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Useful Notes: Los Angeles

"Hiding up in the mountains
Laying low in the canyons
Goin' nowhere on the streets
With their Spanish names
Makin' love with the natives
In their Hollywood places..."
Billy Joel, "Los Angelenos"

L.A., Los Angeles, City of Angels, Shaky Town — by any of its nicknames, El Pueblo de Nuestra Se˝ora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porci˙ncula note  is one of the world's most famous cities and home to much of the US film and television industry. Also gets bonus points for having one of the longest and one of the smallest place names in the world, and being the largest metro area in the US contained entirely within a single state.note 

It has been described as the biggest small town in the country instead of its second-largest city. As with many cities in the American West, it experienced an explosive growth in the years after World War II. With the rise of car culture at the same time, Los Angeles raced outwards in all directions, blanketing the land with Suburbia. To cope with the sheer vastness of the place, the local lexicon splits the megalopolis into a patchwork of neighborhoods and cities that don't legally exist. Of these, Hollywood is the most well known, but other examples are: Venice Beach, Century City, Encino, Sherman Oaks.note  Generally, the city is divided into the following areas: Downtown Los Angeles, East Los Angeles and Northeast Los Angeles, South Los Angeles (formerly and infamously known as South Central), the Harbor Area (the area surrounding Long Beach, including San Pedro and Carson), Greater Hollywood, Wilshire (including the Miracle Mile and La Brea tar pits), the Westside (including Venice, Century City and Bel Air), and the San Fernando and Crescenta Valleys (Sunland and Tujunga). There are also many independent cities and towns that both surround and are surrounded by Los Angeles, such as Compton, Santa Monica, East Los Angeles, West Hollywood, and El Segundo. And the entire vast region of neighboring cities is often referred to as "Greater Los Angeles."note  Don't worry, it can be rather confusing even for long time residents.

L.A. is sometimes called the "City on Wheels" — nobody walks anywhere in Los Angeles. A nice advantage to this sprawl is that most houses will have at least a small backyard, and the climate lends itself well to gardening. Bordered by Pacific Ocean on one side, LA has glorious weather for most of the year, is full of sunshine and trade-winds and is also relatively insect-free.

But before you pack your bags and move, take into account that this package comes with a side order of mediocre air quality, bad traffic, expensive real estate, and all the headaches that come with sharing 4000 square miles (~10,000 square kilometers) with over four million of your fellow human beings, all of whom want your parking spot. Because of the decentralized nature of the sprawl, long work commutes of 50 miles or more are common.

Owing to the postwar boom and its unique automobile culture, Los Angeles can be described as the home of the drive-thru. Name a fast-food chain subjected to Burger Fool style parody, and odds are it was founded in the greater L.A.-O.C.-San Diego area. A handful of such chains include McDonalds, Taco Bell, Del Taco, Jack in the Box, Wienerschnitzel, In-n-Out, Rubio's, El Pollo Loco, Tommy's, and Carl's Jr.

When you visit, be sure to look for the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Bowl (no relation), the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (sometimes called the Taj Mahony, after a bishop purported to have an inflated sense of self-worth), the Walt Disney Concert Hall (don't call it The Gehry Hall, no one will know what you're talking about), as well as the archetypal Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, and the fantastic shopping in the Fashion District of Downtown LA—which is polluted, noisy, and a concrete jungle, but the prices are so good.

The film district is mostly in the San Fernando Valley nowadays; the neighborhood of Hollywood itself is mostly tourist attractions and below-the-line parts of the industry (editing, effects, props, lighting, post-production). Disney, Universal, and Warner Bros.' studios are all in the Valley, with Paramount the only studio still physically based in Hollywood (though 20th Century Fox and Sony are also on the Westside). The Valley is also the center of the American adult entertainment industry (the HBO series Pornucopia estimated that 90% of all American porn is produced or shot there), leading to monikers like "Porn Valley" and "Silicone Valley". The non-filming parts of The Industry may, of course, be done anywhere, but Kirk's Rock is conveniently located just a half hour's drive away to the north.

Los Angeles has its own electric power company, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is separate and distinct from the power company used by every other city in Southern California. The link between water and power is due to the fact that nearly all of LA's water has to be pumped in from the other side of a mountain range. Pumping all that the water uphill takes an enormous amount of electric power, and the water rushing downhill on the LA side runs hydroelectric generators to get most of that power back. This allowed LA to build reservoirs at the top of the hill, run the uphill pumps during the night hours (when power is cheaper), and send the water downhill during the daytime hours (where the same power could be sold back at a profit). This setup played a crucial role in the movie Chinatown.

If you want to confuse a local, ask about the Los Angeles River. You've probably seen it. If you watched Terminator II you may remember the scene where the T-1000's semi truck crashes off of the road and chases John Connor down a concrete drainage channel with an inch of water of in it. El Rio de Los Angeles. It was also the location of the big race scene in Grease, and an emergency space shuttle landing in The Core.

A Quick History

Los Angeles was first built in 1781 by Felipe de Neve as an outpost for travelers, cattle ranchers and the Spanish military, but mainly as a city for the Tongva people. In fact, Downtown Los Angeles had the site of the Tongva capital, Yangna, for centuries. Although planned on a grid, the massive hills nearby forced the streets to radiate out medieval-style from a central marketplace. Despite a tiny population, the town was staggeringly diversenote , and by the time of the Mexican-American War, it housed as many Italians, Chinese and Americans as native Mexicans.

Los Angeles was the site of a single battle, which lasted 45 days and was an American defeat. New, square city blocks were laid out alongside awkwardly shaped farmland that was to be maintained right downtown. This plan failed spectacularly. Either way, LA essentially became Dixie-west, with a mostly southern, pro-slavery population. This was so pervasive that in the Civil War, fortresses were built to keep people from trying to invade (culturally very Northern) San Francisco.

The Southern Pacific railroad managed to change all this. In 1869, a railway was built to the harbor at San Pedro and the population exploded. The city finally came of age in 1917. That year, many local institutions were formed, Los Angeles became the largest city in California and the 10th largest in the United States. It boasted a vast metropolitan rail system (today's Metro Rail taken Up to Eleven) as well as a finely tuned municipal system, which together gave LA the biggest, best public transit system in the world. For what happened there, see Who Framed Roger Rabbit. LA's golden age was at the end of this era, which many people know from Film Noir.

Los Angeles began to decline in The Fifties as crime increased, inner-city neighborhoods fell into disrepair, and huge numbers of people fled to the suburbs.note  Despite many civic improvement projects, things didn't really pick up until the 1984 Olympics. note  The old rail system began rebuilding in The Nineties (construction has sped up significantly since the Great Recession) and people no longer needed cars in the inner city. Having possibly hit the hard limits of urban sprawl, the outer suburbs are now in significant decline following the subprime mortgage bust while Los Angeles and nearby cities like Pasadena continue re-building-up.

Los Angeles in Fiction

Los Angeles itself is often a metaphor for change, as both a positive and a negative force. People come to Los Angeles, in reality as well as in fiction, to reinvent themselves.

Like New York City, LA has appeared in thousands of works of fiction and every reader here has probably had or has an LA-based show on their regular watch-list.

    open/close all folders 

    Film 

    Comic Books 
  • Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! often featured Los Antelopes, Califurnia, Earth-C's Los Angeles. Los Antelopes' various neighborhoods and suburbs were often featured in stories, including Saint Bernardino (San Bernadino), Bel-Airedale (Bel-Air), Beaverly Hills (Beverly Hills) and Follywood (Hollywood), the latter where the Zoo Crew's headquarters were located.
  • The West Coast Avengers from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, as well as Iron Man and Wonder Man in that period, as both title characters were members of the team, though Iron Man had moved to California before the formation of the "Wackos", with Tony Stark building a new company from scratch in LA.
    • A Running Gag early on in Wonder Man had Simon's showbiz and civilian friends asking him how he could survive in LA without a car. He could just use his jet belt to fly anywhere, of course, but the thought of being able to drive others around town had never occurred to him.
  • Marvel's Runaways, where one of the major plot points is the fact that the kids are in LA and not NYC.
  • Avengers Academy is likewise based out of LA, and sees a crossover with the Runaways.
  • DC Comic's series Manhunter follows Federal Prosecutor Kate Spencer, who is based out of LA.

    Literature 
  • The Philip Marlowe novels of Raymond Chandler, including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. Chandler was a poet before diving into hard-boiled detective fiction, and it shows in his narrative descriptions of the City of Angels.
  • Michael Connelly has written a long series of mystery and detective fiction novels in the Raymond Chandler spirit, most of which are set in Los Angeles and which display a deep familiarity with the city's history and culture.
  • The Alex Delaware novels of Johnathan Kellerman and the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels of Faye Kellerman. Since the Kellermans are husband and wife, their characters have had at least one Cross Over.
  • Many of LA-native Harry Turtledove's short stories and novels. In particular, The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, and "Counting Up/Counting Down" are full of references to San Fernando Valley landmarks.
  • The majority of Snow Crash is set in Los Angeles. (Geographically, at least. Politically, it's mostly set in Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Cita di Cosa Nostra, The Farms of Cloverdell, The Clink, and, very occasionally, the United States of America.)
  • The main charaters of A Wind Named Amnesia visit L.A early in the story.
  • In Shanghai Girls, sisters Pearl and May Chin move to Chinatown in 1938.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy and his friends travel to L.A—- which is the current location of the Underworld. The narrator further describes the city in the most negative terms imaginable, which makes one wonder whatever happened to Rick Riordan in Los Angeles to make him hate it so.
  • In They Thirst by Robert Mc Cammon, a group of hostile vampires takes over the city via sandstorm.
  • Los Angeles is posited as a sort of Casablanca for every conspiracy, cult, and secret society on the planet in the comedy neo-noir Mr Blank and its sequel.
  • City of Devils takes place in L.A. Granted, it's an alternate 1955 Los Angeles where nearly everyone is a b-movie monster, but the city is recognizable.

    Live Action TV 

    Music 
  • 24/7 Spyz: "El Lame".
  • Bad Religion: "Los Angeles is Burning" .
    • Indeed, their first studio album was called How Could Hell be Any Worse? (which receives a Call Back in the above song). The cover image was just a shot of L.A.
  • Billy Joel: "Los Angelinos".
  • The Briggs: "This is LA".
  • Cheech And Chong: "Born in East LA".
  • Concrete Blonde: about half of their songs, but "Still In Hollywood", "Roses Grow" and "God Is A Bullet" more than most.
  • Counting Crows: "Goodnight L.A", "Come Around".
  • The Doors: "LA Woman".
  • Eagles: "Life In The Fast Lane" and "Hotel California".
  • Eagles Of Death Metal: "Wannabe in LA".
    • Frontman Jesse Hughes told The Sun January 30, 2009: "You know when you're some place and you want to be somewhere else. But when you're not in that place, you want to be there. That's LA. It has its skeletons but when you leave it, s—t, all you want to do is go back."
  • Frank Sinatra: "LA is My Lady". Compared to "My Kind of Town" and "New York, New York", it seems Los Angeles got the short end of the stick when it comes to Sinatra homages to American cities. This synthesizer driven funky crooner number will throw off both the biggest Sinatra fans and proudest Angelinos.
  • Frank Black, "Los Angeles".
  • Funeral Party: "New York City Moves to the Sound of LA". Not an indictment or glorification of either city, just an observation on the continuous, free-flowing nature of music and popular culture itself.
  • Guns N' Roses: "Welcome to the Jungle".
    • (from Songfacts) This song is about Los Angeles. It exposes the dark side of the city many people encounter when they go there to pursue fame. Guns N' Roses knew this side of the city well: in 1985, they lived in a place on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles that they called "Hell House." The house was often filled with drugs, alcohol and groupies.
  • Hollywood Undead : "No Other Place"
  • My Chemical Romance: "Battery City" is a ridiculously thinly-veiled version of Los Angeles in the "Danger Days" universe.
  • Meat Loaf: "Los Angeloser".
  • Rancid: "L.A. River". It's about people coming to LA, not making it out and getting caught up in all sorts of bad stuff. The LA River is the backdrop.
  • Randy Newman: "I love LA".
    • Newman was asked to write a song about Los Angeles as a theme to the 1984 Olympics held there. Instead, he wrote a tongue-in-cheek "homage" to the car-cruising, sun-worshipping LA culture, complete with mentions of a "Big nasty redhead" and a "Bum down on his knees." LA officials didn't think this was the image they wanted, but Newman released the song anyway. For a while it was the adopted theme song for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. (from Songfacts)
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers make a lot of Los Angeles references in their songs, which may or may not be coded drug references.
  • X: "Los Angeles". This song is about a very racist person that feels compelled to leave the city for a less diverse environment.
  • Songs about how much Los Angeles sucks seems to be a popular theme for indie rockers from the Pacific Northwest.
    • Death Cab for Cutie has "Why You'd Want To Live Here" off of The Photo Album, asking the obvious question. Ironically, lead singer Ben Gibbard ended up moving to Los Angeles; apparently, marrying Zooey Deschanel is the reason why one might want to live in LA.
    • The Decemberists have "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," a delightfully snarky attack on the lifestyle of certain Angelinos. The song was penned while lead singer/songwriter/etc. Colin Meloy was visiting his sister, who lives there. Hmm....
  • LA, LA, Baby! by the Jonas Brothers for Jonas LA.
  • Tool's song "Ănema" is one giant Take That at the city which fantasizes about it being buried beneath an ocean. This song is an Homage and Shout-Out to Bill Hicks, as mentioned below.
  • Tupac Shakur, "To Live and Die in L.A."
  • Kendrick Lamar featuring Dr. Dre, "Compton".
  • Thirty Seconds to Mars, "City of Angels"
  • The Royal Crown Revue song, "Watts Local", is about the railroad line that ran from Long Beach to Watts from 1904 to 1958, part of the original 'Red Line' streetcar line service operated by Pacific Electric Railway (now part of Metro Rail's Blue Line). The song calls out several of the stops along the line:
    Alameda, Wilmington, 103rd
    Firestone is fine
    Don't forget to stop at Imperial
    On the old Red Line

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Bill Hicks, born in Texas, spent several years in Los Angeles and never tired of reminding his audience how much he hated it. Arizona Bay is a borderline Concept Album which repeatedly comes back to the subject of how much better off the country and the world would be if Southern California sank into the Pacific.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Los Angeles is an important spot in the Demon The Fallen fluff, being the city where the ex-Archangel Lucifer himself has resided since its foundation (the city name is the clue).
  • Los Angeles is depicted as a haven for demonic influence in In Nomine, with no angelic tethers and few (if any) angels stationed there. (The angelic equivalent is San Francisco.)

    Video Games 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: the Warner sibs lived on the Warner Brothers lot, in Burbank; Slappy and Skippy Squirrel also lived in Burbank.
    • When Rita and Runt go to Poland in "Puttin on the Blitz", Rita sings that it doesn't look like Burbank, more like Van Nuys.
    • Slappy also does a parody of the song, "Little Old Lady from Pasadena," called "Little Old Slappy From Pasadena."
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants: Patchy the Pirate lives in the LA suburb of Encino.
  • Dan Vs. takes place in the Van Nuys neighborhood.
  • The Flintstones often features "Hollyrock," the prehistoric version of Hollywood. The adult Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm live there in several 90s TV-movies.
  • Garfield and Friends: When Garfield narrated a tale about barbarians, he described the place where they lived as a Los Angeles without Mexican stores.
  • Like the film it follows, Turbo: F.A.S.T.

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alternative title(s): LA; Los Angeles
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