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Los Angeles County
1930 to 1945

Working in the nose of a B17 bomber in a Long Beach aircraft plant, 1942. Photo by Alfred Plumber, Office of War Information, courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Great Depression and Arming for War


Gardena is incorporated as a city. The U.S. Census records 1,238,048 people in the City of Los Angeles and 2,208,492 people for all Los Angeles County. Snow blankets Los Angeles. The Greek Theater opens in Griffith Park. Olvera Street opens to the public after a successful rebuilding and renovation campaign led by Mrs. Christine Sterling. The street is named after Augustin Olvera, Los Angeles’ first county judge. Mines Field (present-day Los Angeles International Airport, LAX) is dedicated and opens as the airport for Los Angeles. Major airline traffic, however, continues operating at United Airport in Burbank (present-day Hollywood Burbank Airport) and Grand Central Airport in Glendale. Los Angeles voters agree to spend $12 million in bonds to buy out most of the town properties in Big Pine and Bishop in the Owens Valley, thus ending the Owens Valley water wars. Pilot Laura Ingalls lands in Glendale to become the first woman to fly solo across the United States.

Postcard showing Olvera Street, Los Angeles, circa 1930-1945. Courtesy of the Tichnor Brothers collection at Boston Public Library & Wikimedia Commons.


The Los Angeles city flag is adopted by ordinance. Aggressive mass round-ups and "repatriations" (deportations) of 12,600 Mexican residents in Los Angeles County begin at La Placita in Olvera Street. Los Angeles County deputies and Federal officers spread out throughout East Los Angeles to stop and detain persons and call people out to surrender to authorities. Although most deportees are immigrants earlier recruited to work in the U.S. or refugees from the Mexican Revolution some decades before, a number are actually American citizens.

Mexican deportees at Central Station in Los Angeles bound for Mexico, 1932. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.


The Tenth Olympic Games opens in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was enlarged to seat 105,000 spectators. Construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct begins. Amelia Earhart Putnam takes off from Los Angeles to make the first solo nonstop transcontinental flight across the United States by a woman. Her flight ends in Newark, New Jersey.

Opening ceremonies of the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Organizing Committee of the Games of the Xth Olympiad & Library of Congress.


The Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American newspaper, is first published. The 6.4-magnitude Long Beach Earthquake leaves 120 people dead and $50 million in damage. The Mineral Wells Canyon fire claims the lives of 36 men fighting the fire. Los Angeles County General Hospital opens. The Spring Street Newsboys' Gym opened and later become known as the Main Street Gym. This facility became the premier training ground for Los Angeles boxers until the owner's death in the 1970s.

Earthquake damage in Long Beach from the 1933 Earthquake. Contributed by the Griffin Family, courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Oklahoma dustbowl refugees in San Fernando, 1935. Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the Farm Security Administration & Office of War Information & Library of Congress.


Floodwaters in the La Crescenta Valley and Montrose Territory take at least 45 lives. The Los Angeles Police Department begins using radio equipment. The Santa Anita Park Race Track opens. Writer and social activist Upton Sinclair begins his unsuccessful run for the governor’s seat. The tactics used by his opposition marks this campaign as California’s first "dirty" political campaign. The Farmers Market opens. Construction on Parker Dam begins. The Pico Drive-In Theater opens at Pico and Westwood Boulevards. It is the first drive-in theater in California and the fourth in the nation.

Fairfax Farmer's Market produce display. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.


Griffith Observatory is completed under a bequest left by Colonel Griffith J. Griffith in 1919. By invitation of the Mexican government, Amelia Earhart Putnam takes off from Los Angeles to become the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City. The Douglas Aircraft Company rolls out the first DC-3 aircraft.

Present-day Griffith Observatory, constructed from 1933-1935. Photo by David Bransby, Office of War Information, courtesy of Library of Congress.


Los Angeles sends 130 city police officers to the California-Nevada state line in an attempt to stem the flow of unemployed Los Angeles-bound hitchhikers. Electricity from Boulder Dam reaches Los Angeles.

Transients directed away from Los Angeles County by police. Photo by Dorothea Lange, courtesy of the Farm Security Administration & Office of War Information & Library of Congress.


The home of Clifford Clinton, a crusading reformer and Los Angeles cafeteria owner, is bombed in an attempt to halt his inquiries into corruption in City Hall and police department. The City of Los Angeles purchases Mines Field to be its official municipal airfield. Nevertheless, major airline traffic continues operating from the airports in Burbank (Union Air Terminal or present-day Hollywood Burbank Airport) and Glendale (Grand Central Airport). At the height of a statewide rabies epidemic, Los Angeles County establishes a Pound Department, created in direct response to 1,700 rabies cases reported in the county during the year. AFter struggling to succeed in film backlot jobs in Hollywood and running a movie theater in Glendora, Dick and Mac McDonald open an octogonal-shaped food stand in Monrovia named the "Airdrome." They would move the structure three years later 40 miles to San Bernardino and launch their first version of a "McDonald's" eatery.


Severe flooding claims 78 lives and causes almost $25 million in damage. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins channeling the Los Angeles River with concrete. Private investigator Harry Raymond, working with Clifford Clinton in his investigation of City Hall and the police, survives a bomb explosion in his car. It was believed that he would testify against Los Angeles City Mayor Frank Shaw. Two Los Angeles police officers are convicted of the bombing. Los Angeles Mayor Frank Shaw becomes the only Los Angeles mayor removed from office by recall election after being linked to vice rackets within the city. California law authorizes non-stop roadways, opening the way for the coming of Los Angeles freeways.

Concrete Channel of the Los Angeles River. Courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record & Library of Congress.


Palos Verdes Estates is incorporated as a city. Union Station opens. Upton Sinclair runs for governor on the EPIC (End Poverty in California) platform. The media turns against him, leading to his defeat. Nathanael West publishes his novel Day of the Locust, a pessimistic look at Los Angeles. Raymond Chandler publishes the first of his detective novels set in Los Angeles, The Big Sleep.

Rail passengers at Union Station, 1944. Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey & Library of Congress.


The U.S. Census records 1,504,277 people in the City of Los Angeles and 2,785,643 people for all Los Angeles County. A six-mile stretch of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) is opened, becoming the first freeway in the western United States. Mexican Americans become the largest ethnic minority group in Los Angeles. Los Angeles becomes the largest commercial fishing port in the nation. The Sepulveda Flood Basin and Dam is completed.

Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway 110), 1940. Courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.


The Los Angeles River overflows and causes floods. The Colorado River Aqueduct is completed and would become the single largest source of water for the Los Angeles area. A Los Angeles City ordinance changes the name of Mines Field to Los Angeles Airport. Hansen Dam is completed.

California Aqueduct. Photo by Jet Lowe & Historic American Engineering Survery, courtesy of Library of Congress.


Producing P38 fighter aircraft in a Burbank aircraft plant, 1942. Photo by David Bransby, Office of War Information, courtesy of Library of Congress.

The Los Angeles River overflows and causes floods. President Franklin Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 requiring the movement of over 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. There they remain until January 20, 1945. In the early morning hours of February 25th, U.S. Army anti-aircraft guns fire nearly 1,500 rounds into the skies over Los Angeles at "enemy aircraft." Evidence of the appearance of any such aircraft is never found. Japanese American employees of the Los Angeles Police Department are removed from their jobs and sent to the internment camps. A Mexican American youth, Jose Diaz, is found murdered in a deep swimming hole named Sleepy Lagoon. Police declare war on Mexican American gangs by arresting hundreds of Mexican American youths. Seventeen of the youths are convicted of the murder on scant evidence. The Appellate Court later reverses the convictions and the original trial judge and prosecutor are severely reprimanded. A federal program brings Mexican agricultural laborers - braceros - into Los Angeles to make up for labor shortages.

Japanese American women and children being removed from Los Angeles Harbor, 1942. Photo by U.S. War Relocation Authority, courtesy of Library of Congress.


The Los Angeles River overflows and causes floods. Several days of one-sided rioting erupts as hundreds of military men descend upon East Los Angeles to assault Mexican Americans dressed in "Zoot suits". Police respond by arresting the Mexican American victims. The rioting ends when military commanders confine their personnel to base. The Los Angeles City government, in an unapologetic mood, proceeds to outlaw the wearing of "zoot suits." Los Angeles experiences its first smog attack (July 26).


The Los Angeles River overflows and causes floods. Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, dies. His son Norman assumes control of the publishing empire. The San Bernardino Freeway (10) opens.

Los Angeles street scene, 1942. Photo by Russell Lee. Courtesy of Farm Security Administration & Office of War Information & Library of Congress.


An eight-month strike by a major film studio workers union polarizes the Hollywood community. Strike tensions lead to a violent riot at Warner Brothers Studio gates in Burbank. Preacher Aimee Semple McPherson dies from a sleeping pill overdose.

Aerial view of Los Angeles City Hall looking south, 1945. Courtesy of Airscapes, War Department & the National Archives.