Friday, August 26, 2016

Los Pobladores: Celebrating the Founding of Los Angeles

Millard Sheets, Mural Painting Depicting the Founding of Los Angeles, c. 1931–39
California Historical Society Collections at USC Libraries

On September 4, 1781, forty-four Hispanic men, women, and children of Native American, African, and European descent departed from Mission San Gabriel Arcángel accompanied by two mission priests and four soldiers. Los Pobladores (the settlers) walked nine miles to a location on the banks of the Porciúncula (Los Angeles River). There they established El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles (the town of the Queen of the Angels).

Every year since 1981, the City of Los Angeles commemorates this official founding by recreating the journey of Los Pobladores along the historic route they traveled two hundred years earlier. On Saturday, August 27, 2016, walkers and bikers celebrate the city’s 235th birthday. Their journey begins at Mission San Gabriel and culminates at El Pueblo Historical Monument, a 44-acre park in downtown Los Angeles near the site of Los Pobladores’ original destination.

This year, as part of the city’s founding celebration, the California Historical Society and LA as Subject present the exhibition “History Keepers: Traversing Los Angeles” at El Tranquilo Gallery on Olvera Street, El Pueblo. In this exhibition, unique and curious objects from around the region bring our multifaceted city to us. Each tells a story about Los Angeles—how we move through the city and how the city moves through us.

Telling Los Angeles’ History through Artifacts
Featuring objects and images that depict landscapes; urban planning and architecture; travel, tourism, and mapping; airways, railways, roadways, and freeways; tunnels, canals, and bridges; cityscapes and streetscapes, “History Keepers: Traversing Los Angeles” is a cornucopia of the region’s geographical, environmental, cultural, and historical landscape. Should we ever forget or lose sight of our past, we need only return to these primary source materials to discover again where we came from and perhaps even where we are going.

Knife and Trunk of Tiburcio Vásquez, c. mid-1800s
San Fernando Valley Historical Society
In the mid-1800s the legendary, controversial Tiburcio Vásquez—son of a prominent Californio family—traversed the passes and foothills of the state, robbing and terrorizing inhabitants and romancing others. Remembered for his womanizing and crimes purportedly committed in the name of justice for his people, the bandido/outlaw—and folk hero to some—traveled with this trunk packed with his personal effects. This knife is all that remains of its contents.

Anton Wagner, Looking from Wall Street between 8th and 9th Streets, 1932
California Historical Society
In 1932 a German PhD student arrived in Los Angeles. Anton Wagner wanted to determine how this American city and its environs had become a booming metropolis of two million people from a small, dusty mid-nineteenth-century town. Wagner researched the region’s history, critically examined its geography, interviewed its civic and business leaders, and covered the area of greater Los Angeles on foot.

Lantern Slide, c. 1890–1950
Braun Research Library Collection, Autry Museum

Like other forms of “armchair travel,” viewers of magic lantern images were transported to destinations around Los Angeles without ever leaving their seats. Long before Technicolor or Kodachrome, they gathered in darkened spaces and saw Los Angeles in vibrant, even surreal, color. It was a trick accomplished with limelight, lenses, and hand-tinted glass slides, but to a nineteenth-century audience it might as well have been magic. Indeed, the projector responsible for these proto-cinematic effects came to be known as the magic lantern.

Copter Tested as Traffic Director, 1953
Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives, UCLA Library Special Collections
Accidents, traffic jams, and car chases are accepted realities for modern Angelenos. As we drive across the city, we often rely on reports from helicopters to alert us to traffic conditions. In this photographic print published in the Los Angeles Times on December 9, 1953, Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker and pilot Joe Mashman hover over the Civic Center. They are testing out the helicopters potential use by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in directing city traffic—particularly, as the accompanying caption notes, “along the freeways.”

 “Sunset Junction” Footage, 1927
Automobile Club of Southern California Archives

Click on the link above to view rare footage by Auto Club of Southern California engineer Ernest East of the junction of Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards in 1927. As the film shows, traversing the city’s streets afoot and by car in the early years of the automotive age was not for the timid.

Klaus Staeck, Und Neues Leben Blüht Aus Den Ruinen
(And New Life Blossoms from the Ruins), 1980
Center for the Study of Political Graphics
This poster features an image of Los Angeles’s Four-Level Interchange, connecting the 101 and 110 Freeways, in northern downtown Los Angeles. Officially the Bill Keene Memorial Interchange, it is the first stack interchange ever built. Since the 1950s it has become an iconic international symbol of modern urban development, calling attention to the way urbanization and car culture around the world too often result in destruction of neighborhoods, pollution, and other threats to the environment.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
An exhibition by the California Historical Society and LA as Subject
Presented in partnership with El Pueblo Historical Monument and the El Pueblo Park Association
August 5-27, 2016
El Tranquilo Gallery & Visitor Center
634 N. Main Street (entrance on Olvera Street, W-19)
El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument, Los Angeles, California
Tuesday–Friday, 10:00 am–3:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 am–4:00 pm

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