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Mayor José Cristóbal Aguilar

He saw to it that L.A. wouldn't remain a small town.

Los Angeles Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, ca. 1953

Possibly a photographic portrait of Cristobal Aguilar, unknown date. Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library.

José Cristóbal Aguilar was one of only three mayors of the American City of Los Angeles of Hispanic heritage.* He served for three terms (1866-1867, 1867-1868, and 1871-1872). One of his legacies is that he signed an ordinance in 1866 to set aside five acres of land as "a Public Square or Plaza, for the use and benefit of the Citizens in common…" The public square, then called "La Plaza Abaja," is now known as Pershing Square.

During Aguilar's administration, Los Angeles was a small town of less than 6,000 residents. Perhaps, his most important legacy was a key decision he had made for the town's future. In 1868, the Common Council (forerunner of the City Council) passed an ordinance to sell off the city's water rights to a private buyer that promised much needed new cash for the city's coffers. Aguilar, however, who later served as the town's Zanjero (Water Manager), had sufficient vision to see past the short-term gain from the sale. He vetoed the proposal. Had he not done so, Los Angeles would have lost control of its water rights and, thereby, its ability to expand beyond being a small town.

One dark event that occurred while Aguilar was in office was the infamous 1871 Chinese Massacre, considered to be among the most horrific incidents of racial violence in American history.

Aguilar spoke Spanish and only limited English. He was, nevertheless, an experienced public servant with good relationships with L.A.'s townspeople, many of whom themselves were also Spanish-speakers. He seemed to manage his municipal duties quite ably. That did not stop a political opponent, James R. Toberman, however, from using Aguilar's limited English as a campaign issue. Toberman managed to unseat Aguilar in a dirty campaign in 1872.

* The other two L.A. mayors of Hispanic heritage were Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti.