An Olympic city known worldwide for its Hollywood film industry, Los Angeles is also one of the richest cities in the world, and the second largest city in the United States after New York. A sprawling, cosmopolitan megalopolis, sometimes fantasized, sometimes decried, the City of Angels embodies the American dream, and with it, its disillusions...
"Los Angeles, give yourself to me a little! Los Angeles, come to me as I came to you, my feet on your streets, my pretty city I loved you so much, sad flower in the sand, my pretty city."
This prayer, addressed to the city, is uttered by Arturo Bandini, the main protagonist of the novel "Ask the Dust", and a double of its author, John Fante. Both the writer and his character, Italian immigrants who arrived in Los Angeles in the 1930s, sing in this work of the frenzy of a city with an elusive and tumultuous nature, over which their desires for success, money and happiness are either flailing or colliding.
Almost a century later, Los Angeles continues to be dreamed about, sung about, admired, despite the social and cultural realities it faces. But where does it get this almost magical aura? To decipher this unique city, set out to discover its most emblematic neighbourhoods and their history, by walking or running!
History and town planning
Los Angeles is characterised by a horizontal urbanism, taking the form of a juxtaposition of neighbourhoods spread out in an anarchic manner over an area of more than 100 km2, and without any real central district. This very particular morphology has its origins in the history of the city, and more precisely, in the arrival of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant populations.
Deciding to distinguish themselves from the Spanish-speaking community in the historic centre, they bought old ranches that were transformed into housing estates, built as public transport developed. According to their pastoral ideal, these new inhabitants created low-density neighbourhoods with spacious domestic spaces close to nature, setting up a logic of unlimited growth of the agglomeration. During the 20th century, the urbanisation of the city continued actively, notably with the opening of the Southern Pacific in 1876, and later with the automobile.
Today, the city's urban area is home to nearly 19 million people, 4 million of whom live in the city of Los Angeles.
A Sun Belt city, Los Angeles has a pleasant and attractive living environment. Located between the ocean and the mountains, it offers a wide variety of landscapes and natural areas, but actually has few tourist monuments to speak of. It does, however, have many renowned cultural institutions such as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Getty Center and the Huntington Library.
In addition, it boasts exceptional buildings such as the Los Angeles Central Library with its antique look, Union Central, and the Griffith Observatory, an example of Art Deco overlooking the city and frequently used as a film location. Beyond its architectural heritage, the culture of Los Angeles has been forged around the audiovisual and music industry, as evidenced by the number of theatres, art galleries and cinemas that dot the city.
Hollywood, the dream machine
The fame of Los Angeles is intimately linked to the history of the American film industry. Hollywood, one of the city's 29 neighbourhoods, is at its heart. From Paramount to Warner Bros to Universal Pictures, all the major film studios that have shaped the country's audiovisual landscape are present. Built at the dawn of the 20th century, the empire today embodies the symbol of the cultural identity of the United States, and remains one of the main vectors of its diffusion throughout the world.
Born in New York, American cinema made a timid start among the European migrant communities, but it was in California that it became a myth, when producers, attracted by the sunny climate of the East Coast, the diversity of its landscapes, and its cheap land, decided to set up shop there. They were soon followed by directors, writers and scriptwriters, all seduced by the call of this Eldorado, whose fertile land held the promise of inspiration and success. Actors came out of anonymity: it was the time of the first film stars like Charlie Chaplin. Financing and marketing became the cornerstones of this new system based on the commercialisation of art, which was quickly elevated to the rank of entertainment. And the rest is history...
To learn more about the history of film, take advantage of the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the first museum of its kind in the country, located a few miles south of Hollywood.
Los angeles, a city of contrasts
Far from the gigantic letters of Hollywood Hill, there is a city with many facets and many neighbourhoods....
A city of opportunity and success, Los Angeles is a paradoxical object of fascination, just like the neighbourhoods and cities that make it up. Downtown Los Angeles, the historic and financial centre, is filled with skyscrapers, art galleries and shopping centres, but also contains the largest homeless community in the United States, located just a few hundred metres from the corporate headquarters.
The wealth and luxury of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, with its iconic Rodeo Drive shops and Walk of Fame, have made the city famous. But its legend is just as much a part of the bohemian and artistic culture of the Venice district, the warm atmosphere of the beaches of Malibu or the violence of the gang wars of South Los Angeles.
Want to learn some more about the city of Angels ?Run with Runnin'City from Hollywood to Malibu !