by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The first years of the 1920s included another one of those major development booms that characterized the growth of greater Los Angeles from the late 1860s onward. During the early part that decade, there was major development in downtown Los Angeles’ commercial and industrial districts, while suburban growth spread in all directions within the region.
One of the avid participants in those years was Walter P. Temple, who parlayed the fortuitous fortune from his oil lease at the Montebello field into real estate development in many areas. In downtown Los Angeles, he was part of a syndicate that built a pair of commercial structures at Main, Spring, and 8th streets.
In Alhambra, he owned a block and half of prime property in that rapidly growing city’s downtown and was engaged in building new structures or completing ones in process. Nearby in San Gabriel, he acquired the block across from the historic mission and built three commercial structures there and donated the lot for what is still City Hall.
In spring 1923, he launched his biggest endeavor, the Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) transforming 285 acres on the west end of Rancho San Francisquito, which his father F.P.F. Temple and grandfather William Workman briefly owned in the 1870s before selling the land to “Lucky” Baldwin as their Los Angeles bank faced serious financial problems.
Temple’s heightened activity was during the peak of real estate development in the region, which crested about the time that Temple City was laid out. Tonight’s highlighted artifact is representative of another project launched in 1923 and is a photo of a dinner held at the Hotel Clark in downtown Los Angeles by Wilson, McDevitt and Company, developers of the Tweedy Park subdivision in another new town, South Gate.
The land on which South Gate was founded was once part of the Rancho San Antonio, owned for decades in the 19th century by the prominent Lugo family. In 1852, a wagon train of settlers led, by some accounts, by Micajah Johnson (who was briefly ranch foreman for William Workman and killed in a notorious family feud with the King family of El Monte), arrived from Arkansas and established what became El Monte.
Among the settlers were Robert and Mary Tweedy and their family, who’d lived in Conway, Arkansas, northwest of the capital of Little Rock before joining the caravan west to the San Gabriel Valley. The Tweedys were five households down on the 1860 census from the Workmans, but did not remain in El Monte long.
Robert Tweedy was able to purchase 2,000 acres of the Rancho San Antonio, not far from Compton which was originally developed by F.P.F. Temple and El Monte’s Fielding W. Gibson, and operated a stock ranch and farm there for many years. He died in 1899 and within a decade, much of the Tweedy ranch was acquired by wealthy Chicago meat packer Michael Cudahy, who has been mentioned in this blog before.
Among the portions of Cudahy’s property that was carved out (!) by about 1918 was what was known as South Gate Gardens. Five years later, early in 1920, the City of South Gate was incorporated. Almost immediately, Wilson, McDevitt and Company jumped in to develop Tweedy Park in the southwestern corner of the town east of Alameda Boulevard and Watts and north of what became Century Boulevard and Lynwood. The eastern boundary was Long Beach Boulevard and the northern one was Tweedy Boulevard, which remains the main commercial street of South Gate today.
With a super-heated real estate market, the Tweedy Park project did not take long at all to develop, market, and sell in the late summer and afterward in 1923. Just as Walter Temple and many others did, Wilson, McDevitt and Company held a big public event to launch Tweedy Park.
On 16 September 1923, an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times was set up as the “Tweedy Park News” to promote that day’s grand opening. A Chevrolet was given away and there was, so it was claimed, “The Biggest Spanish Barbecue Ever Attempted” and that one that “will long be remembered.”
While the spread was to include”Juicy, Barbecued Beef, Spanish Beans, Salad and Cold Drinks,” it was not stated who was putting on the meal, though as noted here just a few days ago, Joe Romero, “The Barbecue King,” who specialized in large functions like real estate grand openings could well have provided the meal.
Wilson, McDevitt and Company advertised for real estate salesmen through late October, but then nothing further was found for the company or the tract development after that, suggesting that Tweedy Park was sold out quickly. Again, this is not a surprise given both the frenzied activity of the day, nor the fact that South Gate was priced for middle class home buyers and speculators, much as Temple City was.
A big difference was that South Gate was newly incorporated, whereas Temple City was in unincorporated Los Angeles County. When a well-intended state law, the Mattoon Act, was passed to provide funding for improvements (lighting, sidewalks, and the like) for unincorporated areas, it did so by forcing property owners on either side of a defaulting landowner to pay that person’s unpaid assessment. This led to a drying up of sales in places like Temple City.
In any case, it appears that the photograph was taken, by Los Angeles-based M.F. Weaver, for the celebratory dinner at the Hotel Clark, which still stands and is slated to be reopened as a boutique hotel later this year, for those affiliated with Wilson, McDevitt and Company and their roaring success at Tweedy Park. Yet, some searching found no other references to the firm before or after the Tweedy Park project, so the company appears to have been short-lived.
Today, South Gate, which numbered just under 20,000 souls, mostly white, only seven years after incorporating and became heavily tied to local industrial and manufacturing, has over 95,000 residents, of whom 92% are Latino. Many still work in nearby industrial areas including Vernon, City of Commerce and the industrial core along Alameda Street, among others.
The Azalea City, as it has been known from the mid-1960s, won an All-America City Award in 1990, but became notorious for scandals in the early 2000s involving city treasurer Albert Robles and members of the city council. Massive debt and financial problems haunted the city afterward and other nearby cities, particularly Bell, have been through similar controversies and crises, but reform efforts were launched after the difficult period.