What caused southern California to become such an attractive destination?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,789
SoCal
The aircraft and aerospace industry gave the LA area a boost. Civic leaders pushed the climate and availability of labor at lower costs than in the east or midwest. The water issue was solved (at the time) with the aqueduct system. One of the best light rail systems ever built promoted real estate development. Sadly it was replaced by the freeway system after WWII.

Southern California Aerospace Industry - Hughes Historic District
When was this light rail system built?
 
May 2017
194
Monterrey
Not my area of expertise, or even close to it, but I remember reading something about ports. Quick wikipedia scan shows that Los Angeles has deeper seabed, which naturally means better access for more ships. This is probably the case(or used to be) for the vast majority of big cities in the world.
 

Edratman

Forum Staff
Feb 2009
6,701
Eastern PA
Not my area of expertise, or even close to it, but I remember reading something about ports. Quick wikipedia scan shows that Los Angeles has deeper seabed, which naturally means better access for more ships. This is probably the case(or used to be) for the vast majority of big cities in the world.
I remember reading a long time ago that San Francisco on considered by seamen to be the best port/harbor in the world. The port of LA is certainly one of the busiest in the world but the port offers little in the way of protections from storms.
 
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Apr 2019
80
U.S.A.
The late 1800’s saw a “consumption” epidemic in nearly all US cities and as a result people were looking for a solution. It was thought that warner, dryer climates would prolong the life of T.B victims and this was one reason, along with a new railway line in the 1880’s contributed to So. Cal’s population growth. Pre-columbian California was also one of, if not the heaviest, population area on the continent. Climate
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,789
SoCal
The late 1800’s saw a “consumption” epidemic in nearly all US cities and as a result people were looking for a solution. It was thought that warner, dryer climates would prolong the life of T.B victims and this was one reason, along with a new railway line in the 1880’s contributed to So. Cal’s population growth. Pre-columbian California was also one of, if not the heaviest, population area on the continent. Climate
How much people did pre-Columbian California have?
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
21,789
SoCal
Some estimates have it at around 300k at the start spanish colonial era. This would also mean that many, (unknown), would have been exposed to european diseases and succumbed
300k is more than 100 times less California's current population, though.
 
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spellbanisher

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
4,136
The Celestial Plain
300k is more than 100 times less California's current population, though.
Still, if I'm not mistaken, California had the densest population of Natives north of Mexico at the time of contact.

As for the OP, Southern California really started to boom in the 1880s following a rate-war between the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific Railroads. This made it very cheap to move to California, and considering the general unpleasant nature of Eastern cities (overcrowded, dirty, polluted, violent), and more importantly, gluts in major agricultural commodities such as wheat, Southern California and its fruit growing colonies was a major attraction, particularly for midwesterners. The argument boosters put forward was that in Southern California, you could comfortably support a family on a mere 40 acres. Smaller farms also meant less social isolation, and regional railroads could easily connect you to cities such as Los Angeles. Thus, you could have both rural independence and virtue without losing access to urban amenities (a good book on this is Paul Sandul's California Dreaming). City boosters and other Western developers also worked hard to bring water to Southern California, first with the Owens Valley Project in the early twentieth century which brings water from the Owens River, then the Colorado River Project starting in the 1920s, and finally The State Water Project starting in the 1960s, which mainly brings water from the Feather River in Northern California down to Southern California cities. Fun fact: the amount of energy it takes to move water from the SWP over the Tehachapi mountains is equivalent to the annual energy usage of San Francisco. Also, part of Edmund Brown's motivation for the State Water Project (he was governor of California during the 1950s and 1960s) was to keep Northern California from becoming overcrowded like Southern California. He had hoped that by bringing water to Socal, the people would stay there.

In short, Southern California was a major site of fruit growing until the 1940s. Fruit was much more profitable on a per acre basis than other kinds of crops, and the sheer diversity of California agriculture (hundreds of different kinds of crops) also created lots of jobs in fruit packing, manufacturing (as different kinds of tools), marketing (there wasn't much of a market for fruits before the 20th century), transportation, management (again, each kind of crop requires specialized handling and processing), etc. Even before WWII, Socal was the most suburbanized region in the United States. This only accelerated after WWII. As a result of massive military spending during WWII and the Cold War, the number of white collar professionals, particularly in cold war related industries such as aerospace and electronics, boomed in Southern California, resulting in a more urban and suburban rather than agricultural region.

So climate and location (the port) plays a big role, but so did political decisions (transcontinental railroads, USDA research stations, the Colorado River Project, Cold War spending, the National Highways) and economic development and boosterism.

As for the Southward movement in California itself, part of that has to do with the fact that much of Northern California up until the twentieth century periodically suffered from devastating floods. That is only part of it, and doesn't really explain why Southern California continues to outgrow Northern California. Proximity to Mexico might play a role. So might environmentalism. There are a lot more forests to protect in Norcal than in Socal. However, much of Southern California is the relatively uninhabited Mojave Desert.
 
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