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location will lend knowledge to the present and the future. As a citizen of any region understanding the how and why of historical reflections upon the landscape of a city or town is crucial for a holistic view of the culture, economy and even of that town landscape. Without this knowledge decisions made by an individual can seem to lack in depth and purpose. The history of California, it's place within the union of the United States and also it's pre-union history is not only fascinating but it is also poignant when used to reflect upon current circumstances, be they positive or perceptually negative.
One city's history lends particular interest to this theory in all aspects of culture, economy, and landscape. The city of Downey California has a substantial pre-1900 history and is also home to three firsts, which have become international symbols of American culture and ingenuity. "We are home to where the Apollo Space Program began its journey to the stars. Downey is where you can find the world's oldest McDonalds restaurant and the site of the first Taco Bell eatery. The Downey legacy has much to say about the current success of the area. California and even the entire country, maybe even the whole world have been influenced by the successes and circumstances of the place.
Downey California has a relatively long tradition of European settlement as the original town site of Downey is included in the jurisdiction of the San Gabriel Mission, one of ten outposts established along the west coast by Spain to aide in trade in her colonial regions. So, the areas oldest regional inhabitants were Spanish traders, trappers and indigenous settlers. The next set of people to live within the area later to become the town site of Downey were ranchero workers and owners, who moved cattle over the region grazing and establishing small shared improvements.
Part of the lands under the jurisdiction of the San Gabriel Mission, established in 1771, was the Los Nietos Grant. Juan Nieto, an ex-solder, was granted provisional use, in 1784, of 300,000 acres of prime Southern California ranch land."
After the death of Juan Nieto the region was divided yet again.
In 1834, after the division among the Nieto heirs, a portion of this grant, between the banks of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers, became the Rancho Santa Gertrudes. In 1873, a 96-acre parcel of Rancho Santa Gertrudes became the central district of a community called "Downey City."
The name, foundation and legacy of Downey can be associated with one of the earliest California tycoons, eventually to become one of California's most notable governors.
John Downey and his associates were officially assessed on the tax roll of October 23, 1873, for a parcel of land within the Rancho Santa Gertrudes. The property was called the "Tract of the Downey Land Association." This land, consisting of 96 acres, was valued at $2,940 with improvements of $330. It was located ten miles from the sea and ten miles from Los Angeles.
Downey City was named for California's civil war governor John G. Downey, an immigrant from Ireland who was also the president of the land company that controlled the land of the town site. Downey was one of the first to advocate the redistricting of land from open agriculture to specific closed farm sites.
The traditional lay of the land changed dramatically with the enclosure that was begun in the time of John Downey's regional control of the area.
In many ways the legacy of the towns namesake is linked with all the economic and regional advances that have taken place within the Downey area. The area is closely associated the advances of agriculture and economy.
John Gately Downey, an Irish-born druggist, reached the governor's chair in 1859, the first Southern Californian to do so... Downey plunged himself into a diversity of enterprises: his drugstore, land (Warner's Ranch and the Santa Gertrudis Rancho, which he subdivided and where he established the town of Downey), real property (the Downey Block on Temple and Spring streets), and banking (founding president of Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles, established in 1871).
With both business and cultural advances in mind John Downey also developed many other regional improvements.
He promoted public improvements: a railroad connection with San Francisco, horse-drawn streetcars for Los Angeles (this in 1873), a public library system, the chamber of commerce, the University of Southern California, a historical society.
The foundation of Downey would have been lost without the entrepreneurial spirit of John Downey and his contemporaries.
Downey incorporated two small communities that had been founded by the regions farmers. Many of these small centers had independent schools, churches and stores but were small enough that they were often all located in one multi-use building called a town hall. Two of these farm communities were incorporated into Downey and now form another large portion of the towns land. Gallatin and College Settlement are two of the most notable of these small-incorporated communities.
The early lives of the farmers and businessmen of the region was markedly hard. Most of them, together with their families lived in what was not so affectionately referred to as a California Box House, described below:
The typical Downey home in the 1870s was built entirely of unsurfaced knotty wood. Pieces of tin were nailed over the knotholes. Battens covered the gaps between the boards making the houses more livable. Most were whitewashed inside and out and in various stages of repair. These California "box houses" had an average of two main rooms and a lean-to open-air kitchen. Windows were closed with wooden shutters to keep out the wind and rain.
One of the testaments to the strong cultural ties the city of Downey has to its rough past is the preservation of one of these sparse homes. "One example in this early tradition is the Dismukes home, which has been preserved at Apollo Park by the Downey Historical Society." The lives of these settlers were lacking in many luxuries but their history has now become a part of the cultural legacy of the western United States.
Still further the lives of these early residents mark the beginning of agricultural commercial trade as the outlying regions, those outside the much larger cities, became the central provider for the growing state. Downey is known as a central region for the production of many commodity crops. The growth of the produce trade became even more substantial after the establishment of the railroad. "...on April 15, 1874, the first train reach Downey when the Southern Pacific Railroad began its run between Los Angeles and San Diego." Additionally, Downey was known as a center for one of a few industries that was dominated by women, poultry farming.
Poultry raising, an industry largely conducted by women, experienced tremendous growth as the railroad furnished access to greater markets. The firm of Baruch & Lowe shipped as many as eight hundred dozen eggs a week to San Francisco alone, having a standing order for two hundred dozen per week.
The numbers seem substantial even to the modern reader and the money that was earned from these and other industries contributed heavily to the growth of the town and it's businesses. Though, to a large degree agriculture has taken a step back as the town's inhabitants most substantial industry the foundation of the local landscape would not have happened without it. "By the turn-of-the-century, Downey was the undisputed center of the business and social life of the area. Downtown now contained a Sunkist packing plant, a department store, banks, restaurants and mercantile shops."
The community of Downey was affected greatly by the Depression, just as so many other towns, though local industry was still very small in the 1930s, according to John Adams, owner and columnist for the Downey Eagle. The main changes that occurred were associated with farm pricing and unemployment. According to Adams the lasting legacy of the depression was the desire of the small community to pull together and help those in need. Adams quotes from a much older newspaper than his own, "Individuals knowing of any families here, especially those in which there are little children, who by reason of unemployment are destitute, are requested to file such information at the office of the Chamber of Commerce, 232 North Crawford St." In addition Adams notes that the local Elementary School and several bridges were build by Roosevelt's Work Project Administration.
Another thing that changed the landscape of Downey forever was the move from agriculture to industry at the close of WWII. "Downey remained largely agrarian until the development of the local aircraft industry during the post-World War II years, with light industry and tract homes replacing orange groves. The city was one of the first suburban "planned communities" with quality homes, schools and retail centers." This early aircraft industry set the stage for the establishment of a partnership with NASA. Eventually NASA would center much of…[continue]
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