Pictures at a Revolution: Images of a Post-War Suburb

For almost four years -- off and on -- I've been organizing, cataloging, and digitizing Lakewood's collection of historical photographs, newspaper clippings, and printed ephemera. The ultimate goal was the city's 60th anniversary of incorporation in March 2014.

The city council also wanted to bring Lakewood's story closer to its residents in the form of an online gallery of annotated photographs and a searchable history of the city. Both of these will go live on the city's website on Monday afternoon, January 26.

Picturing suburban places has a vexed history (as I've suggested in these pages). Sunny optimism (wreathed in irony) and doom-laden gloom seem to be the controlling stereotypes of the kind of place I call home. Neither cliché reveals much about the character and lives of those who live where I do.

Photographs from more than 60 years ago have their quota of nostalgia. And they can be viewed from an ironical altitude. But they also record the making of a place that, despite everything, satisfied a longing for home.

Still rural
Still rural | City of Lakewood photo

Lakewood, 1944: The future Lakewood was still largely agricultural in 1944, although the Lakewood Village, Lakewood City, and Mayfair housing tracts had begun to fill the fields north of the Long Beach municipal airport. The Douglas Aircraft plant (bottom, left) was hidden under camouflage. Tall eucalyptus trees (center, right) surround the farm offices of the Montana Land Company on what are now Arbor Road and the site of Lakewood's Water Resources Department. The San Gabriel River (far right) meanders through dairy farms and feedlots in what would become the city of Cerritos one day. The distant Whittier hills and downtown Los Angeles are lost in the haze that grew worse during the war years, making smog an unwanted part of life in the Los Angeles basin.

Laying sidewalks
Laying sidewalks, City of Lakewood photo

New houses, 1950: The plans for the Lakewood development were approved by the County Planning Commission in 1950. The plans included sidewalks, underground wiring for street lights, park areas adjacent to neighborhood schools, and shopping facilities within walking distance of homes.

100,000| City of Lakewood photo

Lakewood Park Mutual Homes, 1952: The start of the Korean War slowed the financing of construction. Lakewood's developers responded to the credit crunch with a novel application of an existing federal program that allowed homeowner co-operatives to buy land in common and receive federally guaranteed loans to build. The Lakewood Park Corporation set up paper co-operatives of company employees who applied for a federally backed loan to buy land from the company. The co-operative then contracted with the company to build a tract of houses. Homebuyers became a member of the co-operative with their down payment. The co-operative dissolved when the tract of homes were sold. Although this unusual process had been approved by Federal Housing Administration officials in Los Angeles, Lakewood's developers were later grilled by a Senate banking subcommittee.

Big bunny
Big bunny | City of Lakewood photo

Easter Bunny at Lakewood Center, 1954: In April 1954, the Easter Bunny arrived for a huge Easter egg hunt in the empty fields west of Lakewood Boulevard. Hundreds of kids and parents turned out for events like this one hosted by the businesses of Lakewood Center.

Wild blue yonder
Wild blue yonder| City of Lakewood photo

Del Valle Park jet, 1959: In 1959, Lakewood's José Del Valle Park received an unusual piece of playground equipment, courtesy of the Marine Corps: a Douglas F3D-2 Skynight jet fighter. The plane was painted dark blue thanks to its night fighter role during the Korean War, but it was stripped of its operating gear. The park itself, designated as the city's space-age-themed park, featured a rocket ship climbing structure and other futuristic details, but locals soon began calling it Airplane Park.


More historical images of early Lakewood are here.

The images in this collection are from Lakewood's photographic archive and used by permission.

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