The site of the city was visited by the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá in 1769, and in 1781 El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula (Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula) was founded. Located on the Los Angeles River, the city served several times as the capital of the Spanish colonial province of Alta California and was a cattle-ranching center. In 1846 Los Angeles was captured from the Mexicans by U.S. forces. The arrival of the railroads (Southern Pacific in 1876; Santa Fe in 1885) and the discovery of oil in the early 1890s stimulated expansion, as did the development of the motion-picture industry in the early 20th cent.
During World War II Los Angeles boomed as a center for the production of war supplies and munitions, and thousands of African Americans migrated to Los Angeles to fill factory jobs. After the war massive suburban growth made the city enormously prosperous, but also created or exacerbated a variety of urban problems. In 1965, the African-American community of Watts was the site of six days of race rioting that left 34 people dead and caused over $200 million in property damage. Tom Bradley, the city's first black mayor, was first elected in 1973.
In the 1970s and 1980s Los Angeles experienced dramatic growth through immigration. In 1990 the Hispanic population of metropolitan Los Angeles was almost 5 million (almost 40% of the population) and the area's Asian population was over 1.3 million. In addition to an already well-established Japanese-American community, recent immigration has come from China, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and other nations.
In the 1980s, violent gang warfare over the illegal drug (especially "crack" cocaine) trade became a serious problem for law enforcement officials. In Apr., 1992, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers on charges of police brutality (they had been videotaped beating a black motorist) touched off race riots in south-central Los Angeles and other areas. Fifty-eight people died, thousands were arrested, and property damage totaled approximately $1 billion. Natural disasters have also taken their toll. Portions of Los Angeles are subject to wildfires and rockslides, and the 1994 earthquake centered in Northridge in N Los Angeles, which killed 72 and cost $25 billion, was only the latest to have caused damage to the city and surrounding areas. Attention was again riveted on Los Angeles during the O. J. Simpson trial, which ended in acquittal in 1995. In 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor, becoming the first Hispanic to hold the post since 1872; Eric Garcetti, elected in 2013 to succeed him, became the city's first Jewish mayor.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.