Chapter 3

Suburban pioneers

They came by the thousands and stood in line to meet with a salesman and pick a home from a map. When they moved in, they found that they had to turn their dreams into a community of neighbors.

When Lakewood Park's publicist Don Rochlen presented the plan for the new community to the Long Beach City Council in 1950, he encountered skepticism and outright laughter. “Who are you going to sell all those houses to – the jackrabbits?” teased one city councilman. The other council members exploded into loud guffaws.

Rochlen had no answer to the councilman's question. Still uncertain about the appeal of a community built so far from anything else and with no established ties, Rochlen left the meeting wondering why he had agreed to take on the thankless job of publicizing Lakewood Park.

Rochlen didn’t need to worry, however. A few months later, thousands of eager husbands and wives flocked to the Lakewood Park sales office, eager to begin making new neighborhoods.

Buyers waited in long lines in the Lakewood Park sales office during first weeks of home sales in 1950.

Prospective homeowners were attracted to Lakewood Park for many reasons: year-round outdoor living, the family-oriented amenities that the planned community offered, and Lakewood’s convenient location to jobs. (A closer look at the reasons why "original residents" chose Lakewood)

Most of all, they were attracted by the affordability of the homes. According to Lakewood Park Sales Manager Harry Rothberg, “Lakewood Park has given families good housing at prices for which they could get nothing but slums on the rental market. They have nice homes. They are rearing their children in wholesome surroundings. They are acquiring property. And the monthly outlay is only from $44 to $56, including principal, interest and insurance.”

The 1944 Servicemen's Readjustment Act (known as the GI Bill) guaranteed that veterans could get home loans with no down payment and a 30-year mortgage at only 4 percent interest.

“Veterans, wake up! Your dream home is here,” crowed one Lakewood Park advertisement. Another featured a young boy enthused over his family’s new purchase. “We just bought a slick two-bedroom home for $44 a month and no down payment because pop’s a veteran!” “Dreaming of the good life?” beckoned another advertisement. “Living in beautiful Lakewood is more than owning a home … it is a new and better way of living.”

In mid-1950, home prices ranged from $7,575 for a two-bedroom, 825-square-foot house to $9,075 for a three-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot house. (The “mutual home” plan, adopted in 1951 under war-time credit restrictions, initially required a down payment of $695 for a two-bedroom house and $795 for a three-bedroom house.)

Buyers could purchase a Norge refrigerator, an O’Keefe & Merritt gas range, and a Bendix “Economat” automatic washer for about a dollar a month as part of their mortgage payment.

Monthly payments were low, but so were wages.

Although the terms were good, it was still a struggle for many families to afford their new home. “When you put your little check down for your down payment, it was like signing away your life,” recalled original homebuyer June Tweedy. “It seemed like a lot in those days.”

Although it required many sacrifices, homeownership was a dream come true for Lakewood’s original buyers, most of whom had never before owned their home. According to a 1952 study by FHA District Director H.V. Davidson, about 75 percent of Lakewood Park's new residents were first-time homeowners.

“Owning your own home … to have a place of our own was very, very special,” reminisced original resident and former city council member Jackie Rynerson. She moved to Lakewood in 1952 with her husband Bud, a World War II veteran, and two children with one more on the way. (Video: The stories of original Lakewood residents)

In addition to advertisements promising a dream home, the developers of Lakewood Park attracted buyers by erecting a 100-foot-tall steel derrick topped with a bright, war-surplus beacon and strung with more lights. The tower stood next to the Lakewood Park sales office on Lakewood Boulevard. Once there, parents could drop off their youngsters in a fenced playground while they waited their turn to speak to a salesman.

On the first day of sales, on March 24, 1950, an estimated 30,000 people lined up walk through a row of seven model houses. (Six months later, there were nine models.) By the end of April, more than 200,000 people had flocked to the Lakewood Park sales office and more than 1,000 families had purchased homes – 30-a-day on average. Once, 107 homes sold in just one hour.

The first new resident of Lakewood Park was Navy veteran Jim Huffman and his family. They moved in on July 16. By the following May, 7,200 more families had followed them.

The brightly lighted tower at on Lakewood Boulevard could be seen for miles.

Home seekers waited in long lines on weekends to buy what one salesman called “just a pin on a map” – a home that was not yet built. Inside the sales office, there were more than 40 cubicles for processing sales applications with 35 salesmen working in two shifts so that the sales office could stay open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

By August 1950, the sales office was open until 11 p.m. on some nights to accommodate shift workers at the Douglas Aircraft plant. In February 1952, there were two sales offices to serve prospective buyers of the remaining Lakewood Park homes and the new tract of Lakewood Park Mutual Homes.

For Harry Klissner, a Lakewood resident in 1954 and a reporter for the Lakewood Enterprise newspaper, Lakewood Park did more than sell homes. “When any salesman sold a Lakewood Park, Carson Park or Lakewood Mutual home," Klissner wrote, "he also sold the idea of Lakewood as a community. One of the early results of this type of salesmanship was that the average newcomer ... developed a sense of community pride in Lakewood.”

Housing restrictions limit homeownership

Although advertisements emphasized that “Everyone – non-veteran and veteran alike – can have an FHA home,” not all potential buyers were welcome in Lakewood or elsewhere in the suburbs of Los Angeles County. Real estate advertisements in the Long Beach Press Telegram in the 1950s highlighted "restricted" developments and pointed out which tracts were "the white spots" of Long Beach. The implication was obvious.

Lakewood Park sold "the idea of community," but it wasn't available to all homebuyers. 

Even though a Supreme Court ruling in 1948 had prohibited local governments from enforcing the racially restrictive covenants that were routinely included in property deeds, the court’s ruling did not abolish racially-based housing discrimination. Sale of a home to “any person of African or Asiatic descent or to any person not of the white or Caucasian race” was subject to property owner lawsuits even after the Supreme Court decision.

Only in 1949 did the FHA announce that it would stop insuring mortgages on properties with racial covenants beginning in 1950. But the practice of steering buyers into racially segregated neighborhoods, often with the assistance of federal housing officials, continued throughout Los Angeles County into the mid-1960s.

In resisting sales to non-white buyers, developers were acting on the belief that racially mixed communities would not retain their resale value, putting federally-backed home loans at risk. In fact, the FHA routinely refused to guarantee loans to buyers of existing homes in a racially mixed neighborhood.

The FHA's technical bulletin "Planning Profitable Neighborhoods," issued in 1938, recommended that builders of new homes should aim at creating homogeneous markets segregated by race and socioeconomic level.

Woodrow W. Smith, a former Lakewood City Council Member who died in 2007, was a Lakewood Park sales manager in 1950. “I had the responsibility of making certain that the applicants were not going to be people who would be objected to by their neighbors,” he told historian Allison Baker in 1996. “People would cancel (their purchase order) by the score if they knew there was a black person going to have a house on their block. … And when (African American buyers) would come ... they used to turn them over to me. And I'd sit down and talk to them. I'd say, ‘Now, you're a reasonable person, but these are the facts of life, and you know it as well as I do that if you move in there, you're not going to have any neighbors that are going to like you. It may not be in your best interest, so you better think about it carefully before you make this decision. I can't prevent you and I won't, but you'd better think about it.'"

Steering buyers discriminated against potential Latino and Asian buyers as well, but to a lesser extent. Jewish buyers, who had been the subject of housing discrimination elsewhere in Southern California, were more fortunate in Lakewood Park. In 1955, the number of Jewish families in Lakewood was estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000.

Housing discrimination led to Lakewood Park neighborhoods that were almost entirely Caucasian. But behind the racial uniformity lay a new community that was otherwise diverse in socioeconomic status, religion, and regional origin.

Lakewood today is not the Lakewood Park of 1950. Lakewood is one of the most diversifying cities in California, if not the nation. The families of Lakewood are as mixed in their ethnicity as any community in Los Angeles County, a diversity that city leaders consider a significant community value. Lakewood elected its first Latino councilman, Joe Esquivel, in 1990. Esquivel later served five terms as Lakewood’s mayor.

By 2010, Lakewood’s population was 30 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian, 9 percent African American, and 41 percent Anglo.

Customized tract

“Visualize the advantages your family will enjoy with the ownership of your own home in Lakewood,” read one Lakewood Park advertisement. Prospective homebuyers could actually see the advantages by touring model Lakewood homes guided by young athletes from Long Beach Junior College (one of them, Wayne Piercy, would later become Lakewood's mayor).

The model homes were furnished and decorated by the May Company department store and the Aaron Schultz furniture store in all the latest color schemes and styles, including Maple, Traditional, Modern, and Provincial.

Lakewood Park's model homes in 1950 highlighted how adaptable these small houses could be.

“Not a bit like the usual ‘tract’ house we’ve seen,” another advertisement proclaimed. Lakewood’s homes were “architect-designed” by Paul Duncan, AIA, with 13 basic floor plans in the first phase of development and four variations of each, offering homebuyers a total of 52 different exteriors, for which there were 39 color combinations. Front doors were painted red.

In anticipation of the baby boom, said the Long Beach Press-Telegram, two of the bedrooms in the three-bedroom modes got respective coats of pink and blue paint.

Buyers also were attracted to the selection of “luxury features” available, including a full cedar shingle roof, “extra thick hardwood floors,” “a charming bay window,” “beautifully detailed trim-shutters, trellised porches, handsome doors,” “scientifically-determined storage space,” and “landscaped front and side lawns,” complete with a tree planted in the parkway in front of the house.

(Years later, Lakewood city officials wished that the street tree planted in front of each house had been chosen with more care. Those trees, planted for quick growth, later cost the city millions in street, sidewalk, curb, and gutter repairs when their root systems outgrew the parkway.)

“Scientific” planning was a major selling point for the new community. Even the idea of parkway panels separating residential streets from major highways was described as part of the city’s “scientific plan.”

The kitchens in Lakewood houses featured stainless steel counters and a double sink with a Waste King Pulverator, making Lakewood “the largest planned garbage-free community in America.”

Ruth Houston recalled her excitement as a child when her family moved into their three-bedroom home. It was a huge improvement over their home in rural Illinois, where a family of eight had crowded into a two-bedroom house with no indoor plumbing. Their new Lakewood home was roomy and bright, with a big patio window, a kitchen outfitted with white cabinets, and a “nice white, pretty bathtub and shower.”

Street lights and sidewalks, paid for and installed by Lakewood Park, were major selling points for some buyers.

But their home didn’t have a telephone, at least initially. The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported in 1950 that the local phone company, facing a huge backlog for residential service, had filled the gap in Lakewood by installing outdoor pay phones on poles at some corner houses. A homeowner with a pay phone on the front lawn was paid one cent for every five-cent call made from the phone. Postal service was equally scarce. With no home mail delivery, early Lakewood residents had to travel to the post office on Village Road near Carson Street to collect their mail.

The new neighborhoods also lacked bus service. Owning a car was practically a requirement for living in Lakewood.

Lakewood also didn’t have enough classrooms for the 10,000 new students the Long Beach Unified School District expected to enroll by the end of 1952. Some schools were already on double session by the end of the school year in 1951.

Life magazine published a photograph in 1953 that was supposed to be a typical move-in day in booming Lakewood, with a moving van in every driveway and each family’s belongings on their front lawns. In reality, it was a staged publicity photograph.

As Lakewood Park Corporation publicist Rochlen recounted, new residents "were moving in at the rate of 60 families a day. So to symbolize that, we got 60 moving vans up and on the street and told people just to come out and put out a few pieces of furniture on the lawn.”

Lakewood’s first residents were said to be “pioneers on the new suburban frontier.” Tom and Janet MacHale remembered when “Dairy Valley (present-day Cerritos) was all cows and (Lakewood was) the end of the line; there were no freeways.”

Nearby hog farms and dairies made suburban Lakewood seem semi-rural.

Pungent smells from the nearby dairies and hog farms wafted through Lakewood Park neighborhoods, especially on damp mornings. Some residents could hear cows mooing. Jackrabbits, possums, snakes, and even foxes were a common sight in the unbuilt tracts east of the new construction.

“We had toads in our backyard, and every time we’d go out there to dig along the wall, there’d be all these toads,” recalled Janet. “And once, I got out of the car and came up the walk and I stepped on something and it turned out to be a toad.” (Video: Lakewood's suburban pioneers

June Tweedy recounted that, in her women’s sorority, one girl from back east “just loved that smell (of dairies) ... And here we all were with our eyes watering!” Betty Dilly referred to the dust in the air as “horrendous.” And John Rae described his new neighborhood as “pretty barren.”

The new homeowners of Lakewood Park were not exactly middle-class by most measures. A 1955 report noted that more than 25 percent of the Lakewood work force was employed in shop and fieldwork as foremen or mechanics. The 1960 census showed that 58.7 percent of male Lakewood workers had blue-collar jobs and that most residents 25 years of age and over had less than a high school education, with only 38.6 percent having completed high school.

Good, well-paying jobs were near at hand in the city's early years. According to a 1955 labor report, 3.2 percent of Lakewood's workforce was employed in Lakewood, 38 percent in Long Beach, and 12.2 percent in Los Angeles. Only 1.3 percent were employed more than fifteen miles from home; 22.5 percent worked ten to fifteen miles away.

New residents, like these square dancers, joined in creating a sense of community.

A surprisingly large percentage of women worked to support their family. The 1960 census showed that 20 percent of married women in the labor force in Lakewood had children under six years old. Single women took jobs out of financial necessity. Wayne Piercy recalled that his wife worked while he held two jobs, so that the family could afford a home in 1956. 

Men's work in Lakewood reflected the ups and downs of a defense-based economy. John Rae, an engineer at Douglas, recalled that he had been laid off four times over a forty-year period. In 1951, shortly after Rae and his family moved into their Lakewood home, a six¬≠-week strike at Douglas began. Rae had to find work helping contractors remodel homes in order to pay his mortgage.

Neighbors helping neighbors

Many residents encountered other hardships living on the new suburban frontier. Birdie Levy recalled that Lakewood was prone to flooding. “We had an extremely heavy rainfall about the second or third year that we lived here,” Levy noted. The rain was so bad that Levy’s friend came down the street in a boat. “He paddled all the way down, and the water covered (the street) from curb to curb!” 

Bud Rynerson, the husband of future city council member Jackie Rynerson, also remembered the difficulties and frustrations that he and his wife experienced. “When we moved in, we had no lawns, we had no planting of any kind, and we were relatively poor, having just purchased a house,” he told CityTV. “Our backyard and front yard are all adobe (soil), and that’s tough stuff to dig. I decided the way to break through this hard surface was to rent a power auger ... I stuck this power auger down in the hole that I had dug and I turned the power auger on and pshooo! I went around and around in a circle and the auger didn’t move at all.”

That was Rynerson’s last experience with gardening with a power auger.

Lawns and gardens brought neighbors together, helping one another as new families settled in. In the process, they began to form a sense of community.

Lakewood's young families were building new lives as well as a new community.

June Tweedy detailed the camaraderie that emerged as neighbors built fences. “Everybody was moving in and there was nothing but dirt out here. (The developers) planted the front lawns, but they didn’t plant the back lawns. There weren’t any fences up, so there were dogs, there were cats, there were kids running all over. But everybody sort of went together with their neighbors … and put up a fence; and then we went with the neighbors behind us, and we went halves on the fence. The people next door were just a young couple; they didn’t have a penny to spare, so they couldn’t go in on the fence, so we said we’d put that part of the fence up. And then everybody started putting in their yards and their lawns and it was fun.”

Margie Lehner Armstrong also recalled the generosity of her new neighbors. One of the men in her neighborhood, who worked in construction, supplied his neighbors with used bricks to build flower planters. Each night, the men of the neighborhood gathered to clean the old bricks and then helped each other build the planters.

Meanwhile, Tom and Janet MacHale remembered their neighborhood’s budding social life. “We socialized quite a bit. Everybody went back and forth and talked about their gardens and their yard.”

As residents got to know one another, they discovered how much they had in common, despite their differences in background and beliefs. They were mostly young families (the average age of the men was 32 and of the women was 26), most were first-time homeowners, many of the men were veterans, and most had a child with another on the way.

“Everybody was in the same boat,” recalled Janet MacHale. “We were all struggling to get the house and furnishings together.” Jackie Rynerson remembered the excitement of founding a new community. “We were full of hope with the war behind us, and it was like starting a new life.”

By early 1952, at least 45 community, religious, fraternal, and service organizations (including school PTAs) had been organized by residents in Lakewood and the adjacent Lakewood Village.

New residents quickly became neighbors, sharing the labor to build fences and put in lawns. 

Bob and Barbara Brent remembered that “We were all about the same age, most, if not all, had young children and we were all financially challenged! But we had faith in our future and looked forward to making a good life for our children and ourselves. It didn’t take long to get acquainted with our neighbors, help each other out with child care, weekends spent sharing cost and labor to put up fences, plant lawns, gardens, and flowers. We formed friendships and our children formed friendships, some to last a lifetime.”

For June Tweedy, what was most memorable was developing those relationships. “We just got acquainted with everybody on a first-name basis, and we were all friendly and borrowing things from each other. Everyone was about the same age when we came out. There was about a ten-year span from say their early 20s to their early 30s. And the kids were all about the same age, and we were all buying our homes at the same time. And every street was like that.”

Tweedy and other original residents noted that most people got to know each other through their children.

“When the kids went to school and got acquainted, that’s when (parents) got acquainted, because I didn’t know people on the other side of Woodruff,” said Tweedy. “But then all of a sudden when (Tweedy’s daughter Robin) started school, she made friends with Chris and we became real good friends with her folks.”

Jackie Rynerson echoed the same experience with her children. “The children were the ones who sort of got you acquainted. Because this was all brand new. Because it was such a big effort. And it was all these new people ... everybody was busy trying to get acquainted, just even taking care of their children, working out their transportation – most of us only had one car.”

Women in civic life

The booming youth population led Lakewood mothers into politics almost as soon as new families moved in. After several children were struck by cars on the way to school, concerned mothers staged protest demonstrations to pressure county officials to give their neighborhoods crossing guards and traffic signals.

Parents also banded together to provide safer places for their sons and daughters to play. Lakewood’s drainage ditches were unfenced, park sites were unimproved, and Lakewood’s youth often played in the streets.

The Lakewood Taxpayers Association and the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District coordinated efforts to deal with these neighborhood concerns. Both organizations represented Lakewood’s early efforts at organized civic activism.

The Lakewood Taxpayers Association (LTA) was founded by Lakewood Village residents in late 1947. When John Todd arrived in 1949, he found that the LTA was the most active civic group in his family’s new neighborhood.

LTA projects included lowering the cost of street lighting, closing hog farms, improving traffic safety, and developing a county zoning ordinance for Lakewood.

One of the first campaigns for the new civic activists targeted Lakewood’s open drainage ditches. Resident Ruth Smith recalled how dangerous the ditches were. “You’d have to worry if there was a flood,” she said. “If there was rain, you’d have to drag (the kids) out of there.” In response, the LTA launched a “Make Our Ditch Safe for Kids” campaign to fence the Heather Ditch in 1951. The open ditch issue would continue to play a role in the anti-annexation campaign two years later, as revealed in a pamphlet entitled “What about the ditches?”

700 Lakewood mothers in 1953 protested plans by Long Beach to open a "prison farm" on the edge of unincorporated Lakewood.

Residents were concerned about the lack of supervised parks in Lakewood. The Lakewood Park Corporation had set aside park sites, but had neither developed them nor deeded them to the county.

Lakewood residents also worried about Long Beach’s proposal to build an “honor farm” to house minor offenders near the Carson Park unit of new homes. An army of 700 Lakewood mothers and their children picketed Long Beach City Hall in 1953 with signs reading “Our kids don’t want to grow up with a jail!”

Despite the protests, the Long Beach City Council allowed the detention facility to be built, but the issue provided anti-annexationists with an example of Long Beach's indifference to local issues in Lakewood.

Growing civic identity

In writing his memoir of Lakewood’s development and incorporation, former City Attorney John Todd recalled that Long Beach early on had designs on the Lakewood area. “In July of 1951,” Todd wrote, “a rumor arose that (Long Beach) had adopted a master plan of parks, commencing at the ocean and continuing up the San Gabriel River channel to Carson Street, then along Carson Street in the so-called “shotgun strip” now known as Heartwell Park. Also included in this maze would be the Lakewood Golf Course as a Long Beach recreational facility.”

The golf course in those years was the focus of another troubling issue. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors proposed an ordinance in 1952 to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages at county golf course, but a study of the no-alcohol plan showed that the Lakewood golf course would not be financially viable without liquor sales.

John Todd, then a young attorney, joined his neighbors in advocating public improvements for the new Lakewood community.

“In 1952, I appeared before the Board of Supervisors,” Todd later wrote, “and argued against the county ordinance. Herb Legg, our representative on the Board of Supervisors, supported our position. The battle before the board was deep and bitter. Prohibitionists and other groups were joining the battle. If the sale of liquor was prohibited at the country club, the golf course was virtually doomed …”

The residents of Lakewood Village feared the unprofitable golf course would inevitably be subdivided for house lots. “Supervisor Legg’s deputy, George Turner, called a meeting at the country club. I was present, as were Lee Hollopeter, Ed Walker, and Arvo Van Alystyne of the County Counsel’s office.” Todd and the others agreed that the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District, which included only neighborhoods south of Carson Street, should be extended to include all of Lakewood and be governed by its own board of directors elected by the residents of the expanded district. Once an independent district had been created, the county could transfer the Lakewood golf course and clubhouse to the Lakewood district. Liquor sales wouldn’t be an issue any more.

According to Todd, “Active in the battle in those days to preserve the golf course, in addition to Walker and me, were Hollopeter, then manager of the Lakewood Water Company; Gene Nebeker, a local energetic real estate broker and member of the Lakewood Jaycees; Clark Searle of the Lakewood Taxpayers Association; Peter Nitrini, manager of the May Company and representative of the Lakewood business people; and Don Nelson, a vice president of People’s Bank and representative of the Chamber of Commerce.”

The group’s strategy succeeded in having all of Lakewood annexed to the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District, and the Board of Supervisors set a special election to elect a governing board. Gene Nebeker, Donald W. Nelson, Ken Phillips, Charles Wright, and Todd were among the candidates, who decided to run as a slate.

The creation of an independent recreation district in 1953 was Lakewood's first experience of self-government.

“This was Lakewood’s first election battle,” Todd wrote. “The contest became hot and heavy. Two groups developed. One group – the slate that included Nebeker, Nelson, Phillips, Wright, and me – supported the proposition of expansion and development of the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District in order to maintain the Lakewood area and ultimately prevent loss of the golf course. Another group comprised of such local leaders as Attorney Robert W. Devitt and Ruth H. Bach, was devoted to the proposition of obtaining a majority on the board of directors so that the district could be dissolved as the first step toward ultimate annexation of all of the Lakewood area by the city of Long Beach.”

On March 3, 1953, the voters determined by a majority of 1,920 votes that the district should be self-governing and have its own board of directors. The voters elected Ruth H. Bach, Donald W. Nelson, Robert W. Devitt, Charles Wright, and John Todd to the first board.

“The Lakewood Enterprise edition on March 5, 1953 reported this event,” Todd’s memoir continues. “The front page of this paper also reflected the stormy times that then existed in Lakewood. Across the page were editorials and articles pertaining to Lakewood residents’ fight against annexation to Long Beach. This was the atmosphere in which Lakewood’s first real self-governing experiment came to life. Many of us who were concerned about the possibility or feasibility of Lakewood’s ultimate incorporation probably failed to see the trend emerging.”

Ironically, after the creation of the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District, the need to take the golf course clubhouse out of the hands of the Board of Supervisors never developed. The death of a member of the Board of Supervisors resulted in a return to the board’s long-standing policy of permitting the sale of alcoholic beverages at county courses.

The recreation district worked with the Lakewood Water and Power Company to create "tot lot" playgrounds at the company's water well sites.

Todd was pleased to have been elected the first president of the Lakewood Park, Recreation and Parkway District. “During the time I served on the board, we succeeded in having most of the parkway panels in the Lakewood area developed with sprinklers, grass, and trees. In addition, we developed a tot lot program consisting of recreational facilities on eleven Lakewood Water and Power Company well sites. This proposal had been made by Hollopeter, and was so successful that he had a motion picture film made of the development and its use of the water well sites.”

The district’s projects included weekend recreation programs at ten of Lakewood's elementary school playgrounds and plans to purchase of three undeveloped park sites.

A closer look at Lakewood stories

In 2003 in preparation for the city’s 50th anniversary of incorporation, Lakewood residents were asked to tell their own stories through a program called “Take Your Place in History.” Hundreds of participants wrote of moving to Lakewood, finding a new neighborhood, and building friendships and commitments that have in many cases lasted more than 60 years.

Open fields and mice, by Gwen Travis. When my husband and I moved to Lakewood 52 years ago we were the third family in the neighborhood. We were all young couples. There was no mail service so we had to walk to Bellflower and Candlewood to pick up the mail as well as use a public telephone.

The closest grocery store was McCoy Market on South and Bellflower. Having only one car, which my husband used to go back and forth to work, I always walked to get groceries.

We almost did not get the house, as we were not married yet. The salesmen would not let an unmarried couple buy. We assured him our wedding was a month away.

Gwen Travis, 2014

It was a country setting then, a lot of open fields, and many times we had mice in the house. There was an open space between the door and floor for the mice to get in. In the 50s and 60s, we had lots of fog and flooding in the main intersections, especially at Lakewood Boulevard and South Street.

It was mostly young couples in the neighborhood, starting families. We all were in the same income level and the children were in and out of our house and others. We all helped raise each other’s children. I feel it is the same way now.

The house we couldn’t afford, by Walter and Sheila Reece. I was earning $1.40 per hour and my wife was not working. I worked at Norris Thermador’s Vernon plant. Just for something to do and for entertainment on Sunday, we would take “drives” in our 1941 Ford … that is, if we had any gas money.

This one Sunday as we were driving down Carson on our “ride,” we saw a sales office. It was located on the property that now belongs to the McDonald’s restaurant. Anyhow, just for fun, we stopped and entered the sales office. Before that, we had walked through the “models” of houses that were being exhibited for sales. We particularly liked the F model as it had a window looking out over the backyard.

Surprisingly, the salesman greeted us warmly and asked us which model we had liked. We said we really liked the F model, and he immediately asked us how much money we had on us. We had a check for $15 from some insurance company and that was all we had that day.

New buyers bought "a pin on a map" and the waited for their neighborhood to be built in 1950.

The salesman put a pin on the map where 4412 Stevely would be built and signed us up for this particular house. He told us we would have to come up with $800 more before we would be able to move in. Since we had such a low income, we really couldn’t scratch the $800 together so my wife had to borrow some of the rest of the down payment from her mother.

We drove out and watched our house being built, and in May of 1953, bare-bones poor, we moved into our new home. Unable to immediately turn on the electricity, we used candles and we hand-carried into the house our few meager possessions in boxes.

We have been here now fifty years as the original owners. We like the way the city is run. The people at city hall are friendly and helpful and we appreciate the lower crime rates. We notice that many of our neighbors have added many rooms to their homes, instead of leaving Lakewood. Like many other Lakewood residents, we both have worked at one time for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company, now known as Boeing. We raised seven children here and a couple of grandchildren.

My town, Lakewood, by Rosemarie Coleman. Of course, Lakewood does not really belong to me. And it’s not a town; it’s a city. However, on April 26, 1951, our family of four (my husband, Vince, our two boys) picked up the keys to the new house in the hinterland of Long Beach. Lakewood was county territory. While my husband was at work, I took the two boys, Pat (almost three years) and toddler Michael (15 months) to the new house to wax and polish all those hardwood floors. In those days it was paste wax, so on my hands and knees I applied the wax and the boys skated around on old towels to “help” me polish. We were to move in the next day.

We moved the next day, but I didn’t help. I was in St. Mary’s Hospital delivering our new baby girl. Kathy frowns when we remind her that she is the same age as our Lakewood house.

Those first weeks were busy. We needed to plant a lawn, meet new neighbors, and keep track of the boys, since there were no fences yet. The field at the end of our street had tall grass then; later Gompers Elementary School was built there. One day both boys disappeared. I called the sheriff’s department. The neighbors, the police, and I looked everywhere. Suddenly two heads appeared over the weeds. “We were exploring,” the boys said.

After the school was built, our tract was out of the district for our children to attend Gompers.

Tracts of new homes became neighborhoods as Lakewood residents developed relationships that persist today. 

All neighborhood children had to cross two main streets to go to a school in Bellflower. Our neighbor, Mrs. Lynn Welch, submitted a petition (signed by every parent in the area) to the Long Beach and Bellflower school districts to have the boundaries changed.

As I understand it, from then on, this area had a choice of which schools to attend. Naturally, when our children started kindergarten we appreciated the efforts of Mrs. Welch.

The other natural phenomenon for a new housing development was the salespeople. The fence folk, the water softener demonstrators, insulation showmen, and the proverbial stone barbeque merchants all were ringing the doorbell several times a day. Running after children and going to the door constantly did tend to keep my weight down then. Our budget was tight so we avoided most of the “great promotions.”

The trees in the new subdivision were very small, so the children were not accustomed to old established trees. They had seen forests only in books, so on a trip to Bellflower one day, Michael, about age two, stepped out of the car where we parked under a huge oak and looking up he exclaimed, “What’s that?”

The trees grew and so did we. The residents voted to incorporate Lakewood, now it was a city. Nevertheless, there is a hometown feel to the place. The years raced by. We raised eight children here and stayed in the same house (remodeled a few times). I have often thanked God for Lakewood: my town!

What I like most about living in Lakewood, by Gina Marie Juarez. It’s a crisp autumn day and I look out my front window, standing before me tall and majestic is one of Lakewood’s original residents.

It’s our 50-year-old maple tree, which in many ways represents the city of Lakewood and the people who live here. With its deep roots growing strong, like the residents of our great city, our homes are pristine and our lawns are well manicured. You can really see the pride we have for where we live and play. It’s big city living with that small town feeling.

With branches stretched out, we are always there to help each other in times of need. Whether it’s checking on an elderly neighbor when the power goes out or helping a neighbor move some furniture.

Like its beautiful fall leaves of many colors, the people of Lakewood are so diverse, so many nationalities living side by side. We celebrate birthdays, weddings, and the births of new Lakewoodians.

The trees of Lakewood, once small, have matured and grace the city with their shade and fall color. 

I love experiencing the new tastes and learning the different cultures of my neighbors. We are sharing milestones and memories that will last a lifetime. This is Lakewood living.

The soil my tree is planted in is rich, I also feel rich. I’m rich in neighbors who are like family and having the opportunity to raise my children in such a great city.

I look out at the maple tree and wonder, what will it be like in 50 years from now? As families come and go, one thing I know will stay the same is how great our city is and how wonderful the people are.

These are the things I like most about living in Lakewood.

My home in Lakewood by Shirley Desy. In 1962, my husband and I were searching in the Compton/Long Beach area for a home we could afford for ourselves and our two young sons, ages three and four. We found a home at 2523 Hardwick Street. For about $11,000 and bought it. We were so proud of the home that we spent no time considering what type of community we were moving into. We quickly became enlightened that we had accidentally stumbled onto something quite nice, a matter of fact, magnificent.

In 1966, we welcomed a daughter into our family. By that time, the boys were old enough to be involved in the sports programs offered at Biscailuz Park three or four blocks from our home. The boys loved playing at the park and loved the sports programs and swimming lessons offered at Bolivar Park.

Clifton's Cafeteria in Lakewood Center was bright, modern, and welcoming. 

This city was filled with parks and offered every type of activity for all ages (from the very young to seniors) that anyone could imagine being interested in.

In addition to the sports programs, our daughter attended Tot Lot pre-school as soon as she turned two until she was five and entered kindergarten. Another surprise, while she was in Tot Lot, I joined a women’s Volleyball League, Volley Tennis and Softball Leagues. How nice was that!

By the time the boys were 13 and 14, we had bought another house at on Lomina (where I still live today). All three of my children went to Bancroft Junior High School and then graduated from Lakewood High School. One of my sons and my daughter live within a few blocks of me today, making Lakewood their homes. My oldest granddaughter has graduated from Lakewood High and the other four are on their way to graduation.

I am so thankful for the little ride we took to look at houses and the decision to buy the house on Hardwick and then Lomina. I feel safe here in Lakewood. 

Prospective buyers walked through furnished model homes and imagined what life would be like in Lakewood.

We are blessed with a good fire department, police department and a city council and mayor who are also proud to be Lakewood citizens. That combination of factors makes a recipe for success for Lakewood. I am so proud to make Lakewood my home, to have raised my children here and for two of my children to be confident of Lakewood to make this their home when they became adults.

I love Lakewood. Lakewood is my home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

First African American letter carrier by Lacy Westbrook. My name is Lacy Westbrook and I am the first African American Letter Carrier in the city of Lakewood. I begin my career at the Lakewood Post Office in April 5, 1975.

I have seen many changes in the postal service from the style of the uniform we wear to way we process and deliver mail. I have seen this city’s racial diversity change in my 28 years also. When I started delivering mail, many of the patrons would stare, and the little kids would ask in an amazing way, “are you the mailman?”

After being asked this question so many times, I would say, “No, I am an actor. See the camera down the street” and continue my route. After a few years in the city, some of the same little kids would follow me on the route as I delivered the mail and many of the patrons thought these kids were my helpers.

It’s great to see people’s attitude change in a positive way.

Longing for the past in the future by Stacy Dykstra. Growing up in Lakewood I remember tree-lined streets, the sounds of kids playing from Mayfair Park, swimming at the pool, the Pan American Fiesta, and everyone gathering around South Street, Stephen Foster School, and nearby roof tops to watch the spectacular fireworks show on the Fourth of July!

On the weekends, you saw people washing their cars, mowing their lawns, and taking pride in their homes. Almost everyone knew each other by first or last name around the neighborhood which many times included other streets other than their own. People genuinely looked out for each other because they cared.

That is why when I purchased my first home it was in Lakewood, just two streets over from where I grew up.

Lakewood was crowded with children in the 1950s as new families grew. 

The neighborhoods have changed a little. Some of the voices from the park are now from my children. I have carried on the tradition that my parents instilled in me when I was growing up. Take pride in your home; be proud of where you live in hopes that others around you will follow.

I hope that the city keeps up its standards, takes pride in parks and streets, and holds homeowners and renters accountable for their part in keeping the city for what it was known for in the past. A tree-lined city with clean streets and safe parks for the children make for a great community to live in. Longing for the past in the future!

What I like about living in Lakewood by Amy Higuchi. Lakewood has only been our home for only a year and a half now, but I have to admit, we may be here for the long term. When choosing a place to purchase our first home, we saw that Lakewood had many charming streets, truly grand old trees, close freeway access (but not too close) and very kind people who cared for their children and homes.

My husband Ryan and I both grew up in the South Bay and frankly were searching for a less expensive alternative that was not too far from work. Lakewood was that city and so much more.

Once we purchased our home, we realized that the traffic is so non-existent here in comparison because home tracts divide the concentrations of retail. Lack of traffic is one reason we believe we will not leave.

Imagine coming home from work in crowded Manhattan Beach and driving through so much traffic on the freeways, only to get off of the freeway at Bellflower Boulevard to a short zip home past the wonderful, large, 50-year-old Ficus trees that line the street. The quiet is truly a blessing. We hear no traffic noise on our street, only the sounds of nature birds during the day and a few crickets at night.

I am a property manager for a large international real estate firm and I realize that it takes much coordination and care to maintain a city. It is easy to pull the budget from the landscaping and maintenance areas when the economy is struggling. The Lakewood City Maintenance Services are second to none, every park and green space in Lakewood is well taken care of and the streets are clean – all of which leads to a quality of life that we both love. The parks and the West San Gabriel River Parkway are amazing, and our dog, Akai, loves them as much as we do.

For many residents, Lakewood manages to be both modern and timeless.

The Lakewood Center has added a Mimi’s Café. Home Depot is very close to our home, which is so convenient for those “umm, I think we need another can of paint” incidents. Also, many strip mall owners are renovating and becoming “new again” thanks to their owners – they see that young families are coming to Lakewood and want the convenience of shopping and eating at nice places that are close to home. So much has changed in only a year and a half since we moved here. The quality of life in Lakewood improves every day.

With every weekly update from the Lakewood e-magazine, I know we chose the right place to start a family and make a home. Both Ryan and I would like to thank all of the citizens, Lakewood city officials, city service personnel, and businesses for making this city a place we are proud to call our home.

She was Harrison. I was Torrey by Robin Tweedy Nordee. She was Harrison. I was Torrey. She was Jewish. I was Christian. And we were best friends.

Gale and I had met the first day of school in September 1961 when we started 7th grade at Bancroft Junior High. Right from the start, in Mr. Dunfee’s Social Studies class, we had become soul mates. I had turned 12 in July, and Gale was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah at the Lakewood Jewish Community Center.

Her celebration was set for Friday, September 29. Now the best part of the Bat Mitzvah were the gifts. Besides gifts, Gale got over $160 in cold cash, and we couldn’t wait to spend it! The next morning, we walked to the Lakewood Center. This was before there was such a thing as (an indoor) mall.

Lakewood Center was known as the biggest shopping center in the United States—and we were going to hit it with a vengeance.

The May Co. sold everything from pots and pans to violins and mink coats. 

We started our shopping spree down by Butlers. Our first stop was at Sav-On where Gale bought Mabelline mascara and Bonnie Bell lipstick. Next, we went into Leed’s shoe store, and she found Ked’s tennies in powder blue. Our next destination was Chic’s—the only place to find the cutest purses, belts, and fun jewelry. Gale bought a round, gold circle pin. We were on a roll, and decided to hit May Co. next.

No basement shopping for us—we were serious shoppers and went right up the escalator to the 2nd floor to the preteen area, where Miss Gale preceded to try on everything and ended up with a pleated wool skirt and the coveted black hooded sweater that was so necessary to own. By now we were starving, so went through the line at Clifton’s Cafeteria. Feeling fairly confident for two 12 year olds, we headed off for Judy’s—beautiful Judy’s with the Palo Verde stone exterior. Judy’s with the absolute cutest clothes to be found anywhere.

Gale bought a winter white angora sweater with a peter pan collar. With only a few dollars left, we knew exactly where our last stop would be. We crossed Lakewood Blvd. at Candlewood and walked into Wallich’s Music City to listen to a few records before buying one. We just had to buy the Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” Gale bought a 45 for herself and one for me.

It was getting dark, so we started the walk home with all our loot. It was a windy, cool evening and we walked through the open field (where Bullocks and Buffums would eventually be built) with the tumbleweeds blowing around us. It was an absolutely perfect moment.