by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As greater Los Angeles experienced its first significant and sustained period of growth and development during the late 1860s through mid 1870s, one of the many townsites subdivided and put up for sale was Centinela. The company that created the project featured F.P.F. Temple as its president and the site was on the ranchos Aguaje de la Centinela and Sausal Redondo, close to the coast southwest of Los Angeles.
Robert Burnett, a Scottish nobleman, acquired the Aguaje de la Centinela in 1860 from lawyer and Democratic Party mastermind Joseph Lancaster Brent and added the Sausal Redondo to his holdings eight years later. When Burnett, who was interested in raising fine sheep on his ranchos, returned to Scotland, he leased the properties to Catherine Freeman, who came to Los Angeles with her husband, Daniel, from Canada.
After Catherine’s death in 1874, Daniel, who’d acquired the ranches from Burnett joined forces with Temple and other investors to launch the Centinela project. A good deal of promotion was put forth in the press and sales of lots took place early the following year, apparently to some success. As was often the case with these subdivisions, there were promises of amenities that would assure the growth of the community. One example was a projected Los Angeles and Pacific Railroad, which was to run to the sea at the Ballona wetlands.
Several months after the Centinela sales were held, however, the state’s biggest bank, San Francisco’s Bank of California, collapsed when a stock bubble involving silver mines in Virginia City, Nevada burst. The telegraph furiously cabled the news south and a panic broke out in the City of Angels.
The Temple and Workman bank went into suspension until, four months later, a loan with Elias J. “Lucky”Baldwin was made “on rather hard terms,” as F.P.F. Temple put in to his partner and father-in-law, William Workman. Though the bank reopened in early December 1875, it’s revival was short-lived and the institution shut its doors after a little more than a month.
With the failure of the bank and the decade-long slump in the regional economy, Centinela faded away. Temple and Workman were part-owners of hills in that area that Baldwin took over when he foreclosed on the bank loan in 1879 and the Baldwin Hills not only bore his name but yielded a fortune for his daughters when oil was found there after the tycoon’s death (this remarkable circumstance was duplicated at the Montebello Hills, also formerly owned by Temple.)
Freeman continued to own the Centinela and Sausal Redondo ranchos and, in addition to sheep raising, was said to have been the first large-scale wheat farmer in the region (though William Workman had 5,000 acres devoted to the crop at La Puente). Then, came another opportunity to develop his ranchos.
In 1885, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built a direct transcontinental line to Los Angeles and this was a major factor in the Boom of the 1880s that erupted shortly afterward. Making the earlier growth period seem like an insignificant spurt, this boom peaked in 1887 and 1888, which happened the be the two-year of term of Los Angeles Mayor William H. Workman, nephew of the Homestead’s long-time owner.
Among the many communities to emerge during the boom years was Inglewood, which was developed at the same time and largely by the same syndicate that put together Redondo Beach. Readers of recent posts on this blog will remember the name of Charles Silent, a Supreme Court justice in Arizona Territory, who came to Los Angeles in the mid-1880s and became a lawyer and prominent real estate promoter (including Chester Place, named for his son), as well as the owner of a ranch in Glendora that was famed for its beautiful landscaping.
One of Silent’s partners (!) from Arizona, Nathan Vail, who owned enormous tracts of land in the American Southwest, was invested in Inglewood and Redondo Beach, as were former state senator Leonard J. Rose, whose Rosemead was a highly productive ranch in the San Gabriel Valley; William N. Monroe, founder of another 1880s boomtown, Monrovia; former members of Congress and Silent’s law partner, Sherman O. Houghton; Abram Pomeroy, developer, in 1885, of the townsite of Puente, as well as of Pismo Beach; and Marion M. Bovard, a Methodist pastor and first president of the University of Southern California, which was established in 1880 as a Methodist-affiliated institution.
By summer 1887, newspaper ads began to appear promoting the subdivision of Centinela and Sausal Redondo, with 10,000 acres to be soon placed on sale and the new town of Inglewood mentioned. That August, it was reported in the Los Angeles Herald that the Santa Fe was building a new line from Los Angeles through the new town to “a new sea-side resort” to be called “Beach Place.”
A five-mile drive on a new road of 150 feet width and with a border of tropical trees was to run to Inglewood from the end of Figueroa Street and this appears to be Manchester Avenue (apparently named for George O. Manchester, the new president of the California Southern Railroad, a Santa Fe subsidiary.) As for that resort, the paper stated “it will combine all the attractions of Coronado Beach [near San Diego] and Del Monte [Monterey].”
As Inglewood was in the early stages of development, its promoters came up with some novel ideas for drawing attention and settlement in a highly competitive real estate environment. For example, when the federal government was seeking a site for a National Soldiers Home, a number of proposals were received, including 160 acres in modern Yorba Linda, Placentia and Brea; 400 acres near El Monte; a few sites west of Los Angeles; a location near Santa Monica, with land offered by its developers, Nevada Senator John P. Jones and Colonel Robert M. Baker; and a tract in Inglewood. Despite much wooing by the owners of the latter, the proposal of Baker and Jones won out and the site is still a V.A. property.
Then, with Marion Bovard a director of the syndicate that established Inglewood, it became a given that some affiliation with U.S.C. would develop. What transpired was the creation of the Freeman College of Applied Sciences, with its namesake committing $200,000 towards it construction and major contributions from Silent and Vail. U.S.C. had other satellite facilities in the works, including Maclay College of Theology in San Fernando, and others proposed for Glendora (because of Silent’s involvement), Montalvo in Ventura County, and a site near Los Angeles. Although construction commenced for a large brick structure in Inglewood, it was never completed.
When Judge Silent was in Arizona, it was rumored that he was in too tight when it came to conflicts of interest with Governor John C. Frémont, whose prominent, colorful and controversial career included many questionable actions, whether it be his conduct during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, or the administration of Arizona.
When Inglewood was being created, however, it looks like Silent reached out to Frémont, who in his declining years, decided to move from New York City to Los Angeles. A Christmas 1887 gift was an offer of land to “The Pathfinder,” who was nearly always in financial difficulties. Frémont wrote to the syndicate to express his gratitude, stating, “I have been sincerely gratified with an offer which I accepted . . . and have decided to make there my permanent home.” He added:
It is more than forty years since I came down from the winter of the mountains into the land of sunshine and flowers, and resolved then to make here a home. But until now I have failed to carry out fully my intentions. This time I have definitely planted my stakes and will remain here and take part in the new development of Southern California.
Frémont’s adoring and ever-faithful wife, Jessie, the daughter of powerful Missouri Senator Thomas H, Benton, also formed a rare company run entirely by women: the Inglewood and Los Angeles Floral Company, which had 80 acres for a nursery in the new community. When asked for comment about Inglewood, she stated to the Herald: “If I should write East an actual account of its growth and advantages, I am afraid I should be regarded as a boomer.”
At the end of 1887, a large swath of Inglewood property was sold, to the tune of a quarter million dollars, to real estate promoter, W.H. Hardy, who immediately put his tract up for sale. The official Inglewood agents were Judge Silent and William Childs, the son of prominent nursery owner and real estate speculator Ozro W. Childs. Ads from Hardy and Silent and Childs capture the heated excitement and hyperbole of boomtown real estate promotion.
The Los Angeles Times in September 1887 added its own promotional efforts by proclaiming that “one of the great causes that are operating to induce so rapid an immigration to Southern California is the advantages offered to so many to possess themselves of beautiful homes by the subdivision of five and ten-acre tracts of the great ranchos of the original Spanish [as opposed to Mexican] grandees.”
Obviously, a prominent example of this transformation involved Centinela and Sausal Redondo which “with its rich lands, [affords] opportunity for the location of a population which, by thrift and industry, can obtain not only a living, but save a competency” through farming all manner of fruits, including the original orange orchard laid out by Burnett.
This core of Inglewood, “to combine both pleasure and profit,” had “grand avenues of eucalyptus, pepper, poplar, and willow trees” and was “the center of a splendid, fertile tract of country.” As was often stated in the promotion of real estate projects, it was asserted that the climate was unmatched, without blazing heat, snow and cold, or damaging winds and “it reminds one of the always delightful climate of Madeira,” the Portuguese island chain.
At the end of 1887, as development was underway in the new town, the Herald, in a short piece titled “Good Opportunity,” opined that “it is a most busy place just now.” Invoking the metaphor of the early bird getting the worm, it added that it was time to make money by investing in any number of businesses, because:
Inglewood bids fair to be our busiest and most attractive suburb, and one that in a few weeks will be the admiration of all our people. Chances exist there to-day as they did at Pasadena a few years ago.
In the early part of 1888, as the Freeman College, Floral Company and other endeavors proceeded, the Herald pitched the new town to its readers, presumably including many recent arrivals, arguing “a visit to Inglewood will convince everyone that no better selection could be made for a permanent home.” The community “lies in a position which cannot be excelled for healthfulness or climate and beautiful surroundings.”
Despite the heavy promotion, however, during the year, the promoters decided to sell out. The new owners of most of the 2,300 acres that comprised Inglewood as well as the Redondo Beach tract were from the Bay Area, principally John C. Ainsworth of Oakland, an early settler in Oregon and a prominent Portland capitalist, and his business partner in Portland, Robert R. Thompson, a resident of San Francisco. It was said the pair investd $3 million at Inglewood and Redondo Beach. At the latter, they built a narrow-gauge railroad to Los Angeles, constructed the first wharf, opened the well-known seaside hotel and oversaw its incorporation in 1892.
But, the bust that followed the boom also led into a decade of several years of drought and a national depression that broke forth in 1893. The small town of Inglewood had just a few hundred residents, but got some local renown as a center of poultry raising. In the new century came a new boom that was not as massive and hyped as the 1880s version, but brought a population surge to Inglewood. The community grew from about 500 persons in 1902 to about 1,200 in 1908.
While this demographic did not put the town anywhere near the exalted ranks of suburbs, like Pasadena, Long Beach, or Pomona, predicted by the Herald in 1887, the town was on the rise. Tonight’s highlighted photograph, taken four months after Inglewood was incorporated, gives a birds-eye view of the developing town, probably taken from atop a church. Wide streets, another church, several homes and a number of open lots attest to the state of the town as it was slowly evolving. A short message noted that the family of the sender, who is unidentified, bought land in Inglewood from Daniel Freeman, who died a decade later, in 1918.
Subsequent growth, as in many cases throughout greater Los Angeles, was significant. The population of Inglewood more than doubled in the 1910s to nearly 3,300, even as an earthquake in 1920 caused some significant damage in the town (a blog post here discussed this event with photos of quake destruction.)
Then came a five-fold increase in residents during the Roaring Twenties and the city boasted nearly 20,000 persons by 1930, a radical change from the time of this photo. Even the Depression years included a 50% jump in population, the World War II years brought a strong defense industry presence, and the postwar boom continued the population increase as the city passed the 100,000 mark in the 1980s.
What changed dramatically demographically was the ethnic makeup of the population, which was overwhelmingly white for decades, but, by 1970, became a key destination for blacks once race restrictions were removed. Now, about half of the residents are Latinos, most coming to the city since about 1980, and 44% are black. Long home to Hollywood Park racetrack and the Forum where the Lakers long played and popular concerts were hosted, Inglewood is to be the home, starting with the 2020 NFL season, of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers in a new stadium built where the racetrack was formerly situated.
This great photo shows a town that, while twenty years old at the time, was still in the formative stages of development and bears little resemblance, in terms of the visual element, the population makeup, and other elements, today. This is true, obviously, for much of our region, which is why these documents are useful.