"Visualize the advantages your family will enjoy with the ownership of your own home in Lakewood,” read one Lakewood Park advertisement. Byt 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. All front doors, however, 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 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 tree planted in front of each house had been chosen with more care. Those trees, planted for quick growth, later cost the city millions of dollars 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 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 who agreed to have 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 one resident. “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.
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.