angeles. Sports clubs, railways, banks, newspapers, and luxury hotels were built to facilitate the free flow of capital.

By the early 1900s, the telltale signs of de-industrialization occurred. The stock market had been established, football stadiums were built, and in general, the mood was defined by bread and circus -- consumption and luxury at the cost of industry.

Of course, the talos of this trend was reached in the 1920s with the emergence of Hollywood -- which ushered in a new era in the history of Los Angeles, but that story is for a different article.