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Historical Research Maps: Los Angeles

historical map los angeles, old map los angeles

Image courtesy the Los Angeles Public Library.

When Spanish settlers founded “El Pueblo de la Reyna de los Angeles” on Sept. 4, 1781, they probably had no idea the community would become a center of entertainment and culture. This detailed historical map of Los Angeles shows the pueblo 100 years later as a city on the rise.

Los Angeles began as a small outpost in “New Spain,” which stretched across Central America and southwestern North America. Mexico (including L.A.) gained independence in 1821, but the United States annexed California in 1848. The decades that followed saw L.A.’s population explode thanks to new railroads and the discovery of oil. By the time the city of Hollywood merged with L.A. in 1910, the city had a population of 300,000. Since then, L.A. has garnered a reputation as the film capital of the world, hosting a hefty portion of the entertainment industry. And with 3.9 million residents, L.A. is the second-largest US city today, behind only New York.

The map (from 1884) shows L.A. 100 years after its founding and just a few years before the oil boom. Notably, it lists each property’s landowner(s), plus the site’s tract numbers and local landmarks. We’ve already discussed how useful plat maps can be, as they can show you where your ancestors lived—and what their communities were like. The map also has some topographical markings, showing you the hills, valleys and ridges in the region.

The Los Angeles Public Library holds this and other historical maps of the region (plus city directories and other resources) on its website. Be sure to check it out if you have ancestors from the City of Angels.

Learn more about Los Angeles’ history in our detailed city guide. You can also find maps of other great American cities in our book, The Family Tree Historical Atlas of American Cities.