The Atlantic's survey of the most important cities in the world continues with the rich, wide, and dry metro of LA
Los Angeles is the second-biggest city in the United States, and 100 years ago exactly, it was also the second-biggest American for a relatively new technology known as the motion picture.
This latter silver-medal honor would turn to gold quickly. In 1910, Los Angeles annexed a newly incorporated community calling itself "Hollywood." In 1911, a cinema production company out of New Jersey opened a branch at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Glover, becoming the area's first film studio. In 1914, a new director named Cecil B. DeMille directed Hollywood's first feature-length film, a silent western called The Squaw Man.
DeMille went on to remake that movie twice. By the year of the first remake, 1918, cinema's center of gravity had shifted from Manhattan to southern California, and Hollywood led the world in motion pictures. By the year of the second remake, 1931, everything had changed. Major studios produced more than 700 feature films every year, Edward Jay Epstein reported in The Hollywood Economist, and 95 million people -- or 80% of the ambulatory population -- went to the movies every week.
Los Angeles had bet on an industry. The bet had paid off.
One century later, California bet on another industry famous for slick agents, tragic story-lines, and computer-generated illusions. The industry was real estate. The bet didn't pay off so much.
In 2011, one-quarter of LA's homes were in negative equity, as the foreclosure crisis swept right through southern California. The city's unemployment rate was 11.4%, higher than any major U.S. city, not counting Detroit. Of America's 30 largest metros, only five actually shrank in population. One was Los Angeles.