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September 4: Los Angeles is founded on this date in 1781

Compass

The Spanish had claimed the territory around what is now Los Angeles many years before, but it wasn’t until 1781 that father Junípero Serra directed 44 settlers — with a mix of African, Native American and European heritage — to found a mission there.

They called their new town "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula," which means "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River." You can see why the nickname “Los Angeles” caught on, but the original name was more a tribute to the Virgin Mary than the angels she ruled.

The pueblo — originally built as a farming-oriented village with the larger goal of converting locals to Catholicism — was subsequently settled by diverse waves of newcomers including Chinese, Italian and French. (Of course, as with most places in the U.S., the place was inhabited long before the city’s founding: Native people had lived in the area for thousands of years.)

These days, El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument surrounds the original village site. The area’s heritage is still celebrated in the neighborhoods around Olvera Street and Los Angeles Pueblo Plaza, and visitors wander the cobbled streets, taking in monuments, exhibits and statues commemorating the place’s history.

The photo above, from 1869, features the Old Plaza Church on the left. One of the oldest structures still standing in the plaza, it was built in 1822 and has operated continuously as a Catholic church ever since.

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