Founding of Los Angeles

September 4

Every year on September 4 (or the weekend closest to) approximately 200 Angelinos, known as the Pobladores recreate a nine-mile walk from San Gabriel to downtown Los Angeles, California, originally taken on this day in 1781. The Pobladores are descendants of the original permanent settlers of Los Angeles, eleven families and four Spanish soldiers who journeyed from Northern Mexico to what is now Los Angeles.

The final leg of the journey ran from the San Gabriel Mission to near what is now Olvera Street.

Actually the original settlement was right on the banks of the Los Angeles River, then called the Rio de Nuestra Senora, Santa Maria, Reyna de los Angeles de Porciuncula. (Our Lady Santa Maria, Queen of the Angels of Porcuicula River.) It had been so named on July 31, 1769 by a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portola.

Porciuncula means “small portion of land” but it also has a spiritual connotation. The most famous ‘porziuncula’ was the small portion of land, and the tiny chapel upon it, bequeathed to St. Francis of Asissi in the 13th century. It was from this church that the Franciscan Order spread. ‘Porciuncula’ was often used to refer to a special place of retreat.

The natives gave the settlers funny looks in 1781, for building their pueblo right on the river, and come the rainy season the settlers found out why. Their little settlement was flooded out, and they rebuilt the Pueblo further away from the river, where it still stands today.

Fortunately for posterity, the name “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reyna de los Angeles” has been shortened to just Los Angeles. And for those for whom that’s too much a mouthful, it’s simply L.A.

Routes of the Pobladores
Routes of the Pobladores

The Pobladores were a mixed-race group, with over half claiming black and Native American blood. Each year, Angelinos watch and join the descendants of the Pobladores as they retrace the steps of the ancestors on the nine-mile walk.

The 44-person pueblo has grown into a city of 4 million, with over 12 million in the metropolitan area. L.A. is the only city outside Europe to have hosted the Olympics twice. L.A. has four major airports, one of which is the 5th busiest in the world. In the late 19th century, Los Angeles was a fairly sleepy city. Settlers began arriving from all parts of the country, attracted first by the region’s agricultural advantages, and in the 20th century by its aviation and film industries. All of these benefited from Southern California’s famous year-round sunshine.

The city in the desert survives largely because of water imported from the Owens Valley. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the largest municipal utility in the U.S.

The Los Angeles neighborhood known as Hollywood (there is a movement to make it its own city) is largely responsible spreading Southern California culture across the world.

The Los Angeles (Porciuncula) River, not quite as scenic as it once was
The Los Angeles (Porciuncula) River, not quite as scenic as it once was

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