by Paul R. Spitzzeri
To allow for the waves of massive population growth and intensive development of Los Angeles, the surrounding area provided abundant open land, including in the areas northwest, west, and, to some extent, south of the historic core of the city. Obviously crucial to this was the increasing use of annexation to expand the city’s boundaries and area.
Much of this expansion was due to city fathers being mindful of where future growth would take place, as well as residents in some areas being equally mindful that their futures, especially in terms of public services like sewers, water delivery, and public schools, were dependent on absorption into the city. In a few cases, existing incorporated cities decided or were forced by circumstances to consolidate with Los Angeles.
The first major examples outside the original four square leagues established on the founding of the City of Angels in 1781 came at the end of the nineteenth century, including nearly 7,000 acres adjoining those boundaries to the south and west in 1896. Others to the northeast were in Highland Park and Garvanza in 1895 and 1899. Also in 1899 was the University Addition around the University of Southern California.
The vital and controversial “Shoestring Strip” comprising over 11,000 acres and extending southward toward the harbor at San Pedro and Wilmington was added at the end of 1906 and, from that date, the annexation process was greatly accelerated. Central to the city’s approach to the harbor was the consolidation, a term used when existing cities merged with Los Angeles, of Wilmington and San Pedro on 28 August 1909. It is hard to overestimate the importance of these additions to the city.
Also important at the time was the 7 February 1910 consolidation of the City of Hollywood, involving not much less than 3,000 acres, and, three weeks later, the annexation of East Hollywood embracing over 7,000 acres.
Two massive additions included virtually the entirety of the San Fernando Valley involving well over 100,000 acres and brought into the city in May 1915 (along with the 4,700-acre Palms district) and the 31,000-acre Westgate Addition west of Beverly Hills and north of Santa Monica.
Tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection is a “Map Showing Annexations and Boundaries of City of Los Angeles,” dated 31 January 1918 and compiled and drawn by civil engineers Dave Peterson and S.A. Taylor. The document is a great visual to show the expanding city, which mainly utilized annexation to incorporate within its limits sparsely developed territory that, in many cases, quickly became populated and built up.
As of the date of the map, there were nearly twenty such annexations. Garvanza was the smallest at 440 acres, with Owensmouth, an area of just south of 500 acres surrounded by the San Fernando addition and created in 1912 as its own town absorbed into the city in 1917. Fourteen years later, Owensmouth, where Walter P. Temple invested in land during the 1920s, became Canoga Park.
Other notable additions in the first two decades or so of the 20th century were Colegrove, on land owned by former state senator Cornelius Cole and between the original city and Hollywood and comprising nearly 5,600 acres when it was added in October 1909; , the Arroyo Seco Addition. embracing over 4,400 acres northwest of the Highland Park section (the smaller Occidental tract of 666 acres includes the well-known private liberal arts college there); and West Coast, nearly 8,000 acres where Westchester, Los Angeles International Airport and nearby areas are connected via a stairstep shoestring to the Shoestring Strip!
Perhaps the one location of all not familiar to almost anyone reading this post is Bairdstown, although Colegrove is probably as unlikely to be recognized. Adjacent to the original City of Los Angeles boundary at its northeast corner, Bairdstown was a conglomeration of several tracts, including Farmdale, Sierra Vista and Baird Park.
Valley Boulevard, a very old road runs through this district from downtown Los Angeles into the San Gabriel Valley, and Huntington Road also was built through the section. Streetcar lines further provided access from the city to the eastern suburbs and helped spur development in the area as the regional economy experienced more explosive growth in the first years of the Twentieth Century.
The Bairdstown addition, involving nearly 2,200 acres, took place in June 1915, during a trio of annexations within a month that included Palms and San Fernando. In summer 1917, the Los Angeles Herald reported that Bairdstown was to be retired by the Los Angeles City Council, with a school, post-office, Pacific Electric Railway station all taking up the new community name of El Sereno, certainly a much more melodious moniker than the old one!
The annexation boom, however, was only just beginning. Two weeks after the map was issued, the 380-acre West Adams area was annexed and four more districts were brought in during 1918, two of which, the 5,300-acre Hansen Heights where the Hansen Dam, Sun Valley, and other areas are two and the 149-acre Griffith Ranch, tucked in just east of San Fernando, appear on the map.
The process greatly accelerated during the Roaring Twenties, with a dozen in 1923 alone and nearly fifty such additions during the decade. In fact, we’ll pick up the annexation story in a couple of weeks with a 1928 annexation map drawn up by the city engineer and which is overlaid onto streets, streetcar lines and rivers and creeks, giving a more detailed and comprehensive look at just how dramatically the megalopolis of Los Angeles was expanding during its most active annexation phase.
A little more than a century later, it appears to many observers and more than a few residents of certain areas of the city, particularly the San Fernando Valley, that, either the City of Los Angeles has become too big in area and population so as to become unwieldy in governance, or that the concentration of power in downtown or the Westside is such that separation has become more desirable. The San Fernando Valley’s ongoing secession movement is the most durable and visible expression of this.
How much Los Angeles changes in area, population and, therefore, economic and political power and might will be interesting to ponder as the twenty-first century continues to unfold, now that we’re still only a fifth of the way through!