Time Capsule Tuesday: Stanford Research Institute Study on City of Industry, 1957-1970, Part One

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In recent posts in the “Time Capsule Tuesday” series focusing on the creation of the 1971 General Plan and the Civic-Recreational-Industrial Plan, reference was made to a study on the city conducted by the Stanford Research Institute titled City of Industry: Its Economic Characteristics and Significance, 1957-1970.  The report, done by the Southern California Laboratories of the institute, located in South Pasadena, originally covered the period from the city’s incorporation in 1957 to 1963 and was published in 1964, but the findings were extended to the end of the decade for inclusion in the above-mentioned planning documents.

The document’s preface observed that the city “desires a comprehensive economic appraisal” as well as an understanding of “potential demand for industrial land” and the types of businesses that might move to the city.  While noting that growth was marked since the city’s establishment, there was “no quantitative measure” of its expansion and officials relied on “intuitive rather than empirical bases” for assessing its future.

The report also stated that the formation of an industrial city was, rather than politically motivated, done so for economic reasons and “defensive in nature.”  This latter was because of an intent “to prevent the encroachment of residential and light-commercial construction” as well as “a proposed annexation by some neighboring large city.”  In fact, the latter was something of an issue as mid-1950s “annexation wars” were in full swing in the eastern San Gabriel Valley with agricultural land being eyed by cities for residential, commercial and industrial development.


Yet, there were a quartet of other reasons for a specialized incorporated industrial city, relating to tailoring municipal services to those needs and at lower cost; tax benefits based on apportionment controlled by the state; the ability to issue bonds at higher ceilings than typically allowed in other cities; and tax advantages in selling, developing and financing developmnt “under the regulation of a friendly administration.”  It was also noted that, as opposed to typical cities in which business and industrial owners and developers had to contend with varying land uses and interests, this was not a barrier in an industrial city.

Yet, while there were plenty of examples of industrial parks or districts in cities and other entities, wholly industrial cities were then, and remain now, exceedingly unusual.  The report listed only a half-dozen.  Of these, Emeryville, California, which lies along San Francisco Bay adjacent to Berkeley and which was founded in 1896, has changed considerably in recent years in terms of having more residents.  Hercules, northeast of Emeryville, was essentially a “company town” for a gunpowder manufacturing company and it has evolved into a mixed-use community.

Teterboro, New Jersey was established in 1917 for the purpose of housing a regional airport, which it still does, though there is also a small industrial corridor.  Champ, Missouri, established in 1959, is a strange case.  It was created for a pipe dream: the building of a massive sports complex that was, among other pie-in-the-sky objectives, to host events for a proposed 1964 Olympic Games in nearby St. Louis.  Today, sixteen people remain in the mostly undeveloped city.


Other than the City of Industry, the last identified purely industrial community listed was Vernon, which many people confuse with Industry, though it is a half-century older.  Vernon, however, is definitely a precursor and represented the first movement of an industrial area in greater Los Angeles from the original downtown area adjacent to the Los Angeles River.  Notably, City of Commerce, incorporated in 1960, is not mentioned, because it had a residential component to it, as well as a major industrial element.

As to the report’s scope and purpose, these were identified as:

  • analyzing the City of Industry’s historical significance in the economies of the region and state;
  • outline industrial growth in the city in the last several years of the 1960s;
  • establish development guidelines for future growth;
  • look at the city’s future place in the region

Moreover, the examination of the city’s role was through the lens of a four-county region embracing those of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside, but not included were analyses of feasibility studies for the classification of industrial types or planning for architectural standards and engineering.


Material included in the document came from two surveys which went to about 75 realty firms specializing in industrial development and to each business in the City of Industry as of September 1963; information from a federal Census of Manufactures from 1958; a quartet of academics specializing in municipal government; interviews of about three dozen people in government, utilities, banks, the press, and other areas; and other documents, reports, and other gathered media.  It was noted that the reliability of the data depended on responses from those contacted, while respondents were assured they would not be identified individually.

As to the further sections of the report, they included

  • a conclusions and summary section;
  • the city’s history through 1963, focusing on trends of industrial development, economic structure, and land use;
  • major trends in the city through 1970; and
  • a comparison and contrast of the city with nearby areas, the region, and the state

Appendices included tabulations of supporting information and an explanation of the methods employed to get sample data from the surveys, as well as in how trends were developed.

Next week, we continue with a look at the summary and conclusions section of this important early document in the City of Industry’s history.

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