Discover the captivating history of the Port of Los Angeles. This world-renowned
harbor was established in 1907 and helped transform the small El Pueblo de Nuestra
Senora La Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula into the international City of Los
Angeles we know today.
Aerial view of the Port
The Port of Los Angeles is located in the San Pedro Bay at the southernmost
point of Los Angeles County, approximately 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Because of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the San Pedro Bay has a long history
of maritime activity.
Smoke from fires set by Indians hunting game on the hillsides overlooking San
Pedro Bay inspired Portuguese explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, to name this
natural harbor Bahia de los Fumos or "Bay of Smokes" in 1542. The tidal flats
and marshes of Bahia de los Fumos remained pristine for more than 200 years after
Cabrillo's visit, largely because Europe was concentrating its New World colonization
on America's East Coast. Then, in 1769, Spanish officials and missionaries turned
an eye toward the magnificent coastline, the resource-rich plains, and the Indian
population of California.
Click the thumbnail to view a
During this colonial period, the Spanish prohibited settlers from conducting
business with other countries, restricting all trade to two ships per year and
requiring those ships to carry goods from Spain's House of Trades. Despite these
restrictions, San Pedro and the nearby towns and missions on the flats of San
Pedro Bay prospered, largely as a result of a thriving cargo-smuggling industry.
In 1822, the newly independent Mexican government lifted the oppressive restrictions,
and San Pedro soon became a robust commercial center and an attractive home for
new settlers. The Mexican government granted three ranchos near the bay, Rancho
San Pedro, Rancho Los Palos Verdes, and Rancho Los Cerritos. The three ranchos
equaled almost 84,000 acres and were used primarily for cattle ranching.
On February 2, 1848, when California came under American control, business
at San Pedro Harbor was booming. It was evident, however, that the Harbor needed
to be expanded to accommodate the increasing cargo volume coming into the bay
for the growing population in Los Angeles. Recognizing these shortcomings, Phineas
Banning was instrumental in bringing innovative changes to San Pedro Bay that
marked the first steps toward developing the bay into one of the great seaports
of the world. (For more on Phineas Banning and the fight for a free harbor, click
on the People button.)
By the turn of the century, the population of Los Angeles had grown to more
than 100,000. With that in mind, in 1906 the city annexed a 16-mile strip of land
on the outskirts of San Pedro and Wilmington—towns that 3 years later would join
the City of Los Angeles. The Port was officially founded in 1907 with the creation
of the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners.