OP-ED: Keeping the Carpenters' legacy alive in Downey

I had the great pleasure of being part of a Carpenters' tour last Friday and Saturday. We visited several locations that were an integral part of Karen and Richard's lives in Downey, their homes, their schools, their church, and Furman Park where Karen sang in public for the first time.

 Richard Carpenter and Kathy Perez.

Richard Carpenter and Kathy Perez.

We also went around L.A. and visited other sites, including the cemetery where Karen and her parents are interred in the family mausoleum. While we were there, the tour guides surprised us with a visit with Richard and his wife, Mary. It was truly a heart-stopping experience for this life-long Carpenters' fan!

I was the only person on the tour who was from Downey. There were people from Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, San Diego, and San Jose. It was heartwarming to see and feel their excitement as they toured around our city. They commented on the friendliness of the people, including our high school students and the staff at Downey High. Here are some of their comments:

“I especially enjoyed visiting Downey High. As a teacher of 38 years, I was extremely impressed by the students exiting the building in a quiet and orderly manner at the end of the day. And I thoroughly enjoyed being serenaded by the Jazz ensemble. This teacher gives an A+ to the Downey High administration, faculty and students.”

“We knew right off when Downey citizens stopped their cars so we could take a photo by the Carpenters utility box that Downey was a welcoming place. Everyone was lovely to us as we crazy fans traveled around the area.”

“We had a great time in Downey. Downey is a modern city with a classic charm and feel. It takes you back to a time when things were simpler and people knew each other, but also provides all of the modern amenities. We are hoping to return to Downey in the near future. We felt right at home!”

“I felt right at home in Downey. Everything was so warm and inviting, the atmosphere and the people. There's just something about it and I have been to many places. Thank you, Downey. I plan to be back this Fall.”

“We were so impressed with the Downey High School students, staff and beautiful choir performance. Everyone was gracious and courteous. We went to the Downey Library today to see the Carpenters display and there again we were treated courteously. It's a warm community with so much to be proud of. We hope the legacy of the Carpenters will continue to thrive and inspire musicians and artists.”

“Downey had a wonderful vibe to it. The people were kind and welcoming, a little bit of home right there in Southern California. Would be a wonderful place to live and raise a family!”

These comments and others made me feel so very proud to call Downey home. Many told me that I was lucky to live here. It gave me a whole new appreciation for our city - truly a city where character counts!

 Carpenters fans visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame as part of a Carpenters tour last week. Photo courtesy Kathy Perez

Carpenters fans visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame as part of a Carpenters tour last week. Photo courtesy Kathy Perez

The only unfortunate thing is that I don't think that most people in Downey understand the importance of the Carpenters in music history and that they grew up and continued to live here even after they became world famous, gold medal, Grammy Award-winning recording artists. That was the only thing that the tourists thought was strange. They thought there would be more visible public recognition around town of the Carpenters' legacy.

One of them suggested this: “I think a great way to honor the Carpenters in Downey would be to name a street after them!” Another guest added, “I suggest renaming Newville.” (The home where the Carpenter family lived for many years after they hit it big was on Newville Ave.)

The Carpenters’ brought this group of guests from around the United States to our city where they spent money in hotels and motels, in restaurants, and in stores. There are so many, many more fans who have and will continue to come here because of the Carpenters. They gave and continue to give so much positive recognition to our city almost 50 years after their first album was released.

I hope that we continue to publicly honor the Carpenters and keep their legacy alive in Downey for many years to come.