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CHAPTER 5, 1900-1950 -Artesia Grows and Becomes a Dairy Center
The Red Car Line | Patricia Nixon's Hometown - 1920 | Flood Still a Problem | Earthquakes | Dairies

The Red Car Line

By 1900, there were 102,479 people living in the city of Los Angeles and several other thousands in the outlying communities that were surrounded by farms. What was needed was something to even more efficiently link all these towns together and that need was supplied when Henry E. Huntington began to build the Pacific Electric Railway in 1902. The first line was to the new town of Long Beach and in a few years the “Red Cars” were zooming in all directions. At last people could farm part time and commute to good paying jobs in the cities. The effect of the growth of the outlying towns was tremendous. In 1902, Long Beach had 2,200 people. In a decade, the population grew to 18,000.

When the line was extended to Santa Ana in 1906, the few businessmen of little Artesia encouraged the company to build right through town. At last Artesia was on the route to somewhere, and got itself together to open a subdivision and a business district. A station was built on Pioneer Boulevard and there was a pleasant little park right across the street where passengers could wait.

The businesses were now clustered between the present 186th Street and the Pacific Electric Station. In 1910 the old schoolhouse was sold and moved to a new site on Main Street (Pioneer Blvd.) about where Postma's Furniture Store is located today. It became a general store with hotel facilities upstairs. A brick school building replaced it with the same name, Artesia School.

The major occupation of the Artesia area was still farming. There were a number of vineyards at this time and George Frampton and O. J. Thompson operated a winery that was located northeast of the Pioneer Boulevard and Artesia Boulevard intersection. The Harvey Smith cheese factory in Norwalk and the Lily Condensed Milk company in Buena Park were some companies that used milk from the small dairies that were throughout the area.

The Pacific Electric was more than a means of commuting. It hauled freight, including tons of sugar beets, provided entertaining tour routes, and had a hearse car to carry the deceased to undertaking parlors in Los Angeles.

The red cars helped some cities grow and others begin. Just east of Artesia a new town named Waterville was built on the Pacific Electric line. Eventually it would be renamed Cypress. Huntington, who had financed his transportation network with money that he inherited from his uncle Collis P. Huntington, a co-founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, increased his fortune as his electric railway carried prospective home buyers to areas he happened to own. Huntington Park and Huntington Beach did not get their names accidentally.

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Patricia Nixon's Hometown - 1920
Julie Nixon Eisenhower has written a biography of her mother, Patricia Nixon, that describes life in the Artesia area in the 1920's. When Thelma Ryan, who later married the future president and used Patricia as a preferred name, was a child, a buggy trip to “town” meant Artesia. It could boast of a bank, a barbershop, and two blacksmiths. There was also a hardware store, Scott and Frampton's for general merchandise, and the Niemes drugstore.

Myrtle Raines Franz and Robert B. Marchbank lived on farms near Artesia then. They remember attending the Artesia Grammar School, the only school in the area for many years, and then riding the bus to Norwalk High School on Rosecrans, between Pioneer and Norwalk Boulevards, before Excelsior High School was built in 1925.

As kids they had a lot of fun. Near the intersection of Carmenita and South Street was the Anthony ranch where water from a deep well was collected in an enormous reservoir some sixteen feet deep and a hundred feet across. After school, the children would put on their swimsuits in a nearby shed and then go swimming.

One Halloween night, “goblins” put a wagon on the roof of the Pacific Electric station, and moved outhouses to the roofs of business buildings on Pioneer Boulevard.

So many farms in the area had depleted the water table, and the formerly free-flowing artesian wells now had to be pumped. Mr. Marchbank's brother had a tank on a wagon that he took from farm to farm, delivering “distillate” to fuel the pumps. In the morning the sound of the water pumps on every farm could be heard across the fields. Families that could not afford pumps would get all the children up to take turn hand-pumping until their water tank was full.

The Marchbank farm was on Bloomfield Road between 183rd and South Street and the house was next to where Cerritos High School is now. North of them and across the road was the farm of Charles A. Nickson where the Cerritos City Hall and library are now located. He was locally famous for his fine crops of sweet potatoes and invented a special machine for harvesting them.

There was a great variety of crops. The Greenies family rented acreage from Myrtle Franz' parents and grew ten acres of daffodils, dahlias, and other flowers on South Street between Shoemaker and Bloomfield. Some farmers raised a variety of corn known as Orange County Prolific that would grow sixteen feet tall. It bore a few edible ears, but was most valuable for the long, thick stalk and leaves that made excellent sileage for livestock.

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Flood Still a Problem

The Norwalk, Bellflower and Artesia area was especially known for flooding. 1916 was a really wet winter and the San Gabriel overflowed. The Pacific Electric tracks were built up high and the Red Cars kept operating while the dirt roads were impassable. However, the railway was like a dike, damming the flood waters, and as the waters rose they came dangerously near the business section of town on Pioneer boulevard. During the night, a mysterious “someone” dynamited the track between Pioneer and Studebaker Road to let the water get through.

Most winters, the area by Gridley between Del Amo and South Street became a lake. The Coyote Creek regularly overflowed and flooded the Hawaiian Gardens area.

During the 1930's some large dams and reservoirs were built in the San Gabriel mountains. Later “spreading dams” were constructed to control the floods and allow some of the water to replenish the water table. By the end of the 1960's all the rivers and creeks had been enclosed in concrete channels. To look at the San Gabriel now it is hard to think of it as a real river with willows and reeds and a place to take a Sunday picnic, but its meandering ways were a major problem when it used to wash out acres of farmland.

Through the early 1900's, the Los Angeles area continued to grow steadily. The city of Los Angeles continued to double its population with every ten year census, and by 1930 it was home for over a million people. The outlying communities had grown also, as diversified industries needed more and more workers. It was not unusual for people to commute across the basin on the electric railway or by car. At this time, Artesia counted about four thousand people.

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An 1889 history of the county has a lengthy article about earthquakes. It describes the quake that destroyed the church at San Juan Capistrano in 1812 and the severe Ft. Tejon quake of 1857, and then states, “We had a heavy shake in 1868 and also another in 1872. With these two exceptions, the earthquakes we have had in Los Angeles since those of 1857 have been unimportant.”

In March 10, 1933, the people of our area were reminded that our earth is still young and restless. Late in the afternoon, a 6.3 magnitude quake occurred on the Newport-Inglewood fault. Had the region still been devoted to ranching or farming, the effect might have been exciting but not too damaging. However, a dense population had made homes and businesses in buildings of careless construction that might have met building codes in the Midwest. No consideration had been given to earthquakes, and the unreinforced brick and mortar structures fell apart. As a result there were 102 fatalities and nearly $40,000,000 in damages. Long Beach was devastated and there was serious damage to buildings in Torrance, Garden Grove, and Compton. A number of business buildings in Norwalk and Artesia were damaged and had to be torn down.

Twenty-two school buildings were severely damaged. One of them was Excelsior High School, which had been built in 1925 at Pioneer Blvd. and Alondra to replace the old Norwalk High School and was a showplace of the community. It lost its decorative portico and suffered other damage. The Artesia School was so badly damaged that it was replaced by another building on the same site, named Pioneer School.

Fortunately, the schools were unoccupied during the early evening time of the earthquake and thousands of deaths and injuries were thus averted, but the state legislature immediately saw the need for a strict building code and passed the Field Act. In future, all new construction of schools must comply with a state, not local, code and be carefully supervised. A later amendment ordered that by 1975 all school buildings built before the Field Act should be closed if they did not meet the safety rules. An extension of two extra years was added.

Mother Nature did not wait that long, and early in the morning on February 9, 1971 the earth moved again. This time the quake was of 6.8 magnitude and centered near Sylmar in the northern part of Los Angeles County. Again, lessons were learned about safe building construction and a number of schools were closed after inspection, including the Clifton School on 183rd Street. The strictest laws yet were passed and many public buildings were ordered strengthened or replaced. The Cerritos-Artesia area was jolted by the tremor but suffered no major damages with the 1971 quake or the one in October of 1987 that caused considerable damage in Whittier.

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The California ranchers of the 1800's had thousands of cows but saw no reason to milk them. If it was absolutely necessary to obtain milk for an invalid or an infant, it was a job for three men who could lasso the cow and try to hold her still long enough for one of them to get a container filled. At least, this is the story usually presented. A few rare accounts tell of some milk cows on a particular ranch and cheese being made at another.

Dairy farming was introduced to California by the Americans who came here in the 1850's. They demanded fresh milk, butter, and cheese and imported these products until 1854. As the market grew, dairy farms were begun first in the San Francisco area and later in Southern California.

By the 1880's there were a number of cheese factories and creameries in the Los Angeles area, with small, local dairies supplying the milk. A number of them seem to have been concentrated in a belt from Compton through Buena Park.

As business grew in the 1920's, more milkers were needed and Portuguese who had worked at dairies in the San Joaquin Valley moved to Los Angeles County. They developed a community in the little town of Artesia, building a fellowship hall that was the center of social life and retaining their language and much of their Portuguese culture. Many of them had originated in the Portuguese-owned Azores and immigration has continued to the present.

As the metropolitan area filled with houses and industrial plans, the dairies were crowded eastward so that by the 1940's the Hynes-Clearwater area was the dairy center of Southern California.

There were fewer dairies by then, but they were very productive. During the 1930's many Dutch people immigrated to the United States. They often settled first in the Midwest and then moved to Southern California. Many of them were descended from generations of dairy farmers and had the expertise to practice the intensive dairy farming that the situation demanded.

These dairies were milk factories. The cows rarely wandered over grassy pastures. The farms were small, averaging ten acres or less with about a hundred cows. The animals were fed scientifically regulated fodder that included hay, cottonseed meal, copra, and other exotic sileage. Each cow was expected to produce her quota of twelve hundred gallons of milk a year, or she would become hamburger and a new cow would take her place. Fertilizer was a business sideline.

There was little room for sentimentality. Dairying was hard work. The cows had to be kept healthy and fed and milked regularly. Equipment had to be sterile, not just clean. The cows worked a seven day week and a fifty-two week year and the dairymen had to keep the same schedule. But it was profitable. During the 1940's the industry in the area produced 500,000 gallons of milk monthly, for an annual profit of some $61,000,000.

The “semi-marine” climate of the area was excellent for the cows and made possible the phenomenal milk production. Some southern California cows produced three thousand gallons of milk a year - twice the national average.

By the early 1950's, Hynes-Clearwater had combined as the community of Paramount and had become an internationally recognized center for the sale of hay. In 1953, business amounted to $32,000,000 in hay and $12,000,000 in other dairy feeds.

The Dutch farmers created a little Holland in the area from Paramount to west Buena Park. They could hear sermons in the Dutch Reformed churches, read newspapers, and enjoy a rich social and cultural life in their own language. When Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands toured the United States in 1952, they made a special visit to this area.

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