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Athens on the Hill

REDONDO WRedondo's history begins with the granting to Antonio Ignacio Avila by the Mexican Government of 22,458 acres of land on May 20, 1837. After Mexico lost control of the upper California area, the United States government recognized the validity of the Mexican grant and issued letters patent to Avila on March 2, 1875. The land was later acquired by Sir Robert Burnett of Crathe's Castle, Scotland. Mr. Daniel Freeman leased the land from him and operated it for a few years, then purchased it outright.

WIn the great boom of 1887 the townsite was purchased by the real estate firm of Vail & Freeman who began the sale of lots in the town which was named "Redondo" -- "round" in Spanish -- the name perhaps being inspired by the shape of the shoreline, or, equally plausible, from the shape of the street network, laid out in gentle curves meeting in an oval in the center. East and west streets were named alphabetically for precious stones (Agate, Beryl, Carnelian, Diamond, etc.) and north-south streets were named for the women of the Dominquez family (Alameda, Benita, Catalina, Dominguez, Elena, Francisca, etc.). Vail & Freeman sold out to Thompson & Ainsworth in 1888.

WCaptain J. C. Ainsworth and R. R. Thompson of Portland, Oregon, operated a fleet of steamers on the Columbia River and down the coast. Seeking a port in the Los Angeles area, they decided upon Redondo, due to the deep water extending so close to shore that a wharf of modest length would permit steamers to tie up alongside. Immediate steps were taken to develop Redondo as a port. The first wharf was built in 1890 -- a modest affair only 1200 feet in length, but the nucleus of the port. By short-hauling San Pedro, hitherto the only port for Los Angeles, Redondo caused so much tonnage to be diverted from the Southern Pacific that the octopus of the west was forced to spend a million dollars in building Port Los Angeles, north of Santa Monica Canyon.

WIn 1889, Hotel Redondo was constructed, the elegant structure being known as "The Queen of the Pacific," and ranking among the leading resort hotels of the Pacific Coast. Then in 1890, Ainsworth and Thompson brought about a narrow gauge railway to Los Angeles, which with the Santa Fe's Redondo branch furnished the townsite with excellent railroad facilities.

WUnder the impetus of Ainsworth & Thompson, Redondo Beach began to grow. A small business section sprang up adjacent to the wharf, a small railroad yard was built and cottages began to dot the sloping hillside above the waterfront.

WThe harbor grew in importance as years went by. A second wharf was built in 1894 and a third in 1903. Electrification of LA&R in 1902 brought a new wave of settlers and the purchase of the townsite and the LA&R by Huntington in 1905 set off a boom unparalleled by any other beach town in the southern California area. The magic name of Huntington caused the town to erupt on all sides. Many improvements were made, the chief among them being the string of large and impressive buildings along the waterfront: a $60,000 pavilion and a new casino costing $30,000 were built in 1907; the great plunge, costing $200,000 and having the largest indoor salt water pool in the world opened on July 1, 1909. But the greatest of all the Huntington projects was the steam power plant of the Pacific Light & Power Company, costing $1,250,000 for the first unit alone. Add to these expenditures about a million dollars' worth of improvements for the LA&R, paving, curbing and installing utilities in the Cliffton area -- about $250,000 -- and the general advance in land value (estimated at $2,000,000) due to Huntington's coming and one can readily perceive that Redondo had indeed graduated into city status.

WThe Huntington era ended January 1, 1911 when Huntington transferred his interests in the waterfront, wharves and railway to the Southern Pacific, retaining his real estate properties. The Redondo "Breeze" summed it up pretty well on September 3, 1910, when it editorialized: "Henry E. Huntington has done much for Redondo Beach. He took over control of the various interests here at a time when things were at their lowest ebb. His advent witnessed the most phenomenal boom known to California history. Through his influence many millions of dollars have been spent in improvements. What Mr. Huntington has done for Redondo Beach will stand as a monument to his greatness in the years to come."

WPopulation-wise, Redondo grew like this: 1890: 668; 1900: 855; 1910: 2935; 1920: 4900; 1930: 9375.

WRedondo lost out to San Pedro in the famous harbor fight and gradually fell back in commercial importance, San Pedro becoming the one big port for Los Angeles. The heavy storms weakened the wharves and they were removed -- No. One in 1915, No. Two in 1916 and No. Three in 1926.

WPE operated rail service into Redondo until 1940 when motor coaches were substituted on the LAP route via Playa del Rey & Hermosa; the old LA&R route got no replacement, and at least one high PE official of that period has gone on record as stating the company "felt mighty fortunate in not being forced to provide bus service to Redondo via Gardena."

WToday Redondo thrives, although the rail network which once was its source of commercial importance has completely disappeared save for a stub line from the Santa Fe's harbor line. Even the old steam plant has been torn down and on its site has arisen one of the largest modern steam turbine installations of the Edison Company. As a port, Redondo today is noted for pleasure boating and fishing, with a new breakwater being constructed (1956) to protect these small craft from the storms of winter.

INGLEWOOD WThe first white men to use the Inglewood area were citizens of the pueblo of Los Angeles who from the earliest days found it to be fine pasture land for their cattle. This is disclosed in the records of the proceedings of the United States Land Commission which passed upon land claims in the early 1850s. These and later records contain the story of the Avila and Machado families who first claimed the land of Inglewood as private property, planting the first vineyards, cornfields, and fruit trees -- and building the first homes. They tell of the later owners, the coming of Daniel Freeman, and then the launching of a brand new town in the late 1880s.

WIn 1887 the Centinela-Inglewood Land Co. was organized. Among its seven directors and organizers was L. T. Garnsey, later the president of the LA&R. Purchasing a large acreage from Daniel Freeman, the corporation founded a new town, "Inglewood," the name suggested, some say, by Inglewood in Canada, others by Englewood near Chicago. During August and September, 1887, surveyors laid out the new town, keeping it close to the source of water, the Centinela Springs.

WWith the completion of the Santa Fe's line to Port Ballona (with a branch to Redondo Beach) in May, 1887, by a predecessor company, there was nothing to stop the boom plans for the new city. A lumber company's ad in the first issue of the Inglewood Star on April 21, 1888 read in part: "A million and a half feet of lumber will be delivered at Inglewood at once. 4,500,000 feet more coming. Lumber will be sold at cost to all who build...fifty new buildings going up inside of thirty days."

WBuildings sprang up at once, including a large frame hotel, without which no boom town in the '80s was complete. For its opening, a special night train was chartered to carry invited guests from Los Angeles. Eleven miles of water pipe were laid, and there were grocery stores, a drug store, a butcher shop, a brick yard, a planing mill and ambitious plans for the Freeman College of Applied Sciences. The latter never materialized, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Inglewoodites; a few years later they refused a chance to get Occidental College to their later unbounded regret.

WInglewood survived the depression which followed the great boom. It grew slowly in the '90s, and began diversifying its industries: poultry raising came to the fore; Inglewood became an outstanding center of poultry raisers and chickens were so important that when one valuable bird was killed by a dog one day, a city pound was established almost over night.

WWhen LA&R came to Inglewood in 1902, the town had a population of but 500. By 1906 it had doubled and in 1908 reached 1,200. The first effort to incorporate came in 1907 and was unsuccessful, but the next year the proposition was resubmitted and carried. In just six years Inglewood had made much more progress than in the preceding fifteen, and most of the credit for this accelerated growth must go to the LA&R. The green cars provided frequent, economical transportation to the city on the one hand and to the shore on the other, as well as making available quick, frequent freight service by means of which merchants were able to replenish their shelves and farmers were able to send off their produce.

WAfter the Great Merger, Inglewood became a LARY area, and yellow cars of the "5" and "E" lines served it faithfully until May 22, 1955 when the line was converted to busses. Today Inglewood is a city of nearly 60,000; in its trading area live 250,000 consumers. It is the western terminus of the nation's major air lines and is an important manufacturing and retail center.

HAWTHORNE WThree miles south of Inglewood and 3.5 miles north of Belvidere is Hawthorne. Hawthorne was started in 1906 by the real estate firm of Harding & Lombard. It had as its most outstanding selling point its excellent electric railway transportation, superb for both passengers & freight.

WThe settlement of Hawthorne grew slowly and steadily, but was never the performer Inglewood was insofar as attracting new residents. For many years Hawthorne's chief pursuit was farming.

WOn July 12, 1922, Hawthorne was finally incorporated. Its greatest boost came in 1939 when the Northrop Aircraft Company built its plant there, and since then the city has grown rapidly. Its last population count (1954) revealed 29,000 persons.

HYDE PARK WMr. O. V. Blackburn, a pioneer of Hyde Park, recalls that the little city was laid out in 1888. It was bounded by 60th St. on the north, Florence Ave. on the south, 8th Ave. on the east and West Blvd. (Walnut St. formerly) on the west. It was an agricultural community and grew fairly rapidly after LA&R built through on Angeles Mesa Drive. Hyde Park was independent until 1923, when it became part of Los Angeles. Unusually large lots, 60 x 190, are a characteristic.

LAWNDALE WThis subdivision, located midway between Hawthorne and Belvidere, opened June 17, 1906. Its subdividers featured free excursions via LA&R to the tract. Lots sold extremely cheaply; in fact, a half acre in Lawndale was advertised for $250 -- $25 down and $10 a month.

BELVIDERE W"Queen of the Southwest." 1906 ads proclaimed Belvidere "combines every pleasing home feature. It is served by three car lines. Only a few miles from Redondo where vast sums are being spent in public improvements. It is right in the track of the fastest development and value advance today. Its climate is ideal. Every lot has a fruit or a nut tree. There are graded streets and fine water. Take any LA&R car at Second & Spring for a free excursion to Belvidere."

WOne unusual feature, even for 1906, was the solid hedge of cypress trees surrounding Belvidere. However, this town did not grow rapidly. As years passed, it settled deeper into slumber. Only in the postwar years has El Nido become the rapidly growing community it was supposed to be fifty years ago. A multi-million dollar shopping center is rising directly on the old LA&R right of way near Culler, while at El Nido a brand new park is being built by the county on the site of the old cemetery, alongside the Belvidere substation building, now the First Baptist Church of El Nido.

GARDENA WGardena began back in 1887 when the old McDonald Ranch of 800 acres was subdivided by the real estate firm of Pomeroy & Harrison. The ranch buildings stood at what is today the intersection of Figueroa & 161st St., and the townsite was laid out with its center at this location. It was then expected that the Redondo Railway would come south on Figueroa St.

WThe McDonald Ranch was originally part of the Rosecrans lands. General William S. Rosecrans, famous Civil War Union general, came to Southern California in 1869 and purchased the land bounded today by Florence Ave. on the north, Central Ave. on the east, Redondo Beach Blvd. on the south and Arlington Ave. on the west. Rosecrans got this land for but $2.50 per acre. The general retired in 1893 and died in 1898, but his name lives on today in this area.

WGardena got its name from "Garden Spot," because of the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel which in summer cut a green swath across the barren brown landscape, an oasis between Los Angeles and the harbor. This lake was a favorite outing spot, and gave good fishing and boating to vacationers up to 1924, when it was finally drained. It was fresh water, and it drained into the slough near San Pedro.

WWhen the Redondo Railway came south, it did not follow the logical route, Figueroa St., but instead came down Vermont Avenue. It turned westward at 166th St., and so it transpired that the infant town of Gardena picked itself up bodily and moved from 161st & Figueroa to 166th & Vermont, where its center remains to this day.

WThe original subdividers provided lots of generous size: a few were ten acres, but most were double that size. When the Redondo Railway opened on April 11, 1890, Gardena's future was secure. Three trains daily passed through the town in either direction; northbound trains left Gardena at 8:10, 11:10 and 4:25, southbound at 9:20, 1:20 and 5:20. Sundays saw the service doubled.

WPlenty of water was available in the area, so farming soon became the most important pursuit, replacing the flocks of sheep which once covered the land. One of the main crops was tomatoes, while a large amount of milk and other dairy products was produced. But the berries occupied the center of the stage -- strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. These were grown in such numbers that the Gardena section became the berry capital of Southern California. It was known as "Berryland," and huge shipments left Gardena and nearby towns daily. It is said that for several years the Hotel Redondo purchased the entire output of berries -- all the farmers could grow -- for its tables. An outstanding event each May was the Strawberry Day Festival and parade. LA&R and PE gave wide publicity to this celebration, and huge crowds rode down to witness the gay fete. A box of strawberries was given free to each and every visitor. Other important crops were alfalfa and barley.

WStrawberry Park grew up just north of Gardena. It was part of the Amestoy Rancho, which in turn was created from lands purchased from General Rosecrans. Domingo Amestoy bought his land in the early '70s for $50 an acre. He lived there for about forty years, and sold his entire ranch in the California-Pacific railroad boom, 1901, for $125 per acre. Now the land is worth upwards of $3,000 per acre!

WWorld War I brought an end to the berry industry, as the land was devoted to crops more necessary to the general welfare. It never returned, for after the war Gardena had grown to cover much of the former farm area.

WLA&R and later PE served Gardena well, but in 1937 PE put on a determined campaign for buses, proclaiming them to be modern, fast and comfortable, as well as cheaper to operate. But when it was revealed that bus trips would take longer, would be reduced to 12 daily instead of 20 cars, and fares would not be appreciably lower, a storm of protest arose and the proposition was put on the shelf. PE abandoned rail passenger service through Gardena on January 14, 1940 and the following day the Gardena Municipal Bus and the Torrance Municipal Bus lines commenced operation to Los Angeles, continuing to this day.

WGardena's sole rail contact with the outside world is by means of the former Moneta Division of LA&R. Diesel freights daily pass through the heart of Gardena, although the engines now bear "Southern Pacific" on their flanks.

CLIFFTON-BY-THE-SEA WCliffton-By-The-Sea was located about two miles south of Redondo, on a high bluff overlooking the sea. It was a Huntington real estate enterprise, handled for him by W. M. Garland & Company. Cliffton opened on July 7, 1906, shortly after the main line of the LA&R was extended to the site. After that date, every LA&R car terminated at Cliffton.

WCliffton-By-The-Sea was envisioned as a strictly high class development: no flats, apartments, shacks or business blocks were permitted. Its 125 acres, so contemporary publicity proclaimed, were "The Newport of the West -- two miles of the most fascinating marine view on the Pacific.... WFrom the Grand Esplanade on the brow of the bluff overlooking the sea, back some three blocks, lies this real Newport of the West.... There are now $300,000 worth of improvements being installed.... If you decide that Cliffton is not the finest site for your ocean home, please call at our office on the tract and we will refund your fare immediately.... Take car at 2nd & Spring; cars leave every twenty minutes; get off at Cliffton, terminal of the road. All LA&R cars land you at wonderful Cliffton-By-The-Sea.

WMany imposing homes were constructed at the Newport of the West, including an especially impressive one by Huntington.

ATHENS ON THE HILL W"Back from the sea on an elevation, like the old Grecian Athens. To be made representative of all that beauty and refinement for which the ancient Athens stands. Nine miles of hundred foot boulevards, parkways in the center of each. Elevation, 300 feet. Cool sea breezes every day in summer, warm and frostless in winter. The City on the Hill.

W"No place for a home, within striking distance of Los Angeles, that equals Athens On The Hill. South of Los Angeles, on the only elevation between the city and San Pedro, Athens On The Hill is rapidly becoming the most perfect suburban city of Southern California. Throughout, the splendid conception of its originators, to make the new Athens like the Athens of old, is apparent: every advantage is taken of natural contours in this sweeping hill district to make it one beautiful, harmonious whole.

W"The city is laid out in curves and squares as the slope of the land requires, ensuring a magnificent outlook from every home. Glorious views from every point in Athens, to seaward and Catalina; north overlooking the city and on to the mountains; west to the San Jacinto mountains, 125 miles away. See Athens by taking Redondo cars, 2nd & Spring, or San Pedro cars at 3rd & Hill; free tickets at any tract office. Two car lines now pass directly through Athens. A third fast line is now building, guaranteeing 20-minute service to 6th & Main."

WThe above was an advertisement appearing in the Los Angeles "Times" on June 16, 1906. Unfortunately, Athens On The Hill proved at best to be a lukewarm success; it built up much slower than the typical Los Angeles area communities and not until recent years when the intervening open spaces were settled has Athens prospered in a modest way. It is now part of the city of Los Angeles and the open spaces between it and Los Angeles of old are now built up solidly.

Edited by Ira L. Swett, January 30, 1957, Associate Editor Lazear Isreal, converted to web format by Pete Betz, 1998 & John Heller, August 7, 1996

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