Looking back on... James Tweedy Ranch

DOWNEY - Since its founding, several prominent men and women have made Downey their home.From ranchers and nurserymen, to aviators and politicians, Downey, established in 1873, provided suitable living for innovators and businessmen alike. Among them was a pioneering family that gained notoriety by utilizing one of Los Nietos Valley's most precious resources: oranges. Led by renowned rancher James Jackson Tweedy, the Tweedy family helped harvest, pack and distribute oranges and other fruit to locations all across the country. The family also owned miles of land and several homes in north Downey near the intersection of Tweedy Lane and Gallatin Road. While the majority of the Tweedy acreage has now been subdivided, a large 1.9-acre parcel on Tweedy Lane still contains the original, 85-year-old ranch house of James Knox Tweedy, son of James Jackson Tweedy. Though modified over the years, the integrity of the ranch is still intact, offering residents today a glimpse into the life of the notable Tweedy family. After losing both parents at a young age, James J. Tweedy moved to California at just 17 years of age. Before acquiring his own land, the teenage rancher came to his uncle, Robert Tweedy, who owned a large acreage between Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is now the city of Cudahy. Motivated by his uncle's success, James J. Tweedy, upon marrying Texas native Eliza Ann Sutton, settled in Downey in 1881. The couple bought nearly 145 acres of land in north Downey, a sizable tract which stretched from the Rio Hondo River in the west to Telegraph-Jaboneria Road, now Tweedy Lane, on the east and Foster Bridge Road, now Suva Street, in the south. In its original state, the purchased land was unimproved, but after years of hard work and labor, Tweedy's land flourished. It was on this property that Tweedy began the culture of oranges, which quickly developed, becoming one of the largest and most productive industries in the region. Tweedy is credited with having planted the first grove. In 1895, Tweedy partnered with Albert Ball and the two began packing their own fruit as well as citrus purchased throughout the valley. Operated by both families, the Ball and Tweedy Sunkist Packing Co. was located on Firestone Boulevard between Brookshire and Dolan avenues. Over time, the company proved to be a very successful venture for the Tweedy family and Downey's growing community of farmers. As the packing company prospered, the Tweedy family built stately homes, the most notable and enduring being owned by James Knox Tweedy. According to Downey historian Larry Latimer, "by 1930, James K. Tweedy…was tending 75.6 acres of land just west of Tweedy Lane at Gallatin Schoolhouse Road. In the mid 1920's, J.K. Tweedy and neighboring citrus rancher Parley Johnson hired famed Southern California architect Roland Coate to design homes for each of them." Today, both homes still stand more than 80 years after their construction. Built in the Monterey style of architecture, the James K. Tweedy ranch house was finished in 1925 and is classified as an "early California adobe." Originally, the 3,500 sq. ft. home featured 10 rooms, including an office, kitchen and dining room, arranged around a central patio or "outdoor living room," which was covered by a screen dome. The Tweedy home, located at 9117 Tweedy Lane., had five bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms along with a separate 1,000 sq. ft. guest house, 50-foot pool and pool house. After World War II, James K. Tweedy sought to sell his large provisions of land. Interestingly enough, during that time the State of California was making an attempt to plant a state college in the gateway region for graduating high school students. Tweedy proposed his large acreage in Downey be purchased for the new college. State officials considered the property, but ultimately bought land in Long Beach from the Bixby family, one of the largest landowners in the Los Angeles area at the time. The small state college would later become Cal State Long Beach. Consequently, Tweedy began selling large portions of his land, which were subdivided in order to create new homes in the area. Despite the loss of land, the 1.9-arce estate remained intact and was sold in the mid 50's to H.A. and Ruth Boezinger who kept the house until the late 80's. In the early 90's, real estate developers had plans to subdivide the property and raze the Tweedy ranch house, but in 1995, the estate was bought by Bill and Connie Kirkwood, founders of Kirkwood Christian Schools. Today, the couple resides in the restored estate, which now features four bedrooms and three bathrooms in the main house and three bedrooms and two bathrooms in the remodeled guest house. However, the Kirkwoods have modified the home, enclosing the outdoor living room patio and constructing a two-story garage and office on the property. Nevertheless, the Tweedy ranch, large when compared to the average home today, is but a small, enduring fragment of a vast, fruitful tract of orange orchards, avocado groves and walnut trees. The Tweedy family along with several other pioneering families helped put Downey on the agricultural map, establishing the maturing city as a community of vision and promise.

********** Published: May 14, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 4