Union Station Tour: History

Los Angeles owes it all – the farms, the freeways, the film and defense industries – everything – to a little stream. The site that was to become the nation’s second largest metropolis was chosen for one reason: the water that flowed within a stream. Although blessed with agreeable weather and soil, the region’s agricultural potential would never be realized without water. With water, it would grow just about anything put in the ground.

The river brought the bounty…

The agricultural settlement planted in what is now Los Angeles helped, if only temporarily, secure Spain’s claim on Alta California. Almost from the day it was founded in 1781, Los Angeles was pumping out the produce; its ranches producing abundant cattle and sheep. Despite occassional droughts (interspersed with torrential floods) the town’s output exceeded that of any settlement in Alta California. Sure, San Franciso quickly outstripped little Los Angeles when gold was discovered up north. But wealthy San Franciscan bankers and prospectors were feasting on Los Angeles meat and produce and even drinking Los Angeles wine (!) during those Gold Rush years.

For the rest of the country 1869 marked the year the transcontinental railroad was completed, linking New York, Chicago and San Francisco by rail. For Los Angeles, 1869 marked the year a little railroad was completed between its dusty downtown and San Pedro, its makeshift port. But not much changed; water transportation, though infinitely faster than moving goods over land, was slow. In 1869, LA remained a remote, frontier town where not much exciting happened save for a river flood, a drunken shootout or the occassional public hanging.

Then, in 1876, a railroad link to San Francisco was completed. Instantly, the link provided a regional market for local produce and livestock. This was followed nine years later by a direct connection to the East, bypassing San Francisco altogether. Immediately, Los Angeles’ bounty went national. Oranges, lemons, avocados, and with the advancing technology of refrigerated boxcars – meat and perishables, found coast-to-coast buyers. Immediately, the city experienced its first of many real estate booms. The town of 11,000 in 1880 grew to 1.3 million in just 50 years – fifth biggest in the nation!

The railroad brought the boom!

This important history – the river, the earliest permanent settlement, the corn fields and vineyards and the arrival of rail – all are showcased on this WalknRideLA tour. Every Angelino, every history nut and every railfan will find plenty to make this tour their own. Weekends bring in bands and folkloric shows, weekdays bring in school children. Plus, Chinatown is just a few blocks away, City Hall is just over the freeway and with Union Station almost always within view, this tour combines easily with every other WalknRideLA tour.

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