DOWNEY – The local public was treated to walk-throughs and presentations featuring of one of Downey’s most historic properties last Saturday.
The Casa De Parley Johnson was opened up to residents as a part of the Downey 60th Anniversary History Speaker Series. This was the second event in the series meant to honor Downey’s 60 years of incorporation and better connect city residents to the city’s rich and dynamic history.
Saturday’s open house was hosted by members of the Assistance League and the Assisteens, as well as the Historical Society.
The Parley Johnson House was bequeathed to the Assistance League of Downey in 1986 after the death of Gyspy Johnson, and as such has been used as a meeting place for the organization. Usually, the home is not open to the public.
“Larry Latimer from the Historical Society got together with us and said ‘can we open the house and let people see something of real historic Downey.’ And so we agreed to do that…,” said former Assistance League President Adele Alexander.
It was not uncommon to hear Saturday’s attendees express that they had no idea what was behind the walls despite passing by the home often. According to Alexander, this is a common occurrence.
“We have had open houses...and people always says the same thing, ‘Oh, never knew what was behind the walls,’” said Alexander. “It’s true, they don’t know. But that’s true about a lot of places in Downey they don’t know...we try to keep it alive.”
Saturday’s event also featured a presentation by the aforementioned Latimer, author of "Images of America Downey."
According to Latimer, the home is extremely important to Downey’s history.
“Parley and Gypsy, in the 20’s when they built the home, citrus was really the king in Downey. [Gypsy] was so well connected with all the citrus families, The Tweedys, The Balls, which started the packing plant, which started processing all of Downey’s citrus…,” said Latimer. “…that’s the connection is that as Downey boomed, it started in 1873 when the railroad came through, but then the next 30 years as Downey took off agriculturally…what happened was these families played an important part in the city, the churches, getting the schools built and things like that. And eventually aviation took the place of what citrus had done for this area…”
The History Speaker Series will continue later this year with two more events currently scheduled in early September and late October. These events will be held at the library and Rancho Los Amigos, respectively.