By: Cozette Vergari
For those of you, who last month joined my time-machine travel back to 65,000 B.C., we are continuing the journey this month. Standing in the midst of today’s Westchester/Playa community, our last travels took us back to the evidence of human settlement on the islands off the coast of Southern California circa 12,000 B.C. and sped us forward with various time stops on the same Westchester/Playa footprint all the way to California’s Statehood in 1850. Over a span of the 300 years leading up to statehood, our Westchester/Playa community stood under the flags of three different countries, the flag of Spain, then Mexico and finally the United States.
In 1850, our community’s land belonged to two brothers. While still a part of Mexico circa 1830’s, 2200 acres of land, to become known as Rancho del Aguaje del Centinela, was granted to Bruno Avila. And another 40,000 acres, to become known as Rancho Sausal Redondo, running from what is now the Venice and Marina communities south to Redondo Beach, was granted to Antonia Avila. Overtime through various transactions, circa 1872, Scotsman Robert Burnett acquired both Ranchos and in 1873 leased his land to Alice and Daniel Freeman.
The Freemans moved from Canada to America, due to Alice’s medical condition that required the mild and dry climate of the coastal area just southwest of El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula, which in English translated to “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula (small area). Today, the pueblo is commemorated in the historic district of Los Angeles Pueblo Plaza and Olvera Street, the oldest part of Los Angeles. The Freemans settled into the Centinela Adobe, the first ranch house adobe built on all of the then 42,200 acre parcel, which sits on the eastern most edge of Westchester, previously built by Ignacio Machado circa 1830 . By 1885, Daniel Freeman had purchased the land and formed the Centinela Land Company. He builds his Land Office in what is now Inglewood and plans to sub-divide the area, while planting fruit trees and raising sheep to provide income in the meantime. The area suffers from a severe drought, and Freeman gambles on dry farming and wins, acres of wheat fields.
From 1886-1890, Daniel Freeman wages in a battle for Port Ballona to become the official Port of Los Angeles. His competition is William Banning, who is pushing for the site of Port Willington. While this is happening, Henry Huntington begins the Pacific Electric Trolley Service, laying tracks form downtown to Port Ballona. To Freeman’s disappointment, Port Wilmington is chosen as the official port of Los Angeles, which today supports 20% of all cargo coming into the United States, covering 7500 acres of land. Had Freeman won, imagine what the time machine would be showing us now. Daniel Freeman becomes the second President of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce from 1893-1894 and founds the City of Inglewood in 1908.
Because Freeman felt no other value to the area of our now treasured Westchester/Playa communities, after losing the bid for the Port of Los Angeles in 1890, he donates the land to the City of Los Angeles. Circa 1900 the Venice Midway Park Amusement Pier is built. The Pacific Electric Trolley Service builds tracks through the wetlands from downtown and heads south down the coast along what is now Playa del Rey to Redondo Beach. The Los Angeles Motordrome opens in the wetlands of now Playa del Rey. The first of its kind, the Los Angeles Motordrome was a highly successful venue for motorcar, motorcycle and aviation events and competitions, attracting large crowds of paying spectators, but lasted just three years due to a fire that destroyed the wooden track.
Once again, stayed tuned for our continuing time machine travel. In the meantime visit the Westchester/Playa Historical Society Discovery Center in the Westchester Triangle, open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment. Learn more at www.wphistoricalsociety.org
First photo 1850 the area at the time of Statehood