The city of Downey I knew as a youngster was a small, largely suburban-rural community. Long before it became a city it was fragrant with orange blossoms in spring and sooty-dirty when the temperature dropped to freezing and the smudge pots were lit to keep the fruit from frost bite in the many orange groves.A man with a horse-drawn disc contraption weeded and plowed our orchards. He made shallow basins around all the trees to contain the water at irrigation time. The water for this came from an irrigation ditch nearby. It was out-of-bounds for us children but secretly we dangled our feet in it on warm summer days. The moving water was clean and deliciously cool.
When my father ordered some exotic fruit or food stuff from other places, he drove in his Model T Ford to the train depot in Downey to pick it up. We heard the trains come through Downey at night. The sound of them set me to dreaming of far places yet to be experienced.
Downey was ideally situated in relation to the city of Los Angeles, to the mountains and the shore. We were not far from any of these attractions, yet were far enough to have a flavor of our own.
It was a sleepy town with one main street, now Downey Avenue. There we had one theater, the Meralta, and I remember a department store, a bank, a shoe store, barber shop and grocery store. The Home Bakery there sold delicious pineapple pies for 25 cents.
My father bought our big two-storied house and property from a Mr. Squires. There were six of us siblings and my parents there where College Avenue ended and met Clara Street. Later, College Avenue became Paramount Boulevard, which now ribbons its way north to other cities. Clara Street became Florence Avenue.
Huge trucks loaded with hay from the cities of Hynes and Clearwater came thundering to a stop at our corner and made the ground shake.
Our Downey schools were about a mile from our home. In good weather, we walked, cutting diagonally through neighboring ranches. On rainy days our older siblings drove us to and from school. Much later we rode the school bus.
At one time, during World War II, troops of soldiers were stationed south of our home on 7th Street and Paramount Boulevard. The boys whistled and waved at us young girls when we drove by in my brother's convertible. And we drove by often!
We were content here in Downey and our many Los Angeles relatives liked it so well they came nearly every Sunday to spend the day "in the country." They went home with boxes of fruits from our orchard after feasting at Mama's table.
My youngest brother, Joe, and I spent most of our summer days outdoors. Children from neighboring ranches were our playmates. We had a vast two-acre playground right in our backyard where we were the bad guys and the good guys having rubber gun fights, chose teams for baseball games, played miniature golf, high jumped, performed dramatic plays and played school in our playhouse, climbed trees, and sometimes just lay on our lawn and looked at the clouds.
Our old mongrel dog, Jack, was included in all our activities and summoned us when we were called to go indoors with a particular bark. Jack was the original and expert tire-biter. He raced after cars traveling east on Clara. How disconcerting that must have been for those drivers! By some miracle he lived undamaged to a ripe old age.
At bedtime we heard the rustling of sleepy birds high in the palm and magnolia trees outside our open windows. The fragrance of jasmine and orange blossoms filled the night. We fell asleep between crisp cotton sheets which had dried on a line in the sun and we awoke to the aroma of breakfast wafting up from downstairs.
It seems logical to assume that our physical and social environment influences us in ways we don't even recognize. Now that I have many friends here and have become active in some of the social aspects of the city, I cannot see the point of moving. Our little city is changing; it isn't the safe haven we once thought it was, it isn't perfect, but it's my hometown and it suits me just fine.
'My Hometown' was written by Downey resident Rosalie Sciortino in commemoration of the Downey Historical Society's annual membership luncheon, held June 27.
Published: July 10, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 12