Looking back on... Streets, roads & boulevards

DOWNEY - For Downey's earliest settlers, life wasn't always easy.In fact, many took long and arduous trips across the country in order to get to the Golden West. Families, in essence, started from scratch ‚àí building new homes, tilling new fields, harvesting new crops, overseeing brand new communities. While many people today would consider such a task insurmountable, 19th century pioneers took on the challenge, confident that their effort would produce thriving cities where their names would be remembered. Overtime, the orange groves, dairy farms and family ranches vanished, but the names of Downey's pioneering families never faded away. Today, these men and women share a living legacy ‚àí the very streets, roads and boulevards that still bear their names. According to historical records, Downey's first three streets were Dolan, Crawford and Venable; all named after men who helped establish the city, which initially cultivated near the intersection of Downey Avenue and Firestone Boulevard. Dolan Street was named in honor of John Dolland, an early Downey rancher who migrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1841. Dolland served as secretary of the Downey Land Association, the organization founded by John Gately Downey to help him both facilitate the new Southern Pacific Railroad and develop the community of Downey. Crawford Street took its name from Matson Duke Crawford, an early attorney and judge who also partnered with John Gately Downey. It remained Crawford Street from 1873 until 1935 when a group of local realtors launched a campaign to have the name changed to Downey Avenue, in honor of Downey, who served as governor of California from 1860-62. Nevertheless, Crawford's name still lives on through Crawford Park, a small residential park located at 7000 Dinwiddie Street. Prominent resident Judge J.W. Venable also had a street named for him, but the road soon became referred to as Depot Street because it led to the local train station. Eventually, the street became known as La Reina Street. For many of Downey's roads, the names gradually changed over the years to reflect the people, places and events that shaped the town. Old River School Road, for instance, got its name from the school respectively. Similarly, Gallatin Road, formally known as Gallatin School House Road, was named after the old Gallatin Schoolhouse built in 1893 near Brookshire Avenue. Telegraph Road, which runs along Downey's northern border, didn't really have its name changed, it was just shortened. The roadway was originally known as Anaheim-Telegraph Road because of the telegraph lines that connected Los Angeles to Anaheim. For a time, there was also a stagecoach line operated along the route. In 1952, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the abbreviated name. Just south of Telegraph is one of Downey's principal highways, which has taken several names since its development and remains a busy thoroughfare today: Florence Avenue. Florence runs through the cities of Inglewood, Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Bell, Bell Gardens, Downey, and unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County bordering the City of Whittier. Originally, the road was called Mayes Street after Robert Henry Mayes, a prominent pioneer in the region. Later, it became known as Easy Street, reportedly because farmers who lived along the street often referred to themselves as living on "easy street." According to an early account, a telephone operator called asking for the street's proper name, which was going to be included in a new phone book. Residents answered, "we have always just called it Easy Street." But it was also known as Hunt's Crossing. Mr. and Mrs. Hunt had a small ranch on the north side of Downey where Old River School Road ended. Later, the street was permanently changed to Florence Avenue in honor of a woman who was a member of one of Cudahy's founding families. Firestone Boulevard began as an old ranch road, surveyed in 1870 and first called Santa Gertrudes. Subsequently, the road took many names including Front Street, First Street and Manchester Boulevard. Lakewood Boulevard used to be called Cerritos Avenue. It served as the primary route to get from Bellflower into Downey, but stopped at Firestone Boulevard. Years later, the road was extended north. Today, the street is a state highway that connects the eastern parts of Long Beach to Pasadena through the Whittier Narrows. Paramount Boulevard was once known as College Avenue due to the early college, Los Nietos Collegiate Institute, located at the southeast corner of Alameda Street. It was once the main thoroughfare between the two communities of Gallatin and College Settlement. The settlements would later merge with Downey in the 1870s. When the road's name was changed to Paramount, Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Squire put a short street in their apple orchard, just north of Third Street between Myrtle and Paramount, named College Avenue to perpetuate the memory. The road still exist today. Brookshire Avenue was once known as Church Street, named because of a Nazarene church, which sat at the corner of Firestone and Brookshire. The street originally ran down from Gallatin and stopped at Cherokee Lane. However, the road was later extended and renamed in memory of James Brookshire, an early resident, who had a small ranch on the east side of Brookshire, just north of Cherokee Lane. Cherokee Lane, once Ball Road, was renamed for the Cherokee roses Albert Ball planted along both sides of the lane that used to lead up to the two-story Ball residence. Tweedy Lane, named for the Tweedy family runs from Telegraph Road down to Florence Avenue. It was the street that led into the Tweedy ranch holdings, which exceeded 100 acres. Prior to being called Tweedy, the street was known as Telegraph and Jaboneria Road. Jaboneria was the name of a soap factory in the early 1900s that operated near the Rio Hondo River. In 1895, Tweedy partnered with Albert Ball and the two began packing their own fruit as well as citrus they purchased throughout the valley. The two families created and jointly operated the Ball and Tweedy Sunkist Packing Co. The Tweedys are also credited with planting the row of stately palm trees along Tweedy Lane. In 1911, James K. Tweedy and his wife planted the Washingtonia palms along the street in front of their Tweedy Ranch and encouraged the owner of the Ball Ranch to do the same so they would extend along the street. Years later, the County tried to remove the palms on the lane, but Tweedy protested and County officials conceded. Wiley-Burke Avenue, which runs from Suva Street down to Firestone Boulevard, gets its name from both the Wiley and Burke families. Frank Burke had large holdings (more than 88 acres) from Rives Avenue to the Old River School Road while William K. Wiley owned land from Third Street to the railroad tacks near Firestone Boulevard. Second Street, west of Paramount Boulevard, used to be called Burke Lane because it was the best roadway to the Burke Ranch. Stewart and Gray Road also took its name from two families who lived on opposite ends of the street. Joseph Henry Stewart, who opened the first blacksmith shop in Los Nietos Valley, lived on the west side of the road. He moved into the region in 1869 and purchased 33 acres of land near the Rio Hondo River with his wife, Mary Rule Stewart. The other end of the road was named for Algernon Sidney Gray, a farmer, businessman, and municipal judge who moved to Downey in the early 1870s. He served as an active community leader and justice of the peace in the early years of Downey's history. As Downey began to develop and prosper, the city's population grew exponentially and large farm fields soon became thriving subdivisions, full of new homes and families. But despite the addition of new streets and roads, many of the original family roads kept their original names. Rives Avenue, for example, once known as Old Wagon Road, bordered the 75-acre estate of James C. Rives. A successful lawyer and newspaperman, Rives was elected to serve two terms as the district attorney of Los Angeles from 1898 to 1902. Although the large estate was subdivided, the street remained, taking its name from the pioneer family. Just south of Imperial Highway, east of Bellflower Boulevard, is Ardis Avenue, named after the Ardis family, chiefly the Rev. John C. Ardis who came to Downey in 1867. Ardis helped establish Alameda Elementary School and College Settlement. The street pays tribute to his contributions to the community. Rev. Ardis' son, Julius, became a prominent local attorney and the first president of the Downey Kiwanis Club. Julius Avenue, which runs north to south from Suva Street to Quill Drive, is named in his honor. Otto Street, which runs east to west in segments across the city, was named for Frank Otto, who had a small orange grove northeast of Florence and Downey avenues. He served as principal and administrator of Downey High School from the early 20s until the mid 40s. Stamps Avenue, which sits near the corner of Gallatin Road and Downey Avenue, is named for the Stamps family, early settlers, who also had a home near the northeast corner of Downey and Florence avenues. One of the Stamps, James, became the city's first mayor. All of these streets are a living memory. While the great pioneers who once lived along these routes may be gone, their names were indeed remembered. It may not be much to commemorate all that these men and women have accomplished, but it's definitely a start down the right road.

********** Published: July 7, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 12