South Gate - The Early Years
In the summer of 1769, a group of Spanish explorers set out from the coast of San Diego to explore the uncharted territory between San Diego and the Bay of Monterey. With them was Father Juan Crespi, considered by historians to be one of the great diarists of the new world explorations. His daily entries were remarkably revealing of the country through which the caravan passed. They proceeded in the general direction of the San Gabriel Valley, across the Los Angeles River, which Crespi named "Porciuncula" on August 2, 1769.
Lugo Spanish Land Grant
There would be no history of South Gate without including the story of the Lugo Spanish Land Grant. That grant encompassed a great part of what is now the City of South Gate and is a vital and colorful part of this area's history.
Francisco Lugo was a cavalry corporal for the King of Spain and an important figure among the early Spanish settlers of the region. In 1810 the King of Spain granted 11 square leagues to Francisco's son, Don Antonio Maria Lugo, in appreciation for his father's service to the crown. This vast estate was known as the Rancho San Antonio land grant. It extended from the low range of hills which separated it from the San Gabriel Valley to the old Dominguez Ranch at its south, and from the eastern boundary of the pueblo of Los Angeles to the San Gabriel River.
A little more than 100 years after the establishment of the Lugo Land Grant, the area at the south gate of the ranch became the City of South Gate. As Don Lugo's family grew, he obtained San Bernardino Rancho and other grants in his children's names. At various times, Don Antonio Maria Lugo was the Alcalde (Mayor) of Los Angeles, Juex del Campo (Judge of the Plains) and a member of the Pueblo Council. In 1846, at the age of 71, he rode 400 miles on horseback from his ranch to Monterey.
The future South Gate site and adjacent mesas presented a colorful spectacle when countless heads of cattle and horses were herded from all directions to a common point for the annual great spring rodeo. Lugo would direct the proceedings and settle disputes regarding ownership of contested animals as well as adjudicate agricultural disputes. In his saddle, he was the court and the plains his courtroom.
The Land Grant was handed down from generation to generation, dividing among offspring and eventually parceled and sold to people outside the Lugo family. Don Antonio's son Vincente (1820-1889) built his adobe dwelling in the 1850's on 5 1/2 acres. It is known as Lugo Ranch, and is situated on modern day Gage Avenue in the City of Bell Gardens.
Before the end of the 1870's, much of the original land grant had been replaced by 40 acre tracts. By 1880, cattle raising had been replaced by agriculture as the most important local industry. During the years between 1910 and 1940, most of the agricultural land was replaced by homes and factories. Today, with the land divided by freeways, it is not easy to imagine it as a vast plain stretching from the mountains to the sea as it was in those early years.
The Tweedy family, headed by R.D. Tweedy, has played an important part in South Gate's history. Mr. Tweedy was born in 1812 in Illinois, and came to California by ox-drawn cart in 1852. Mrs. Tweedy rode across the prairies perched on her rocking chair in the ox cart. The family was large, and several generations have lived in this city. The family members bought some 2,000 acres of the land on which much of South Gate was built. The "downtown business district" in South Gate was named after the family and is known as the Tweedy Mile.
South Gate Gardens
As far as the eye could see, Rancho San Antonio was covered with thousands of head of grazing cattle, sheep and horses, large fertile fruit orchards and fields of cauliflower, beets, barley, beans, as well as dairy farms with rich butter and cheese. But change was in the air. It was almost noon on September 23, 1917, when an important part of that change took place - the selling of land that would eventually be the foundation for the beautiful city of South Gate.
"South Gate Gardens-Gateway to the Sea" had been highly advertised from Santa Monica to Santa Ana. Realtor Charles B. Hooper had arranged for 12 buses to pick up people along routes through the various towns. Excursionists traveled in everything from the latest Model 'T' Fords to high-powered Packards. The buses traveled in a procession east from Long Beach Boulevard down a dirt road about a half-mile to the Cudahy Ranch House, located on present day Santa Ana Street. The house was surrounded on 3 sides by cauliflower fields, as far as the eye could see. Realtor Hooper sold 268 parcels, mostly in 1/2 acre lots, in a subdivision with no streets, no sewers, and no water system. Parallel furrows had been plowed 50 feet apart, to indicate streets of the future - amazingly, signs stuck in imaginary intersections bore the same names which many of the city streets carry today. Some $25,000 worth of land was sold on opening day.
By the end of 1918, 125 houses had been constructed. The population was estimated at 500. Shade trees and flowers had been planted along the parkways. The community of Southgate Gardens now extended east from Long Beach Boulevard to Otis and south from Santa Ana to Independence and was still growing. The streets of Post, State and Victoria were designated the "business district" and 2 large lots were reserved for a school and a church. The inhabitants had already begun to crystallize into an unincorporated town.
State Street School
The 1st school, now known as State Street School, was established with 52 pupils, opening September 8, 1919. At that time it was called Southgate Gardens School and consisted of a small frame building located on Madison near Independence. It was later moved to a site at State and Santa Ana streets, where it has been ever since. To this day, according to "Ripley's Believe It or Not," it holds a unique position because of its location between 3 political jurisdictions. It is located at the junction of Huntington Park, Walnut Park and South Gate.
America's famous aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, learned to fly at Kinner Field, a dirt field located on Century Boulevard at Long Beach Boulevard. She was born in Kansas in 1897 and came to California with her parents in 1921. She attended an air show in Long Beach and was immediately drawn to the idea of flying a plane. She took flying lessons from pioneer aviatrix Anita "Neta" Snook. By 1922, she had acquired her pilot's license. In 1932, Amelia became the 1st woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was also the 1st woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was awarded to her by the United States Congress. Amelia vanished without a trace in 1937 during an attempt to fly around the world.
In autumn of 1922, a petition for incorporating the town of South Gate was circulated by I.W. Lampman. The petition was signed by more than 50 qualified electors and presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. An election was held on January 2, 1923 to determine the will of the people. On January 20, 1923, the Board of Supervisors formally declared the incorporation of the "City of South Gate." The population at that time was 2,500 people.
South Gate - The New City
The years following incorporation in 1923 were boom years. Families were finding contentment in this fertile suburb. Schools and churches were being established. City government, fire and police protection were good. Business and industry were close to home and social, fraternal, and civic outlets for families were soon to be established. A residential and industrial base was established and served as the cornerstone of South Gate, even today.
During the 1st year of incorporation a City Hall was built at the intersection of Post and Victoria. This City Hall was replaced with a new City Hall in 1942, on California Avenue. The new City Hall is still in use today. In 1964, the old City Hall was demolished, the mosaic seen on the front of the building was removed and placed on a plaque in front of the new City Hall.
Mayor / City Council Establishment
When South Gate became a 6th class city by state law, the title of President and Board of Trustees officially became Mayor and City Council. A.J. Schoby was elected the as the 1st Mayor on May 19, 1927.
Ordinance 14 established Fire District Number 1 on April 17, 1923. Soon the 1st piece of fire-fighting equipment, a 2nd-hand truck, was acquired and, in November, a volunteer fire department was organized, headed by Chief Edward McCormick.
In 1923 the city's own bus service was established. Mrs. Nina A. Murray drove an old Maxwell south on Seville Avenue to Liberty Boulevard, east on Liberty to Otis and returned by the same route. The service made a direct connection with the "J" streetcar line that ran from downtown Los Angeles to the corner of Seville and Santa Ana in South Gate. The fare was 5 cents on both the streetcar and bus. Soon after incorporation, the old Maxwell car was replaced with a municipal motor bus. However, municipal ownership of the bus system proved costly, and on July 31, 1933, the system was discontinued.
The cornerstone of South Gate High School was laid on January 25, 1930. Floyd Honn was the 1st principal. The school opened in September 1930 with 500 9th and 10th grade students, and 27 faculty members. In 1932 it became a 6 year high school, with grades 7 through 12. It remained thus until 1941 when South Gate Junior High was constructed on Firestone at Otis Street.
As early as 1922, several small industrial plants had moved to South Gate. Families moved here and needed employment close to home - businesses, factories and industry soon followed.
One of the largest local industries was Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. The factory was built on a 40-acre former bean field. Firestone's 1st tire rolled off the assembly line on June 15, 1928.
Some of the early businesses included the A.R. Maas Chemical Company, founded in 1922 on Ardine, near Independence, and Star Roofing Company, founded in 1934 (now U.S. Gypsum). Weiser Company foundry, formed in 1904, became one of the world's leading manufacturers of hardware by 1943, with South Gate as the sole manufacturing operation in the United States.
In 1936 the General Motors plant went into production in South Gate with 1,000 employees, which soon increased to 4,000. There were 3 makes of cars assembled, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick.
By the early '30s, the city was outgrowing its municipal buildings, so property for a civic center was acquired. The location was on California Avenue between Firestone and Ardmore Boulevards. The 1st building was a library, to be leased to the Los Angeles County Library for one of its branches. The building was built with labor provided by the Works Project Act (WPA). The work of WPA artists is still in evidence on the interior walls where murals depict events in the history of writing. A beautiful mosaic graced the entrance.
When the new library on Tweedy Boulevard was built in 1973, a portion of the old building was given to the South Gate Art Association for a gallery. The building also housed a theater and South Gate museum. Today, as part of the refurbishment of the building, the city is working with the Getty Museum to restore the murals.
When the war began, the new City Hall was nearing completion. It was the 2nd building in the Civic Center. The City Council 1st met in its beautiful new building on February 19, 1942.
Post War South Gate
When the war was over, the city, industry, business, and the people all looked forward to a period of growth and prosperity. In 1945, 20 businessmen organized a Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of promoting the economic welfare and happiness of the community, through the creation of jobs and increase in commercial development.