The 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.

Rancho Era
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 later settlers.

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.

The Burnett-Freeman Era
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" in Inglewood.

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 irrigation.
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 and London.

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.

Lawndale's Beginning
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.

The Commuter Farmers
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 and Depression
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.

Civic Association 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.

Lawndale Blossoms
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 policy.

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