60 Years Ago, Lakewood Went From Suburb to City

Incorporation 1954
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

My hometown celebrates its 60th anniversary of incorporation this week, having gone from beet fields to boulevards between 1950 and 1954. But the making a city was more than houses and highways.

Lakewood residents in those years spent most of their energies making new homes, caring for toddlers and school-age children, supporting the clubs and associations that gave them a sense of community, and sharing their experiences of Lakewood with their new neighbors.

Not many of them gave much thought to local politics.

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A few did, including the members of the Lakewood Taxpayers Association. Among them was an energetic young lawyer named John Sanford Todd. A World War II veteran beginning his own family, Todd was active in advocating for the interests of other Lakewood-area homeowners. He grew familiar with the workings of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that oversaw the county-provided services in unincorporated Lakewood.

He found that his neighbors had concerns about hog farms, open drainage ditches, good law enforcement, and more parks for youth.

As Lakewood grew, so did his neighbors' concerns. Todd and others discussed what they could do to aid their new community. The consensus of opinion was conservative -- improvements were needed in many areas of Lakewood, but the community's overall situation was fine.

That changed in 1953 when city officials in Long Beach began a campaign to annex Lakewood neighborhoods piece by piece. Lakewood was destined to become a district within Long Beach. Todd and those who shared his views about local control disagreed.

Annexation was mostly stalled by delaying tactics Todd devised, but the status quo was untenable. The alternative for many Lakewood residents was incorporation. The movement to make Lakewood a city got support of the Lakewood Park Corporation (developer of Lakewood) and the Southern California Gas Company. Neighborhood volunteers quickly gathered enough support to put incorporation on the March 9, 1954 ballot.

By an overwhelming majority, Lakewood residents voted for incorporation. They would now determine on their own the kind of city they wanted Lakewood to become.

Here are some images from 1954 from Lakewood's collection of historic photographs recently published by Arcadia Press in celebration of Lakewood's 60 years of incorporation.

John Todd
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

Making Lakewood's Voice Heard. John Todd (standing at the microphone) was one of the leaders of unincorporated Lakewood as a member of the Lakewood Taxpayers Association. In the early 1950s, Todd and other LTA members lobbied the county Board of Supervisors for streetlights and trash collection, for the fencing of drainage ditches, for stop signs near schools, and for a zoning ordinance for Lakewood.


Voter Talley
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

Counting Households Pro and Con. Joe Covas and Frances Veder chart Lakewood's risk of annexation house by house in 1953. According to John Todd, the Lakewood Taxpayers' Association was being tom apart by a nearly equal division of those in favor of and opposed to annexation. The Lakewood Civic Council, founded by Todd in May 1953, took up active opposition to annexation.


Guinea Pig
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

The Risks of Incorporation. Opponents of making Lakewood its own city highlighted the risks of being the first community in California to incorporate since 1939. They warned of higher taxes and the cost of police and fire stations. They also argued that Lakewood had no industry and only property taxes to keep a city afloat.


Headline
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

New City Born. On March 9, 1954, Lakewood voters by 7,524 for to 4,868 against approved incorporation. The voters also decided which of the 39 candidates would be the city's first council members. When the results came in, bedlam broke out. People shouted, and everyone tried to get in on the celebration, according to newspaper accounts.


1954 City Hall
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

Modest City Hall. Lakewood's first city hall was a rented storefront in the Faculty Shops at Lakewood Center. A few chairs and a table in the back of the room were designated as the city council chambers.


Lakewood Officials
| Photo courtesy of the City of Lakewood

Lakewood Gets Down to City Business. The first city council was sworn in on April 16, 1954 at the start of an all-night council meeting. The new council members were Gene Nebeker, Robert W. Baker Angelo M. Iacoboni, George Nye, Jr., and William J. Burns. The entire city staff (standing) consisted of City Attorney John Sanford Todd (left), Executive Secretary Director Guy Halferty, City Clerk Nita Burch, and City Administrator Robert Anderson. Newspaper's jokingly called Lakewood "the city without a payroll."

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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