Port of Los Angeles
Review and History

The Port of Los Angeles is the United States' second biggest city and one of its busiest seaports. Located in Southern California on between the Pacific Ocean and the San Gabriel Mountains, it is about nine kilometers west-southwest of the Port of San Diego and almost 390 nautical miles south-southeast of the Port of San Francisco. A city with many distinct neighborhoods, it is located near the famous San Andreas Fault, and earthquakes occur often. It is the seat of Los Angeles County, which is home to almost one hundred other cities. In 2005, over 3.8 million people lived in the Port of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan area was home to more than 12.9 million.

Aerial View<br>Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Aerial View
Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

Photo by Hyfen

The local economy of the Port of Los Angeles is gigantic, diverse, and always changing. Growing on agriculture in the early years, today the Port of Los Angeles is a center for finance and business, high-technology, fashion industries, and, of course, movies. In the late 20th Century, the Port of Los Angeles had an economic downturn that began to recover after the beginning of the 21st Century, with high-technology leading the way. Since the recent global recession, many manufacturing plants have closed, and high-paying jobs have decreased. Low-paying jobs have grown, and immigrant labor has become more important to employers in the Port of Los Angeles. There are even some sweat shops in the Port of Los Angeles area.

Port History

The indigenous Tongva and Chumash peoples occupied the area of the future Port of Los Angeles for up to ten thousand years before Spaniards arrived. Many native villages engaged in hunting, gathering, fishing, and trade, and the area was prosperous.

In 1542, Captain Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed with his expedition into Santa Monica Bay, forever changing the cultural landscape of the Port of Los Angeles area. However, it was another 200 years before Captain Gaspar de Portola identified locations for Franciscan missions, civilian settlements, and military forts.

The Franciscans founded two missions in the area in the late 1700s, one at San Gabriel and one at San Fernando. In the early days, the Spanish used the harbor at San Pedro as a trading post managed by the Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. Ships from Spain brought provisions to the monks. Under Spanish rule, trade was restricted to Spanish vessels, although the settlement's geographic isolation made trade with other countries relatively easy.

Spanish settlers from Mexico led by California Governor Felipe de Neve began a settlement in 1781 near the Rio de Porcinula near the native village of Yang-na. Naming their settlement El Pueblo de la Reina de los Angeles, they raised their own food and survived. The indigenous peoples of the area did not. European diseases decimated their population.

San Pedro Municipal Ferry Building

San Pedro Municipal Ferry Building

Built in 1941, it was a working ferry building until 1963. It is now home to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum
Photo by Los Angeles

In 1822, the new independent Mexico took over control of the Spanish California colony. In 1835, they recognized the Port of Los Angeles settlement as a city. They also took control of the missions and created about 50 ranchos in the area. The Mexican government also lifted restrictions on trade, and commercial ventures in the Port of Los Angeles (in San Pedro) thrived.

Although white settlers were not legally allowed to settle in the Port of Los Angeles area, they came in droves. During the Mexican-American War of the late 1840s, many skirmishes took place in Southern California. At the end of the war, California belonged to the United States, and it became a state in 1850. At that time, the Port of Los Angeles was the largest city in California, and seaborne commerce in San Pedro harbor flourished.

As a city in the American West, the Port of Los Angeles was a rowdy frontier town. Violence was common, and conflict between cultures was especially strong during the 1850s. The city was soon governed by European immigrants and Americans as the Mexicans were relegated to lower social status. The rancheros continued to dominate the local economy until the 1860s when a serious drought decimated the rancheros.

Cultural conflict came to a head around the time of the American Civil War as the white population had increasing control of the area. In 1871, the "Chinese Massacre" brought the Port of Los Angeles to nationwide attention when mobs murdered about 20 Chinese residents.

Until after the 1870s, the Los Angeles area was not suitable for a seaport. It had no railroad, no significant supply of water, and it was more than 30 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean. The future Port of Los Angeles was separated from the rest of the United States by a huge desert and mountains. It seemed to hold little promise as a major city.

In the 1870s, things began to change. The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1876, connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco. New residents began to move to the healthy climate in what was called the "Sick Rush," bringing the first boom to the future Port of Los Angeles' economy.

In 1885, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad connected the Port of Los Angeles to Chicago, starting a land boom that created a wave of development as the old ranchos were sold in pieces. In 1887, the boom ended, and people began to leave the future Port of Los Angeles.

In the late 19th Century, local leaders and business people saw the potential of San Pedro Bay. Phineas Banning became the "Father of Los Angeles Harbor" as he positioned the future port for success. In 1897, Senator Stephen M. White, the "Savior of the Bay," persuaded the US Congress to declare San Pedro Bay the official Port of Los Angeles.

The city's new Chamber of Commerce partnered with local businesses, the railroads, and farmers in marketing Southern California to the rest of the nation. They convinced wealthy travelers from the United States' East Coast and Midwest to vacation in Southern California rather than in Europe. Many who came to visit stayed there.

Vincent Thomas Bridge

Vincent Thomas Bridge

The distinctively green Vincent Thomas Bridge connects the west side of Terminal Island with the Los Angeles neighborhood of San Pedro.
Photo by Regular Daddy

Business and local leaders recognized the need for a harbor so that the city could join the world shipping community. In 1910, the city annexed San Pedro and created a new harbor. When the Panama Canal was finished in 1914, the Port of Los Angeles entered the world of seaborne international trade.

Ironically, today's city of automobiles was expanded largely due to the establishment of the Pacific Electric rail network. In the first decade of the 20th Century, Mexican immigrant labor laid over 1.6 thousand kilometers of tracks in the city, and passengers could ride from the San Fernando Valley, San Bernardino, Redlands, and Santa Monica into the downtown Port of Los Angeles for less than a penny a mile. The new rail system promoted the rapid expansion of the city.

The last decade of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th Century were a great age for the Port of Los Angeles. Falling between the days of the rugged frontier and the era of Hollywood glitter, the Port of Los Angeles area was picture-postcard-pretty, becoming famous for its great weather and diverse landscape, with the sea on one side and mountains at the other.

Even though the city finally seemed to hold great promise, it suffered politically and socially during that time. Struggles between business owners and unions flared when a handful of unionists terrorized local capitalists. They blew up the Los Angeles Times building and killed 20 people. At the same time, local voters tired of party bosses and the political power of the Southern Pacific Railroad. They passed initiatives, referenda, and recalls that led to the resignation of Mayor Arthur Harper in 1909.

City leaders created the Board of Harbor Commissioners in 1907, officially creating the Port of Los Angeles. Two years later, the Port of Los Angeles became an official department of the City of Los Angeles at the same time the cities of San Pedro and Wilmington were annexed into the infant megapolis. New industries appeared to take advantage of the port. Fishing, canneries, oil wells, and ship-builders generated new jobs in the Port of Los Angeles, leading to greater focus on port infrastructure and development. By 1912, the main channel had been dredged and widened, and much of the breakwater was completed.

Lack of water continued to be a barrier to growth in the Port of Los Angeles through the early 20th Century. Water engineer William Mulholland designed and supervised the construction of an aqueduct from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the city. The project lasted from 1904 until 1913, requiring the efforts of about four thousand workers, the development of new technologies (the Caterpillar tractor, for example), and intense negotiations with local ranchers and businesses in the Owens Valley.

In 1913, thousands gathered to watch the water flow through the aqueduct into the city. The 375-kilometer long aqueduct was the longest in the world and an engineering miracle for the world at the time. All did not go well, however. People who lived in the Owens Valley believed their water had been stolen and revenged their loss by dynamiting the aqueduct system.

Long Beach - Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater

Long Beach - Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater

These four scenes show the dumping of a barge loaded with 1,000 tons of "B" Rock for the lower section of the breakwater. The rock is quarried on Catalina Island. The barge is self bailing once it is unloaded. Taken May 20, 1937.
Photo by National Archives and Records Administration

If that weren't enough, the St. Francis Dam collapsed in the northern Port of Los Angeles in 1928, drowning hundreds. Yet the water was critical, and the city extended the aqueduct to Mono Lake in the 1930s, getting more water from the Colorado and Feather Rivers.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Port of Los Angeles was the destination for the biggest internal migration in American history. Hundreds of thousands of people came to the city. The atmosphere was frantic, punctuated by oil drilling, speculation, civic corruption, religious fervor, suburban development, and the birth of the film and aircraft industries.

The Port of Los Angeles took on a celebrity air as Aimee Semple McPherson, the Pentecostal minister, gave dramatic sermons to enthralled congregations. Movie stars appeared on the scene, and would-be youngsters came in droves inspired by "America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford, and her swashbuckling husband, Douglas Fairbanks.

Long Beach - Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater

Long Beach - Los Angeles Harbor Breakwater

Derrick Placing "A" rock on 4887 Foot Sectin of the Breakwater May 20, 1937. The Granite Rock is Quarried Near Riverside, California
Photo by National Archives and Records Administration

During the 1930s, the Port of Los Angeles was racially segregated and very much a white city. However, the Great Depression brought tremendous unemployment to the area, stretching public assistance programs beyond their limits. To reduce welfare expenditures, local officials sent thousands of Mexicans with their US-born children back to Mexico as new immigrants arrived from the Dust Bowl.

Despite these economic and social pressures, the Port of Los Angeles hosted the 1932 Olympic Summer Games. Unfortunately, the city's great distance from Europe kept many international participants from attending. Despite this, the games revealed the Port of Los Angeles to the rest of the world.

In the late 1930s, the film industry and electricity from the new Hoover Dam led to economic recovery for the Port of Los Angeles. The city also produced airplanes for Britain and France at the beginning of World War II.

World War II brought a new economic boom to the Port of Los Angeles as Southern California was an important manufacturing center, particularly for airplanes. While the city grew and the economy swelled, however, social conflict increased. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 led to deep mistrust of the city's large population of Japanese and Japanese-Americans. They were soon moved to inland internment camps.

Conflicts between American sailors and Mexican-American teens reached a peak with the "Zoot Suit Riots" of 1943. Many Latin youngsters wore the latest style, which made them an easy target for servicemen who beat them and took their clothing. The violence spread to Filipinos and African Americans as well. While no one died in the riots, they stimulated racial problems in other cities where people were killed.

Growth of the Port of Los Angeles stalled during World War II, as the United States limited port activity to war efforts. Ship-building became the major industry in the Port of Los Angeles, and every ship-repair and ship-building company supported the war effort. The San Pedro Bay shipyards hired over 90 thousand workers and made thousands of warships and a fast pace.

While the conflict raged during the war, a new population boom washed over the Port of Los Angeles area. Workers moved to the city for jobs at the aircraft factories and the shipyards. Many American servicemen who had come through the Port of Los Angeles on their way to/from the Pacific came back to the Port of Los Angeles with their families. The latest population boom lasted through the 1950s and into the 1960s.

After World War II, the Port of Los Angeles could return its attention to the development and expansion port facilities. Until the 1950s, the Port of Los Angeles handled cargoes of varied size and shape in crates, pallets, and loose packaging. Loading/unloading cargo was slow, and damage was common. The containerized cargo revolution came to the Port of Los Angeles in the late 1950s, making cargo handling faster, easier, and more secure. The advent of containerized cargo brought the Port of Los Angeles to national importance.

In 1981, The Economist recognized publicly that the Port of Los Angeles was an important city. It had grown in size, energy, and diversity to become a world-class city, as revealed in its successful hosting of the 1984 Olympic Summer Games. Unlike the 1932 event, these games were well-attended by people from all over the world.

With the new success came modern problems common to big cities. By the 1960s, the Port of Los Angeles suffered horrific traffic jams, intense gang violence, oppressive poverty, cramped schools, and cultural conflict. In 1965, the famous Watts Riots brought racial conflict and disparities to the world's attention. The Port of Los Angeles became a smog-burdened city where racial tensions prevailed. In 1992, riots broke out when Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of beating African American Rodney King.

In the face of these modern urban problems, Port of Los Angeles citizens, organizations, and leaders work hard to maintain a high quality of life. Environmental problems were addressed in a campaign to "green" the Los Angeles River. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978 to preserve a large tract of open land, and a small part of the rapidly-disappearing Ballona wetlands was preserved.

Young people planted thousands of trees. A historic preservation movement began to preserve local historic and cultural treasures. By the early 21st Century, controls were in place to limit exhaust and industrial emissions, improving the famously-bad air quality.

In the beginning of the 21st Century, the Port of Los Angeles was moving into the new age. Downtown buildings were restored and refitted to withstand earthquakes. Many civic buildings were renovated and/or restored. New parks were created. The Alameda Transportation Corridor was modernized, and dredging expanded the cargo-handling capacity of the Port of Los Angeles. The city attracts millions of visitors every year.

Today, the Port of Los Angeles is the United States' first port by volume of container traffic and cargo value. In 2007, the Port of Los Angeles handled a record 8.4 million TEUs of containerized cargo, breaking its all-time record. The Port of Los Angeles is proud of its ultra-modern terminals, intermodal assets, and world-class security.

Cargo A to Z, Port of Los Angeles overview
Port of Los Angeles - YouTube Channel

The Port of Los Angeles is also a leader in environmental efforts among world ports. In 2006, the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan was published jointly by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach. The plan seeks to reduce emissions from port-related activities by almost half over five years.

The modern Port of Los Angeles creates almost 920 thousand jobs in the region and contributes over $39 billion in wages and tax revenues each year. The Port of Los Angeles is a self-supporting enterprise, independent of taxpayer dollars. Its priorities are responsible and sustainable growth, high security, environmental stewardship, and positive community relations. In 2007, the Port of Los Angeles celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners.

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