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How Did Los Angeles Become So Unique?
A brief cultural history of L.A. under U.S. Rule

Looking out from the entrance to Union Station toward the skyline of downtown Los Angeles, with LA City Hall in the forefront. The palm and other trees to the right are where Los Angeles was founded.

There is no other city like Los Angeles. It deserves the word unique.

This situation results from L.A.'s history—both from how it was located and from the settlement patterns that came after United States rule.

Early California coastal cities under Spanish rule grew up adjacent to Roman Catholic mission churches with one notable exception.

Los Angeles located itself some 12 miles to the west of the spiritual influence of the San Gabriel Mission. It has thumbed its nose at conventional behaviour ever since. That is part of what makes Los Angeles so interesting to visit.

Once Los Angeles came under U.S. rule, order and stability still did not trump personal freedom, a situation that has never completely changed. L.A. was to a large degree lawless in its early days and compared to some more puritanical cities still remains a bit so.

"Los Angeles’ homicide rate of 1,240 per 100,000 in the 1850s is the highest ever reported in U.S. history." - KCET Publc Television, Los Angeles.

By "still remains a bit so," I do not mean that NOW there is more violent crime than in other large U.S. cities. It's just that there has been less government intrusion into individual lives. It should not surprise that the City of Los Angeles has long dominated the adult film industry.


Party time

After the exhausted Mexican Army defenders of California lost their final battle to a mixture of American soldiers and American undocumented (not invited) settlers, the Mexican residents of Los Angeles threw a multi day party—for both sides. This party to some extent has continued.

As time passed, the arrival of the first transcontinental railroad to reach southern California brought a boom of transplants who stayed for the mild winter climate and opportunities in new industries.

Without the roots and the conventional behaviour fostered by lifetime neighbours, Southern California culture became as open to change as any place in the world, and has remained so.

Unlike in the more staid eastern U.S., a remarkable tolerance for differences developed in the Los Angeles area. Here, to a large degree, one was able to do her or his "own thing" as long as it did not interfere with others.

(There are exceptions. For example, in the immediate Los Angeles area you will not find the clothing-optional public beaches so commonly found in Europe. That L.A. is more tolerant now does not mean that everyone is or has been. Moreover, the historical behaviour of some non-Hispanic white Angelenos toward people of African and Asian descent has at times been despicable. One day in 1871 alone, a mob of some 500 attacked and lynched some 17 to 20 people of Chinese descent.")


A lessening of class distinctions.

Overall, the economic and social class differentiation that ruled daily life in the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe had a much weaker influence here. People tended to group together because they shared interests (surfing, etc.)—not because they had similar size bank accounts. You see this today in Silicon Valley, as well as in Southern California, although sadly this has been changing somewhat.

That California offered tuition-free public university education to its residents starting in 1857 and not ending until the early 1980s turbocharged the growth of a robust middle class. Freed from so much fear of poverty—especially after World War II—gave freedom not to worry so much about the opinions of others.


California to the world

Above: A California cultural trend that spread nearly worldwide.

Today, of course, California values and behaviour are disseminated throughout the world by its entertainment industry, commonly called "The Industry" in Los Angeles.

As the Southern California poet Richard Armour once wrote,

"So jump for joy
Be blithe and gay,
Or weep my friends with sorrow
For what California is today
The rest will be tomorrow"

So far, Richard Armour has been right. That can be frightening to some at times. Nevertheless, you know that a future based on California culture will always be interesting.

Dr. Voyageur guarantees that you will never be bored in Southern California, one of the most fascinating urban areas in the world.

For more introduction to your L.A. area visit:

Go to >> Introduction to your visit
Go to >> Choosing your base
Go to >> Santa Monica
Go to >> San Gabriel Valley - the area most L.A. travellers overlook Go to >> Finding the perfect beach

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