by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The incorporation of the City of Industry in June 1957, which is the subject of a 60th anniversary celebration by the City, came during a time of rapid change in greater Los Angeles. Two major factors had a great deal to do with the creation and development of the city.
For one, it was another in a long line of boom periods in the region, the first dating back to the 1860s and early 1870s, when William Workman and his partner John Rowland owned Rancho La Puente, through which much of the city runs today. The post-World War II period included a huge growth in population, especially in the suburbs, and dramatic economic growth in many areas, including industrial development.
Then, there was the aggressive annexation conducted by competing cities during the 1950s. As old ranch and farmland gave way to housing tracts, shopping centers, schools, church and other elements of the spread of suburbia, ambitious cities vigorously pushed their boundaries outward. The particularly savvy ones looked to the newly developing system of interstate and local freeways as critical to their future development.
In the La Puente Valley, huge areas formerly with the old rancho and still used for agriculture until the World War II period and afterward were anxiously and eagerly sought for by older and newer municipalities.
West Covina, for example, formed in 1923 added significant amounts of territory during the postwar era. The figures who founded the City of Industry, such as hay and feed merchant James Stafford, were also very aggressive in their efforts to absorb what they could of undeveloped ranch and farm land for the city.
By contrast, the 1880s boom towns of Covina and Puente were left behind and essentially “land-locked” when it came to taking into account the existing and future freeways and the role that proximity to them would have in their economic viability.
Being entirely devoted to industry, the City obviously was completely different than the others in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, but it was not unique or original in being that way. The development of industrial areas had several phases, the first beginning in a very small way in downtown Los Angeles, specifically south and east of the historic core and to the west of the Los Angeles River. Then, as that industrial area grew dramatically and reached its limits of expansion in the first few decades of the 20th century, a new phase ensued.
Just to the southeast of the Los Angeles city limits, the City of Vernon was founded in 1905 and claims to be “the first exclusively industrial city in the Southwestern United States.” Spanning both sides of the Los Angeles River in a 5.2 square mile area, Vernon had just 112 persons in the 2010 federal census making it the smallest incorporated city in terms of population in the state.
East of Vernon, another area was developing as an industrial section by the 1920s as automobile, tire and other heavy manufacturing came to locations generally known as Laguna, Bandini and others. Larger than Vernon, at about 6.5 square miles, the section was east of the Los Angeles River, but along the old U.S. Highway 99 that was the main route out of Los Angeles to the south and it was located along major rail routes, as well. Incorporation didn’t come until 1960, when annexation pressures came from Vernon and Los Angeles, but the new city was appropriately called City of Commerce. It does, however, have nearly 13,000 people, so it is not exclusively, though it is largely, industrial and commercial.
In the same phase of industrial development that led to the formation of City of Industry, another San Gabriel Valley location that was primarly industrial was created. Because of its location at the base of the San Gabriel River and along the river of the same name and due to the huge amounts of granitic rock and sand deposited by the river, it was the sand and gravel business that first defined this area’s economic environment. It, too, was situated along future freeways, specifically Interstate 605, but it was also between interstates 10 and 210. Less than two months after the incorporation of Industry, in August 1957, Irwindale was incorporated.
While heavy industry has largely given way to light manufacturing and, especially, warehousing, the next phase of industrial development went further east into such places as Chino and Ontario. Who knows where the next domain, if there is one, of industrial cities may be?
Over a half century ago, however, the City of Industry was the edge of the industrial frontier. About 1964, a group calling itself the City of Industry League and perhaps a precursor to the Industry Manufacturers Council, which promotes the city, issued a publication “Grow, Grow, Grow with the City of Industry.”
Like “booster” publications of all types and stripes, this one sought to entice businesses, especially manufacturers to Industry, which was only several years old and had lots of room for expansion. And, typically, “Grow, Grow, Grow” highlighted infrastructure, amenities, and connections with rapidly developing suburban communities to promote the city to prospective resident companies. There was a short history section that noted Workman and Rowland’s ownership of Rancho La Puente.
At the time, the sky did seem to be the limit. No country in the history of the world had enjoyed the skyrocketing prosperity and economic power that the United States did in the nearly two decades since World War II and Los Angeles County grew more dramatically than almost anywhere in America. The young City of Industry was developed in the context of that period and with growing, diversified transportation routes, population exploding in new suburban areas around the city, and manufacturing at a peak, the future could have seemed limitless.
The next couple of posts will look at some of these highlighted elements of the publication, so check back on upcoming Tuesdays for more!