History of Lawndale
December 28, 1959
On this date the residents of Lawndale voted to incorporate as
a City within the county of Los Angeles. The main reason was stated
in the Lawndale Report of October 1959, as "... to incorporate
in order to forestall being gobbled up by surrounding communities
through annexation." Desired conditions for this community
included "that there should be a retention of a low tax level
through use of existing county services."
Lawndale was one of the last
cities to incorporate within the South Bay section of Los Angeles
County. However, it's pre-history dates back to a time when the
surrounding area was inhabited by Indians known today as the Gabrielino/Tongva.
Beginning in 1822 through 1846, Antonio Ignacio Avila was granted
land in three separate parcels in an area called Rancho Sausal-Redondo.
The area in question was originally regarded to encompass 40,000
acres; but when a United States Land Commission confirmed title,
the area was reduced to 22,000 acres.
Rancho Sausal-Redondo covered
the present communities of Lawndale, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Redondo
Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Hermosa Beach; and was initially an
unfenced grazing pasture for cattle. The land was fertile, but
extensive agricultural development had to await the coming of
Early incursions by the English
based on the voyage of Sir Francis Drake and the Settlement of
Alta California by the Spanish preceded the final acquisition
of most of the Southwest by the United States. This expansion
to include all of California occurred with the treaty of Gaudalupe
Hidalgo in 1848.
Ten year after the death of Avila, Sausal-Redondo was sold by
his heirs at auction for the price of $29,550 to Scottish nobleman
Robert Burnett in 1868. So little interest was evidenced in this
auction, that Burnett was the sole bidder. Having previously acquired
Aquaje de la Centinela, he combined the total area into the Centinela
Ranch, thus reuniting the major area of the original land grant.
Clear title to the land did not occur until 1873, when a U.S.
District Court upheld Burnett's purchase against a suit filed
by a Avila heir, Thomas A. Sanchez. Burnett's residence was the
adobe ranch house now known as the "Centinela Adobe"
Burnett's advent marked the
end of Cattle grazing, since he specialized in sheep. Burnett
also made extensive developments in both orchards and barley.
This dry-farming deemed to be the result of limited water for
Having leased Centinela Ranch
to Daniel and Catherine Freeman, Burnett returned to Scotland
to accept the family title and estates in 1876. The Freeman’s
paid an annual rental of $7,500 with the option to purchase the
ranch for $150,000. Daniel Freeman became the manager of Centinela
Ranch and continued to raise sheep, and also planted several thousand
citrus, almond, olive and eucalyptus trees. The two year drought
of 1875-76 caused Freeman to lose over half his sheep while driving
the herds into the mountains for adequate water. Freeman gambled
with further dry farming by planting additional barley. Phasing
out the Sheep, he increased the barley acreage, soon multiplying
the crop yield to 3,000,000 bushels a year. Other profitable crops
were also raised, and the barley was shipped as far as Liverpool
Freeman made the Ranch profitable,
even though the annual rainfall was only three to four inches.
It is felt that this was possibly the first prolonged success
in large scale dry farming in California.
Freeman's involvement in early real estate subdivisions was marked
by a short boom; with little long range success. The Ranch was
primarily left intact into the 1880's; but subdivision did not
mark the end of farming or grazing, as the census figures indicate
that a majority of the new property owners engaged in farming,
as well as the keeping of sheep or poultry.
Following the real estate boom in the Inglewood area, similar
development began in the southern portion of the old Rancho, where
the present City of Lawndale is located. This activity was the
direct result of the opening of a seaport at Redondo in 1890,
and the railroad service developing between Port Redondo and Los
Angeles. Steam trains were soon replaced by electric trolley cars.
The year 1902 marked the Los Angeles and Redondo railways arrival
in Lawndale along what is now Hawthorne Boulevard; the line extended
south from Inglewood along what was then called Railroad Avenue.
The electric train was an olive green when it first served Lawndale.
The color changed to red in 1911 when the parent company, Pacific
Electric, absorbed the Los Angeles and Redondo.
The early reliance on the
Pacific Electric stimulated growth throughout Southern California
and was the result of Henry Huntington's master real estate plan.
Huntington and his partners also acquired and transported inexpensive
water into the area to fully support the growing population and
continued backyard poultry farming. The die was cast for the Community
that was to become Lawndale with the water and rail transit that
stimulated growth in the Centinela Valley.
The town of Lawndale was founded in March of 1905 by real estate
developer, Charles B. Hopper. After a lack of initial sales, Mr.
Hopper planned another “Opening Day” for Lawndale
on February 25, 1906 which drew the first settlers. In May of
1906 another subdivision opened just east of the first one and
was named “Lawndale Acres.” And a second Lawndale
Acres located just south of the first one was surveyed in November
of 1910. By the time the 1910 U.S. census was taken there were
142 residents living in Lawndale.
Agriculture continued to predominate in Lawndale, with crops,
sheep, and poultry being raised. The farms were small, and their
products composed a secondary income for their owners. Lawndale's
first school opened in 1906 in the Lawndale Congregational Church
with 19 pupils. The Church unfortunately no longer exists.
The Lawndale community fair originated in 1918, and continued
for the next five years. As an unincorporated area, Lawndale still
possessed community identification and a cohesiveness that foretold
the future establishments for the City of Lawndale.
Oil Boom - Bust
Oil discoveries in the 1920's created major commercial activity
and temporarily changed the face of the community. The boom reached
its peak between 1927 and 1929, and the influx of the oil workers
and typical boom real estate speculation rapidly declined as the
drilling subsided. During the oil period, Lawndale was easily
recognizable by the landscape of oil derrick construction. Lawndale
settled into the 1930's with three schools in the community, and
weathered, as did all America, the Great Depression.
The population of Lawndale
did not increase as rapidly during the war years of 1941 through
1945 as did adjoining communities. The major influx of people
occurred in the decade following the conclusion of World War II,
as Lawndale slowly lost its rural atmosphere. Post war veteran
housing and the construction of the Harbor Freeway caused major
growth. The advent of the personal automobile assisted in the
gradual dismantling of the Pacific Electric and all rail transportation
in the area. Lawndale's residential community transformation from
a rural community highlighted a rapid increase of daily auto traffic
through the community.
and Community Identification
Although major growth occurred after the conclusion of World War
II; the Civic Association, which was responsible for many community
improvements, was originally established in February of 1939.
This is considered to be one of major steps in the consolidation
of this community.
The Civic Association functioned much as a Municipal Advisor Committee
does in the present county structure, as a group to develop municipal
services. With the increasing population, the Civic Association's
tasks multiplied, and on April 6, 1945 August Reiss formed the
Businessman's Group within the Association for the purpose of
advertising the residential, commercial and industrial advantages
of Lawndale. Also created to formulate zoning policies for the
area, was a Special Zoning Committee of eight longtime residents
and local business proprietors.
Lawndale was still struggling with having a rural setting amidst
the rapid commercial growth and urbanization of the Centinela
Valley. Agriculture gradually declined until zoning restriction
official abolished it in January of 1958. Although Lawndale still
remained an unincorporated area, the legal notices of this period
did in fact refer to the "City of Lawndale". Incorporation
was a continued topic of discussion among the various civic leaders.
The formation of a city met with less than popular support at
first, because a new level of government was not viewed as necessary.
Fears of additional taxes motivated many of the residents to oppose
this particular issue.
Community leadership remained in the hands of the Civic Association;
and on March 3, 1948, the Businessman's Corp. incorporated as
the Lawndale Chamber of Commerce. The original Chamber group consisted
of eleven charter members. The Chamber, from its earliest years,
has been a mainstay in community affairs at all levels.
In the decade between the
incorporation of the Chamber of Commerce and the creation of the
City of Lawndale, the major advocate for the needs of the general
community was the Chamber. When the County government requested
what services were required by the citizenry, or approaches to
capital improvements, this organized voice assisted in focusing
input from all concerned individuals. A few highlights of this
decade include the final solution to flood control and street
improvements, improved county services, such as library service
and a local fire station, and major construction to promote the
identify of Lawndale.
The construction culminated in the
Dedication of the Lawndale Civic Center, which included a health
clinic for this general area, on March 23, 1957. With the Civic
Center area now dedicated, the desire for city hood accelerated
into the key year of 1959. The debt to the Chamber of Commerce
for their efforts in resisting the several annexation attempts
must be fully realized. Incorporation was the crowning event in
the years of community organizing ant the selfless work of many
individual who bore a pride in Lawndale. The major cause of these
annexation attempts was the desire of adjoining communities to
increase their tax base. It can be said that all the efforts to
identify Lawndale made it an attractive acquisition.
The incorporation of Lawndale
marked the end of a year and a half struggle with neighboring
communities as to acquisition of the businesses along Hawthorne
Boulevard, or the need to round out their boundaries. The concern
of one neighboring council man went so far as to champion legislation
aimed at preventing this and other incorporation's as fiscally
unsound. Although this threat went as far as Sacramento, the question
was finally resolved when the electorate voted three to one to
form the City of Lawndale as a general law city following the
Lakewood Plan. This plan provides contracting essential services
through established county agencies when economically sound.
Today Lawndale continues
to utilize County Fire, Sheriff, and Library services for the
community and has maintained its independence in other areas of
control. The Charter promise of 1959 of no City taxes has never
been altered due to this continuing process of responsible financial