Why Are We Here? Last week, a Fig tree fell. That is not something that makes the news very often. Trees fall all of the time and unless something was under the tree when it fell, it never really raises much more than an eyebrow. This tree falling was important. Important enough to make many local Los Angeles and some national news publications. The reason was that this tree, a 144-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree fell at the site of Los Angeles’ founding, El Pueblo De Los Angeles. Upon hearing the news, it got me to thinking; why are we here? No, I am not asking the existential question of why we exist, that philosophers, theologians and scientists have struggled with for thousands of years. My question is less profound. I asked why are we here in Los Angeles? Now, for most of you reading this, on a tour site of Los Angeles, the answer to why you are in LA is because you’re visiting from somewhere else. You’re coming to the City of Angels from somewhere with less sunshine, fewer vegans and much less Ryan Gossiling sightings. Simply put, you are coming to Los Angeles because it is a unique, interesting, and in many ways, exciting place. Now, for the rest of us, the ones who brave the daily slow-moving traffic and the 6 days a year of rain, we ‘re here for a variety of reasons. Some came to find their fame and fortune in the entertainment industry. Some came because Los Angeles is the western hemispheres gateway to Asia and the ideal destination if your business is centered in the Far East. Some came for the weather. Some, like myself, are here, just because we one day hoped to write a blog on a tourist website. Then, of course, there are the people in Los Angeles that no one wants to talk about… the people who have lived here ALL OF THEIR LIVES!!!!! Yes, there are homegrown Angelinos.
There are actually people who, through multiple generations created the fabric of Los Angeles society. They are the people who created the past history and culture of LA, that is the main selling point of today’s Los Angeles. Still, like every super hero film franchise, made popular, here in Hollywood, there is an origin story for Los Angeles. Los Angeles started at some specific place and time. It didn’t just appear the day some local entrepreneur created a viable way to get to Disneyland. For this Los Angeles’ origin story we won’t be going back in time, 5000 or so years ago, when the first primitive civilization began to occupy the region that is now known as Los Angeles from places like the Great Basin, a land valley that encompassed much of Nevada, Oregon and Utah. Our origin story is much more modern. Our story starts late in the 18th century, when groups of families from Mexico’s Senora region found their way into Los Angeles. Now, to be clear, they weren’t the first non-indigenous people to make land in Los Angeles. Historical records show that European explorers visited the region in 1542 and then again in 1602. Neither explorations resulted in colonization. That wouldn’t happen for another 166 years, probably because none of those early visitors had sun tan lotion, since it hadn’t been invented yet. Well before Los Angeles came into being, Spain had already begun populating regions of California as part of it’s New Spain. The first Spanish occupation came in 1683, when a group of Jesuit Missionaries tried to settle in the area that is today’s Baja, California. The settlement failed (see above sun lotion issue). In 1697, Jesuits again colonized this region. This time they found more success and within a few years 18 Jesuit missions sprung up in the Baja area. With the community growing and thriving, Spain decided to name this province of New Spain, Las Californias, in 1768. Along with naming the region, Spain also began the process of putting overseers or Governors into the area, in order to protect Spain’s rule over Las Californias. One of those governors, Felipe De Neve (no relation to the former Dodgers left handed relief pitcher, of the same name… just kidding), left his post in Monterey, California in order to expand further south. He decided that a settlement along the Rio de Porciúncula (the Los Angeles River) would be idea, so, in 1781, he requested and was given permission to found El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles (the Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels). On September 4th, 1781 the city was officially founded. The first settlers in the region, known as Pobladores (townspeople) were parts of 11 families and totaled 44 people, none of which were talent agents. Like most early explorations, this settlement or Pueblo faced adversities and challenges, thankfully none as bad as taking the 405 freeway during rush hour and it quickly grew, with missions popping up in the neighboring San Gabriel and San Fernando regions. This quick expansion incentivized Spain into creating a more formal local government and more defined rules and laws, not the least of which was alternate side of the street parking… again, kidding. Spain’s rule over California ended in 1821, when Mexico gained its independence from its European overlord.
Mexico flew its own flag over the region for the next 27 years, until its defeat at the hands of the United State, during the Mexican-American War ceded control of California to the US, on February 2nd, 1848. The rest is history (then again, all of this was history). California grew and grew as US Easterners moved westward to find new opportunities and a killer tan in the great expanse of the west. So, that brings us back to the fig tree, which was planted some time around 1875, at the site of the original Los Angles pueblo. Like Los Angeles, it survived immense expansion, over population, droughts, the film career of Johnny Depp and, of course, earthquakes, only to finally succumb last week, 144 years later. Like most things in Los Angeles, it will be forgotten, in time. Let’s just hope that, just like a Hollywood sequel, a new bigger, better and way more exciting fig tree gets placed in the same spot. I’ll let you know if it happens.