Saturday, September 11, 2010

Compton's Richland Farms

A portion of the city of Compton called Richland Farms has been a recent focus of KCET's Departure educational series.  Students who were engaged to learn about the area discovered that there are agricultural tracts where residents exercise independence and self-sustaining livelihood through raising cattle, farm animals and growing food.  I had never heard of this neighborhood until one of the researchers for the series contacted me seeking information.  Here is what I now know:

Compton was formed in 1867, which made it only the second "white settlement" in Southern California, with El Monte coming in first in 1851. Comptonville was named for Griffith Dickenson Compton, who led a party of covered wagons arriving from the depleted Northern California gold fields.

Richland Farms was the name of a subdivision with tracts selling around 1911 and 1912.  During this decade, there was an abundance of subdivisions throughout Southern California with names like Mabery Heights and Athens-on-the-Hill.  A selling point of Richland Farms was a large lot to enable farming; another advantage promoted was the area's proximity to downtown L.A. in the north and the San Pedro Harbor in the south.

One of the principal promoters of Richland Farms was Jonathan S. Dodge.  He was born near Portsmouth, Ohio on April 9, 1867 (oddly the same year when Griffith Compton rolled into town.)  He served terms in public office: on the Board of Supervisors and also as a state bank superintendent.  He was also Mayor of South Pasadena (1909, 1916-1917).  He also established the California Building Loan Association, Los Angeles, in 1923, and served as president.  The company was sold to the Los Angeles Investment Company in 1928.

One of the challenges in providing a habitable subdivision was providing utilities, and eventually some who bought into Richland Farms became dissatisfied with the water service.  A group of residents filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission, but ultimately its Railroad Commission dismissed their complaint, favoring Jonathan Dodge, in December, 1918.

A new Richland Farms Water Co. was formed May 16, 1919, with many of the disgruntled residents named as directors of the new water company.

Dodge also had a connection with the then-famous tourist destination, Cawston's Ostrich Farm.  A number of other ostrich farms existed, such as one in Norwalk and another in Lincoln Heights.  The feathers of the ostrich were profitable in its fashionable use on ladies' hats and other decorations.  Cawston's was established by Englishman Edward H. Cawston in 1886, and its first location was in L.A. where presently the William Mulholland Fountain stands at Los Feliz Avenue and Riverside Drive.  Later, it was moved to South Pasadena.   Dodge had controlling stock interest in Cawston’s by 1911, and he was its manager, after his bank syndicate bought the farm from Edward Cawston.  The decline in popularity of feathers led to the closure of Cawston’s in 1935, the same year that Dodge died.

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