Looking back on...Hansen Brothers

DOWNEY - The year was 1910.For many families across the state of California, fruit orchards and animal farms were normal fixtures in life, providing oranges to sell during the day and chickens to cook for supper. As the province of Downey slowly developed, several innovative businessmen traveled to its borders in the early 20th century, looking for opportunities to expand their enterprises while offering their services to the growing city. In 1910, from Los Angeles to Downey came a Danish family with the last name Hansen. Upon loading a horse and wagon, the family traveled miles, even wading through the Rio Hondo River, to move to the community of Downey. As a family of contractors and architects, the Hansens were drawn to Downey, which lacked much infrastructure at the time, as the land was comprised of many sizable ranch homes and orchards. This early pioneering family came to this city ready to help build it and today, dozens of Downey's homes and buildings, as well as miles of the city's concrete sidewalks, can be attributed to the three Hansen brothers, Edward, Harrie and Otto. Although each brother had a different skill, the three worked together to lay the foundation of the city in a literal sense. In the 1920s, Edward and Harrie Hansen became partners as cement contractors, starting a business called Hansen Bros. The concrete company was lucrative and from 1923 until 1930 the two brothers laid cement for nearly every city development project including Downey's first subdivision of homes known as The Downey Home Tract. Hansen Bros. also did the concrete work for the community's first high school, which would later be renamed Downey High School. In addition to concrete work, Edward and Harrie also supplied a resource that was vital to ranchers of the time: irrigation pipe. In the midst of California's arid environment, irrigation pipe was necessary to provide water for one's farmland. The Hansen brothers made and sold the pipe from their home on Downey Avenue and 7th Street. The large parcel of land stretched from Downey Avenue to La Reina Avenue, where a giant shed housed cement mixers that would produce the family's products. In 1959, Harrie retired and sold the irrigation pipe yard, which was turned into apartment buildings near La Reina. On the corner of Downey Avenue and 7th Street, the original Hansen homes still stand and are now La Casita Treatment Center, which is operated by Los Angeles County. While Edward and Harrie helped provide sidewalks and irrigation pipe, their younger brother had other ambitions. Born in 1893, Otto Hansen was 17 years old when the family moved to Downey. Otto grew up with a passion for architecture and traveled to the University of Southern California to take up an apprenticeship so he could learn the trade. Needless to say, as a result of fewer regulations during the early 1900s, Otto was able to design and construct several buildings even before obtaining his architectural license. Today, Downey is home to dozens of structures that were designed by Otto Hansen, including the First Presbyterian Church of Downey on Downey Avenue in 1928, Gallatin Elementary School in 1936 and the Moravian Church of Downey on Old River School Road in 1954. Hansen personally favored Mediterranean and Spanish architecture and as a result many of the structures he designed bear those features. Hansen also designed houses that reflected the original ranch style seen the homes that stood in Downey in the early 1900s. As vast farmlands and large ranches started being subdivided to create smaller homes for the new families that were moving into the city in the 1940s and 50s, Otto was called upon to create blueprints for dozens of homes. One particular subdivision is known as the Orange Estates, which stretches east to west from Paramount Boulevard to Old River School Road and north to south from Florence Avenue to Firestone Boulevard. Many homes in this portion of Downey have not been altered and now stand as a representation of Otto Hansen's style and creativity. Hansen's last homes were completed in the mid 50s and are known as the Molly Pitcher Estates, a collection of ranch style homes on Chaney Avenue, south of Florence Ave. Nearly one hundred years after the Hansen family made the journey to Downey, their contributions to the city have been mostly forgotten. However, the structures they designed and built remain, telling their unique American story. In fact, if one takes enough time to search for it, he'll find the name Hansen etched into many of Downey's sidewalks, a hidden marker bridging Downey's provincial past with its suburban present.

********** Published: January 29, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 41

FeaturesEric Pierce