Have you ever wondered where the name California came from? It is from a 1510 novel by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo called, “Las Serges de Esplandian (The Adventures of Esplandian). Early Spanish explorers thought California was an island, and named it after a mythical island from the novel. In the novel, the island of California is inhabited by proud female Amazon warriors. The other name they considered was “Kardashiania.”
Like most of America, there were already native populations that lived here before the Spanish sailed up the coast. The Tongva have made the area home for 3-5,000 years, which is about how long it feels to sit through a Transformers movie.
In 1781, LA’s first pobladores (townspeople) supposedly marched from the mission at San Gabriel to get the pueblo of LA started. Uh, that’s quite a hike. I’m surprised some of them didn’t get to Monterey Park and say, “OK, that’s far enough for me. We are going to order some dumplings and watch HBO tonight.”
They arrived at the pueblo of LA in June and started working their assigned plots of land. Yet Felipe de Neve said they arrived September 4, 1781 and fixed that as the official founding date of the city. Basically, he made up the city’s birthday. Angelenos have been lying about their age ever since.
I know someone who directs commercials–he was interviewing child actors for a job. One kid said, “Don’t worry about my age, sir. Six is the new four.”
The march from San Gabriel is often marked with processions that recreate the characters and the event, but a lot shorter. No one is going to walk from San Gabriel to Downtown today. But here’s the problem. Historians now say…
The March from the Mission at San Gabriel
Never Actually Happened
Like much of history, it was made up, probably to look good for the mucky mucks back in Spain to show that things were happening in the new world. Hey, come on, like you never fabricated anything on your monthly report to the boss.
Why is LA situated where it is anyway? If you were going to build a city on the West Coast, wouldn’t you situate it, say, on the coast? What if they had decided to make the center of New York City somewhere in the middle of New Jersey?
It turns out the crafty Spaniards had a whole rulebook on how to start a pueblo. “The Laws of the Indies,” published by King Phillip II in 1573, gave would-be pueblo-building subjects of the crown a set of guidelines to follow. One of the rules was to locate a new pueblo twenty miles from the ocean as a deterrent to pirates. That seems a little over-protective. Wouldn’t ten miles do it? What pirate is going to climb out of the ship and hike more than a mile just to pillage a city? Heck, you are in Southern California. Just enjoy the beach while you are there.
The “Laws” covered almost everything about building a pueblo. They said you needed a water supply, a source of labor, and in LA, a good headshot photographer, especially if they can handle last minute shoots.
Some people wonder why LA’s downtown streets are all run at an angle (Northwest to Southeast, Northeast to Southwest), while in the rest of the city the streets run north and south like most towns. This came direct from the Spanish “Laws,” which said pueblo streets should be set a 45-degree angle. You can see this in other Spanish settlements like San Jose, Monterey, and Williamsburg.
The idea was that it promoted better wind flow, more shade and easier walking. These seem like dubious claims. While you are making things up, just say it helped your digestion and cleared out your sinuses as well.
Later, the city wanted to sell real estate to newbs from the East. Often they bought a plot sight unseen. You can’t sell plots of land on crooked streets very well, so starting at Hoover on the West side and Indiana St. on the East side, LA plotted out straight, boring plots that created nice straight residential streets that would soon be clogged with Teslas and Priuses. Or is that Prii?
The original settlement was near the river. After one flood too many, the townspeople said, “That’s it! Either we move, or we move this damn river!” Not having any heavy-duty river-moving equipment, they decided to relocate to higher ground. They built a plaza with an open central area, a church and the original arena for the Los Angeles Kings. In those days, they played in the yellow and purple jerseys.
Today the Old Plaza is a popular tourist attraction, formally the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District. Other official Los Angeles Historic Districts include the Old Plastic Surgery Square and the Old Fake Personality Circle.
Olvera Street is one of the most popular parts of the Plaza Historic District. It was originally called Wine Street, later renamed after Augustin Olvera, who once lived on the street.
Olvera was the first judge in Los Angeles County. Had he known what was going to become of the street that bears his name, he would have made it illegal to sell cheap mini guitars and other trinkets to tourists.