The rambling metropolis of LOS ANGELES sprawls across the thousand square miles of a great desert basin, knitted together by an intricate network of congested freeways between the ocean and the snowcapped mountains. Its colorful melange of shopping malls, palm trees and swimming pools is both mildly surreal and startlingly familiar, thanks to the celluloid self-image that it has spread all over the world.
LA is a young city; in the mid-nineteenth century, it was a community of white American immigrants, poor Chinese laborers and wealthy Mexican ranchers, with a population of less than fifty thousand. Only on completion of the transcontinental railroad in the 1880s did it really begin to grow, as a national mecca for good health, clean living, plentiful sunshine and endless acres of citrus crops. The biggest group of transplants were refugees from the Midwest, who created a new political ruling class to replace the old Mexican elite. The old ranchos were soon subdivided, the population grew rapidly, and the enduring symbol of the city became the family-sized suburban house (with swimming pool and two-car garage). The biggest boom came after World War II with the mushrooming of the aeronautics industry - which, until post-Cold War military cutbacks, accounted for one in four jobs.
The first-time visitor may well find Los Angeles thrilling and threatening in equal proportions; it's a place that picks you up and sweeps you along whether you want it to or not. While it has its fine-art museums, California cuisine and a few old-fashioned urban plazas, what people really come here for is to experience the city that has come to epitomize the American Dream - the fantasy worlds of Disneyland and Hollywood , as well as the gilded opulence of Beverly Hills and Malibu .
With only limited space between the desert, the mountains and the ocean, LA has long since filled in the gaps between what were once small and isolated towns. As a result, it's a massive conglomeration of interconnected, amorphous districts, often with...
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