Big Macs! Barbies! Rocket Ships! Porn Stars! 60 Ways L.A. Changed the World

From breast implants to hula-hoops, fast food to gay rights, this city has been reshaping the globe for at least six decades. Let us count the ways
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(Photo by Bettman Archive)

AWARDS SEASON
For everything, there is a season—a time for Grammys, a time for Emmys, and especially a time for Oscars. But precisely when awards season begins and ends is hard to say, since every year, the cycle seems to start sooner and finish later. Suffice to say, it’s somewhere between New Year’s and Christmas. And even though the rest of the world may be over awards shows—with ratings sinking to record lows—they remain vital to the L.A. economy, pumping millions of dollars into the city.


(Courtesy of Camera Press/Redux)

BARBIE FOR PRESIDENT?
Between her 150 other careers—like astronaut, aerobics instructor, and CEO—Barbie has run for high office eight times since she was invented in 1959 by L.A.-based Mattel cofounder Ruth Handler, who named the oh-so-iconic toy after her daughter, Barbara. Sure, she’s had plenty of detractors—she’s too materialistic, too shallow, too busty, too skinny—but she’s still a cultural force, with 2 million Instagram followers. “People have blamed their problems on Barbie—how much they weigh, that they don’t dress right,” notes no less an authority than Barbara Handler herself. “I can’t deal with that. I mean, it’s just a doll.”


(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

THE BEACH BOYS
Liverpool had the Beatles. London had the Stones. L.A. got the Beach Boys, arguably the most influential American band of the early 1960s. Their sun-kissed vocal harmonies and songs about hot rods and surfboards and girls in bikinis painted a picture of Southern California as a palm-treed paradise. Even the group’s name evoked idyllic youth. They literally invented California dreamin’.


BEACH CRUISERS
These bulky bikes with extra-chunky tires—the perfect vehicle for traversing boardwalk planks—have been a fixture of L.A. beach life since a 21-year-old mechanic named Larry McNeely invented them in his dad’s bike shop in 1976.


BREAST IMPLANTS
L.A. isn’t the town with the most breast-implant surgeries per capita—that would be Miami—but we did do more than any other burg to make fake boobs a fashion statement. Halle Berry, Kate Hudson, Gwen Stefani, Jaime Pressly and a bunch of other trendsetters have all reportedly undergone chestal makeovers.


(Photo by Gerry Matthews/Alamy Stock Photo)

CANNABIS CULTURE
One of the first marijuana raids in the U.S. took place in L.A. in 1914, when police swarmed two Sonoratown “dream gardens.” But we’ve come a long way, baby. Proposition 215 in 1996 made California the first state to legalize the medical use of cannabis; full legalization came in 2016. Since then, a slew of weed-loving celebrities—Snoop Dogg, Seth Rogen, Willie Nelson, even Martha Stewart—have launched cannabis brands, while 17 other states have followed California in making pot legal.


CASUAL WORK WEAR
Long before COVID-19 lockdowns made sweats acceptable business attire, studio execs and other alpha Angelenos—like famously casual David Geffen—were showing up to work dressed for a jog. In Hollywood, and even more so in L.A.’s growing tech sector, nothing signals power more than telling your suit and tie to fuck off. 


CATALYTIC CONVERTER
Remember smog? Thanks to this emissions-busting gizmo, not everybody does. It was developed 50 years ago, in part as a response to California’s tough antipollution laws, which were themselves a reaction to that reddish-brown cloud hanging over L.A. in the 1960s and ’70s. Ever since, California has set its clean-air standards higher than the EPA’s and forced the auto industry to make cleaner vehicles for the whole country.


CELEBRITY CHEFS
When Wolfgang Puck opened Spago on the Sunset Strip in 1982, he did more than pioneer California cuisine—he created a whole new category of fame: the A-list cook. It wasn’t long before others sautéed their way into the spotlight—Nancy Silverton, Ken Frank, Michael Roberts—sparking a new social hierarchy based on which table you got on what night. The dishes were beyond pretentious and the portions tiny, but the scene was irresistible. Ginger-orange salmon with avocado foam, anyone? 


(Photo by S. Granitz/Wireimage)

CELEBRITY SEX TAPES
Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee were first, in 1997, when their naughty vacation video was stolen and ended up for sale on VHS, DVD, and CD-ROM. (Hulu turned the story of that tape into a TV miniseries.)Paris Hilton was next, in 2004, when a tape of her and then-boyfriend Rick Salomon escaped into the wild. And, of course, in 2007, there was the X-rated home video that launched Kim Kardashian’s career. Hulk Hogan, Tori Spelling, Johnny Carson, even Verne Troyer (aka Mini-Me), all took turns as amateur porn stars. In L.A., everybody gets their 15 minutes of shame.


COCHLEAR IMPLANTS
Dr. William F. House spent 27 years developing this tiny, surgically embedded miracle—a cure, in many cases, for severe deafness—at his lab at the House Ear Institute in Santa Monica. The first trials, in the early 1960s, were not encouraging, as patients rejected the implant designed to electronically stimulate the auditory nerve. But, by 1984, he’d improved it enough for FDA approval. Today, ten years since his death, House’s invention has helped more than 700,000 people recover their hearing.


COP CAMS
Back in 2012, there was just one police department in the entire nation using body cams on their officers—that would be Rialto’s. A year later, the cams became part of the LAPD’s standard equipment, with L.A. sheriff’s deputies following suit in 2020. Today, nearly half of all police in the U.S. are camera-ready.


(Photo by AP Images)

CULT HITS
Sorry, Charlie, but the Mansons were hardly L.A.’s first go-around with crazy and sometimes dangerous cults. The self-flagellating Mazdaznan, the free-loving Helios, the wacky Aetherius Society (something about Jesus and aliens)—this town has been a breeding ground for bat-crap crazy since the early 1900s. And it didn’t end after the grisly Manson murders of 1969; since then, there’s been the Source, the Peoples Temple, Buddhafield . . . and maybe one that rhymes with Schmiontology?


(Photo by Ryan Schude)

DESIGNER DOGS
Labradoodles, Cockapoos, Schnoodles—the pooches padding around L.A. these days have more complicated pedigrees than the Habsburgs. While SoCal may have made these designer canines popular—at up to $5,000 a pup, not everyone can afford them—they were first created in Australia, by breeder Wally Conron, who has since had second thoughts, calling the crossbreeds “Frankensteins.”


(Photo by AP Images)

EAMES CHAIR
You can see one on display in the permanent collection of New York’s MoMA—or just flip on any episode of Frasier. In fact, this leather-and-molded-plywood beauty may be the most iconic piece of modern furniture ever manufactured. And it was invented here in L.A. by midcentury demigods Charles and Ray Eames, who first displayed it in 1956 at their Pacific Palisades home (aka Case Study House No. 8).


(Photo by Nigel Osbourne/Redferns)

ELECTRIC GUITAR
The first guitars can be traced to Mesopotamia and Renaissance-era Europe, but the electric guitar is L.A. born and bred. In 1931, musician George Beauchamp and engineer Adolph Rickenbacker founded Electro String Instrument Corporation, the birthplace of the “Frying Pan”—precursor to the Les Paul, Stratocaster, and a whole bunch of other axes that rock and rollers have been smashing ever since. 


FAST FASHION
Forever 21 opened its first shop in Highland Park in 1984. It eventually grew to 700 stores, with sales peaking at $4.4 billion in 2015. Then there was American Apparel, founded in L.A. in 1989, which let everybody dress like hipsters for less than the cost of a dry-cleaning bill. But just like their industry-transforming clothing, these companies sometimes unravel quickly. Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in 2019, and American Apparel did the same in 2016. Fashion Nova is obviously still burning hot; its CEO just purchased “The One” mansion in Bel-Air.

(Photo by Shuttershock)

FAST FOOD
McDonald’s isn’t the only fast-food franchise to get its start in Southern California. Au contraire, there’s also Taco Bell, Denny’s, IHOP, In-N-Out, Wienerschnitzel, Baskin-Robbins, Hot Dog on a Stick, the Cheesecake Factory, Carl’s Jr., and Jack in the Box. If it can be prepared and devoured in under five minutes, chances are it was invented here.


 

(Photo by Julian Wasser)

FERUS GALLERY
Andy Warhol had his first big show here in 1962, debuting his Campbell’s soup cans. Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Edward Kienholz—the artists who put stuff on these West Hollywood walls were so glamorous, Dennis Hopper used to photograph them for the gallery’s flyers. Its owner, Walter Hopps, may have been a college dropout, but he transformed L.A. from a cultural desert into one of the art world’s sharpest cutting edges. 


FOOD TRUCKS
Raul Martinez, founder of King Taco, rolled out the first taco truck in 1974, parking it outside a bar in East L.A. Since then, the city has become a moveable feast, with more than 400 trucks serving up everything from gourmet pizza to Thai brisket sliders.


GANGSTA RAP
It may have started in Philly, but it was L.A. artists who made gangsta rap a full-blown musical force. Ice-T’s landmark tracks “6 in the Mornin’” and “Colors” were the first to delve into the hard-core exploits of South Central thugs, while N.W.A—Compton’s Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, and DJ Yella—turned their rage-filled lyrics into monster hits.


GAY RIGHTS
New York’s 1969 Stonewall riots are often cited as the catalyst for the gay-rights movement, but the nation’s first major gay-rights rally took place two years before, at Silver Lake’s Black Cat Tavern. Activists spent weeks secretly organizing a protest after plainclothes officers beat and arrested 16 people at the gay bar’s New Year’s Eve celebration, six of whom were charged with “lewd conduct” (kissing). On February 11, 1967, hundreds of protesters gathered at the corner of Sunset and Hyperion for what was, at the time, the biggest recorded demonstration for gay rights that had ever occurred in the U.S.


(Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

GUMBY
The little green guy with the bendable limbs was invented in the early 1950s in a Covina garage by a just-graduated USC film school alum named Art Clokey. Gumby’s TV debut was on an episode of The Howdy Doody Show, but somebody at NBC obviously had an eye for talent; Gumby got his own show in 1956, and by 1964, virtually every kid in America owned the toy. More than 13 million sold just in its first few years. 


(Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

GYM RATS
Decades before Equinox started handing out eucalyptus-infused hand towels, there was L.A. fitness pioneer Vic Tanny. In the 1940s, he opened the first gym to offer a range of activities from weightlifting to ice skating. (Membership was $5 a month.) Joe Gold worked at one of Tanny’s places before opening Gold’s Gym in Venice in 1965. That’s where 21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger pumped iron after he moved to L.A. in 1968. But the health-club craze really took off in the 1970s and ’80s, when franchises like L.A.-based Sports Connection started springing up. Jane Fonda began making her workout tapes around the same time, while Richard Simmons opened his Beverly Hills club, Anatomy Asylum, and became a short-short-wearing fitness legend. 


(Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

HAIR METAL
Back in the 1980s, Saturday nights on the Sunset Strip could get pretty hairy—you could almost smell the Aqua Net in the air. L.A. bands like Mötley Crüe and Twisted Sister not only ruled the club scene, but for awhile, they all but took over MTV, along with Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, and a host of other spectacularly coiffed rockers. Nothing but a good time indeed.



HAIR EXTENSIONS
Cleopatra may have been first—archaeologists say she wove sheep’s hair into her locks in the first century B.C.—but L.A. has been the world capital of fake hair since the 1970s, when Beverly Hills wigmaker Piny Benzaken started sticking extensions onto Farrah Fawcett’s head. Today, hair extensions are everywhere, adorning the dos of everyone from Kylie Jenner to Beyoncé to Ariana Grande.


HASHTAG PROTESTS
The internet is everywhere, but all the most impactful hashtags somehow seem to come out of L.A. #MeToo, #OscarsSoWhite, #TimesUp, and even #BLM all originated with L.A.-based activists using their social-media chops to post for social justice. 


HIMBOS
Joey from Friends, Nate from Gossip Girl, Fred from Scooby-Doo—Hollywood dearly loves the strong, stupid type. The first known use of the word was in 1988, when a cheeky Washington Post reporter noticed her TV filling up with brainless hunks. “Their chest measurements rival Dolly Parton’s. Their brains would embarrass a squid,” she wrote of the L.A. archetype. 


HOT FUDGE SUNDAE
Take a stroll on the Hollywood Walk of Fame until you find Roger Moore’s star. Look up. See that souvenir shop? That was C. C. Brown’s 116 years ago, the ice cream parlor where the hot fudge sundae was born. Proprietor Clarence Clifton Brown was said to have experimented with several different fudge-sauce recipes before finally reaching his eureka moment. Maybe his star should be in that pavement.  


(Photo by Getty Images/Stockphoto)

HOT RODS
What started in the 1930s as a teenage fad—racing stripped-down, hopped-up old Fords in the dry lakebeds north of L.A.—ultimately evolved into an automotive art form. Today, the price tags on some of these classics—especially ones built by hot-rod legends like Boyd Coddington and Roy Brizio—can go as high as $700,000. And you thought you paid too much for a used car.


HULA-HOOPS . . . AND FRISBEES!
Let us now bow our heads in awed respect to Arthur “Spud” Melin and his business partner, Richard Knerr, genius founders of the Pasadena-based sporting goods company Wham-O. Originally, the two set up shop in 1948 to sell slingshots to falcon trainers (to fling meat at the birds). But in 1957, they branched out into toys, starting with the Pluto Platter, soon renamed the Frisbee. Five years later, they introduced a large, plastic ring for kids to swivel their hips in. The Hula-Hoop was a runaway hit, selling 25 million in its first four months of production.  


“THE INDUSTRY”
And by that, of course, we mean show business—the one thing for which L.A. is best known. As it happens, entertainment is a pretty small part of the city’s overall economy; only about 8 percent of the population of L.A. County toil in the biz. Still, L.A.’s film studios and TV networks—and now streamers—bring in billions every year and give the town more cultural clout than just about any other city on earth. For the time being, Hollywood still runs the table when it comes to the dominant global art forms of this century. 


(Photo by AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

THE INTERNET
The world’s first email was sent in 1969 by professor Leonard Kleinrock from a lab in UCLA’s Boelter Hall. The recipient of the email was a computer hundreds of miles away at the Stanford Research Institute. And its successful transmission was a milestone for humanity, even if it didn’t go entirely as planned. Kleinrock meant to send a single word message—“LOGIN”—but the system crashed after the first two letters. So that maiden email ended up saying, “LO.”


JUICE BARS
The Beverly Hills Juice Club wasn’t in Beverly Hills—it was in WeHo, wedged between two gyms—but when David Otto opened its doors in 1975, he struck oil, setting off a pressed-juice gusher. By 1990, Jamba Juice got in on the act, ultimately opening nearly 800 shops, followed by a bunch of other franchises, like Planet Smoothie and Nekter. Today, there are more than 5,000 juice bars serving mashed-up fruits and veggies in cities across America. 


THE KARDASHIANS
It’s hard to think of a more successful L.A. export. But aside from the family’s hugely popular reality show—the series that put Calabasas on the map—Kim Kardashian, a woman who earns upward of a million dollars for a single Instagram post, can be credited with creating the influener economy currently ruling our culture. “She was the first entrepreneur who began to sell products purely by using her own body, her own life, and, images of herself,” explains Meredith Jones of Brunel University in London, who teaches “Kimposiums” on the Kardashian phenom. “She was the first to figure that out. It’s all about selling oneself.”


LASERS
These days, you can’t check out at the market or get your eyesight fixed without them. And the very first laser was built in 1960 by a scientist named Theodore Maiman at the Hughes Research Lab in Malibu. That one wasn’t powerful enough to cut through steel walls—or even a sheet of paper—but, still, front-page headlines declared the invention of the “death ray.”


LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOWS
There was something like late-night talk on New York TV in the 1950s and ’60s—Steve Allen’s and Jack Paar’s versions of The Tonight Show were both taped back east— but it wasn’t until Johnny Carson brought the format to L.A. in 1972 that all the pieces of the modern formula fell in place: the sidekick, the band, the newsy opening monologue. Since then, every host—from Letterman to Meyers—has followed in Carson’s footsteps.


(Photo by Bettman Archive)

LEFT-COAST RIGHT-WINGERS
Matt Drudge, Ben Shapiro, the late Andrew Breitbart . . . at one point or another, they all called SoCal their home. Trump adviser Stephen Miller grew up in Santa Monica. Steve Bannon lived in L.A. for a time. Richard Nixon was raised in Whittier. Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger currently resides in Brentwood, while Rupert Murdoch lives in Bel-Air—Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s old haunt—as does son Lachlan, who purchased the famous Beverly Hillbillies mansion in 2019 for a reported $150 million. (Buddy Ebsen, by the way, was also a lifelong Republican). And that’s just scratching the surface. According to California GOP chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson, L.A. is crawling with right-wingers. “There’s cancel culture in Hollywood,” she says, “so we have secret groups like Friends of Abe.”


(Photo by Todd Anderson/Disney Parks via Getty Images)

MICKEY MOUSE
Actually, in the beginning, he was a rabbit named Oswald. But in 1927, Walt Disney’s distributor stole the rights to that character, so Disney doodled some more—turning Oswald into a rodent, putting him in red shorts, and, voilà, Mickey Mouse was born, along with SoCal’s most iconic park and entertainment empire.


(Photo via Getty Images)

NICOTINE PATCH
Ironically, the UCLA researcher who invented the nicotine patch in 1984, Dr. Murray E. Jarvik, had never been a smoker. But he got interested in the habit while observing his wife’s difficulty quitting. When he couldn’t get permission from UCLA to test his transdermal patch on volunteers, he and his assistants tested it on themselves. “We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen,” Jarvik once recalled. “Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers.” 


NO-FAULT DIVORCE
You can thank Ronald Reagan for this one. In 1969, the Hollywood actor-turned-governor signed the first law in the nation eliminating fault-based divorce, which had been forcing couples to fabricate spousal wrongdoing in order to legally split. It was a huge change, copied by 19 other states, and it resulted in divorce rates more than doubling by the time Reagan was elected president in 1980. Happily, divorce rates have since dipped downward, hitting a 50-year low in 2020. 

(Photo by Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

 . . . AND PALIMONY
Famed L.A. celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson invented the concept when, in 1977, he represented Michelle Triola Marvin in her lawsuit against actor Lee Marvin. Triola and Marvin were never technically married, but she took his name anyway, and Mitchelson argued that after six years with Marvin, his client deserved some sort of compensation ($1.8 million, to be exact). The California Supreme Court agreed, establishing the legal principle of “palimony,” even though an appeals court later blocked Triola from collecting any money.


(Photo by AGW Ventues, Inc./AngelaWhite.com)

PORN STARS
L.A. didn’t invent dirty movies, but we definitely hatched the porn star. In the 1970s and ’80s, the San Fernando Valley was the red-hot center of the hard-core video business, complete with its own casting agencies, trade press, and, ultimately, star system. Ginger Lynn, Nina Hartley, Ashlyn Gere, Jenna Jameson—each name is another note in the saucy samba of porn-star history. Even today, despite the internet blowing up the industry, aspiring adult actresses still flock to this city. “If you want to make it big in porn,” says Adult Video News Hall of Famer Angela White, “you need to be in L.A.”


RANCH HOUSES
In the 1950s, these unpretentious, affordable, single-story homes with shingled roofs, Dutch doors, and rustic front porches, started popping up from San Fernando to Westchester. Designed for L.A.’s booming postwar population, they ended up spreading coast to coast, all but solving the national housing crisis, at least for a time. 


REHABBING IN STYLE
L.A. never made getting sober easy, but it sure did make it more glamorous. Former first lady Betty Ford started the trend in 1982 with the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage. But upscale retreats like Passages Malibu, Cliffside, Milestones, and others turned rehab into a Four Seasons–like experience. Such pampering, though, comes at L.A. prices; some facilities charge upward of $80,000 a month.


RIGHT ON RED
Woody Allen once said that being allowed to turn right on red was the only cultural advantage of living in L.A. He was wrong, of course—there’s also the “California Stop,” rolling to a near-halt at stop signs. But RTOR, first adopted in California in 1947, is no longer just the privilege of Angelenos: today, hanging a Ralph at a red light is legal in all 50 states.


(Photo by Hum Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

ROCKET SHIPS
Houston may have had a problem, but L.A. sure didn’t. In fact, for much of the twentieth century, the aerospace industry was rocket fuel for this city’s economy. From Hughes Aircraft to Northrop Grumman, from McDonnell Douglas to JPL, L.A. was the launchpad for the space age. “Every decade, there’s something,” notes Morteza Gharib, director of Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at JPL, where NASA’s Deep Space Network and Mars Science Laboratory are headquartered. “We started the hypersonic era here in the mid-’60s. Right now, it’s all about Space X and where commercial space is forging a new direction.” Wherever that direction might lead, it blasted off from L.A.


THE SHIRLEY TEMPLE
It may have been created at the Brown Derby. Or maybe Chasen’s. History is unclear. But at one point in the 1930s, a bartender in L.A. mixed ginger ale with a splash of grenadine, put a cherry on top, and named it after Hollywood’s most famous child actor. Everybody under drinking age loved the concoction, with one notable exception. “All over the world, I am served that [drink],” Temple told NPR in 1986. “I hate them. Too sweet.”


(Photo by Hugh Holland)

SKATEBOARDS
The first decks were cobbled together out of scooter planks in the ’50s by SoCal surfers looking for something to do when the waves were less than gnarly. But in the early 1960s, two Angelenos—Larry Stevenson and Bill Richards—opened the first skateboard shops, in Santa Monica and North Hollywood. By 1965, Life was publishing photos of John Lennon riding one, and a $2 billion industry was up and running.


THE SUPER BOWL
Back in 1967, the L.A. Coliseum was host to the world’s first Super Bowl—the Packers vs. the Chiefs—although for the first few years, it was called the AFL-NFL World Championship. Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle hated the word “super” because it had been a slang put-down back at Compton High School. But he picked the Coliseum because it was simply the largest stadium in the U.S., seating 95,000. 


SUPERMARKETS
Grocery stores have been around forever. Ditto butcher shops and bakeries. But it wasn’t until 1928, when a new Ralphs opened at the corner of Wilshire and Hauser, that the modern-day supermarket brought everything from produce to cupcakes together under one roof. That innovation helped a decentralized city continue to expand geographically, with a Ralphs or Vons anchoring each new neighborhood. And, of course, it didn’t stop at the borders of  L.A.—there are now more than 60,000 supermarkets across the U.S.


SURFING IN THE USA
The first surfers in the United States were a trio of Hawaiian princes who, in 1885, while on break from studying at the military academy in San Mateo, carved boards out of redwood trees. Some 20 years later, another Hawaiian transplant, George Freeth, brought the pastime to Venice Beach, while still another, Duke Kahanamoku, took it to Santa Monica. By the 1950s, surf culture had spread from Malibu to San Diego, with Hollywood spreading it even further through movies about a bunch of beach-crazy kids with names like Gidget and Moondoggie. By 2020, the sport those three princes brought to SoCal a century ago was an event at the Tokyo Olympics.


SUVS
Farmers and soldiers have been driving oversized four-wheel-drive vehicles for decades—even the Russians manufactured one in the 1950s. But the modern, urban SUV craze didn’t really kick off until the 1990s, around the time Schwarzenegger started wheeling around town in his Humvee. Other luxury models soon started popping up in L.A., like the boxy Mercedes G500. Before long, everybody wanted that high-seat feeling, as SUVs took over the auto market everywhere in the country. They now outsell sedans, accounting for 45 percent of all vehicle sales.


(Photo by Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

TELECOPTERS 
The first televised car chase was on January 3, 1992—two years before a certain white Bronco captured the whole world’s attention—when a KCOP weather helicopter stumbled upon a police pursuit on the 5 freeway. The channel’s news director preempted a rerun of Matlock to run a live feed of the chase, and the ratings were bonkers. Ever since, “telecopters” have been interrupting regularly scheduled programming in L.A. on a regular basis.


TESLAS
Yes, we know, Elon Musk built his first electric cars up north in San Carlos. But he opened his first Tesla dealership, in 2008, right here on Santa Monica Boulevard by the 405. According to Tesla lore, the owner of the building at the time was reluctant to lease the space to the upstart company, so Musk had to make a personal plea himself. Eventually, a deal was struck when Musk agreed to sell the owner a signature 100 Roadster painted in the custom color of his choice. (He picked lightning green.)


THEME PARKS
We’re not talking about amusement parks—there have been roller-coasters and Ferris wheels all over the world for more than 100 years. But theme parks—where all the rides and attractions are focused on a central concept, like, say, a talking mouse in red shorts—is very much a SoCal thing. Since Disneyland opened in 1955, it has spawned 12 other parks, including Florida’s Disney World and France’s Disneyland Paris, as well as scores of imitators, like Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Florida, the Western-themed Silver Dollar City in Missouri, and even Dolly Parton’s Dollywood in Tennessee. 


(Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

VANS
The quintessential Southern California shoe was created by a guy from Boston. Paul Van Doren launched Vans after moving to Anaheim in 1966, and his checkerboard slip-ons were an instant hit with skateboarders. He sold the company to VF Corporation in 2004, which grew the brand into a $4 billion colossus. “I didn’t know a thing about retail,” Doren, who died in 2021, once admitted. “The first person gave me a $5 bill—a pair of shoes was $2.49. But I didn’t have any money in the cash register, so I gave her the shoes.” 


VIDAL SASSOON
He made Hollywood look fabulous, and in turn, Hollywood made him a star—the most famous hairstylist of the ’60s and ’70s. He’s the guy who gave Mia Farrow her pixie cut for Rosemary’s Baby (which enraged her then-boyfriend, Frank Sinatra) and snipped the tresses of Goldie Hawn, Helen Mirren—even Michael Caine. How many other hairdressers ended up on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album?


YOGA IN AMERICA
Hollywood started doing the downward dog in the 1940s—long before the rest of the country—when a Latvian woman named Eugenie Peterson taught yoga to the likes of Greta Garbo, Eva Gabor, and Yul Brynner. By the 1980s, studios like YogaWorks (where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used to unfurl an extra-long mat) and Ana Forrest’s studio (where Lisa Bonet, Dana Delany, and sometimes Governor Jerry Brown once twisted themselves into pretzels) began popping up on Montana Avenue, turning Santa Monica into a yoga mecca. Today, yoga studios stretch across the country, with 36 million Americans spending $11 billion on classes and equipment, not to mention nag champa. 


Z CHANNEL
Before HBO became a thing, there was Z Channel, one of the first pay-cable networks in the country. This pioneering movie service shaped the cinematic sensibilities of scores of future filmmakers growing up in SoCal in the ’70s (like Alexander Payne and Quentin Tarantino) and even influenced the Oscars. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1975 best picture nom for The Conversation is often credited to Z Chanel for screening it for 100,000 subscribers, many of whom were Academy members. But Z Channel didn’t have a Hollywood ending. Lawsuits by the studios killed it in 1987, and a year later, its beloved programming director, Jerry Harvey, murdered his wife and turned his gun—reportedly a gift from Sam Peckinpah—on himself.

Contributors: Soren Baker, Michael Callahan, Sean Fitz-Gerald, Merle Ginsberg, Alan Hess, Linda Immediato, Andy Lewis, Zoie Matthew, Sheila McClear, Chris Nichols, Hunter Philip, and Jordan Riefe.

Read more coverage from Los Angeles magazine’s special 60th Anniversary Issue:

Big Macs! Barbies! Rocket Ships! Porn Stars! 60 Ways That L.A. Changed the World

The Players: An Exclusive Photo Tribute to 30 of L.A.’s Brightest Stars

So Why Do We Live in. L.A. by Bruce Fierstein


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