The L.A. 'Burbs

Welcome to the Suburbs! Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, and Lynwood to be exact. Each with storied pasts on their journey towards achieving the American Dream. Each started out a promising L.A. suburb, but how did they end up? Come find out!


Lakewood is a city in Los Angeles County, California. Bordered by Long Beach on the south and west, Bellflower on the north, Cerritos on the northeast, Cypress on the east, and Hawaiian Gardens on the southeast, Lakewood is also known as “an instant city” because it went from being plainly lima bean fields in the 1950s to a well-developed city by 1960.

Lakewood History

This pedestrian overpass above Del Amo Boulevard in Lakewood connects two sections of Boyar Park. The motto on the overpass reads: “Times Change. Values Don’t.” (Source:

A history

Though the incorporation of Lakewood was unexpected, Lakewood was not unplanned. In fact, it served as planned, contained Post World War II community. In the 1920s, communities like Lakewood had been predicted when social reformers sought to get working-class Americans out of crowded tenements into single-family homes. During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration and the Congress worked together to reform the financing of home ownership and create national standards for affordable home construction. Shortly after, the National Housing Act of 1934 was formed to make housing more affordable for the general public.

Lakewood Advertisement

Closeup of ” Welcome to Lakewood/America’s Fastest Growing Community” sign, featuring census statistics on growth of Lakewood. (Source: Life Magazine)

D.J. Waldie, named one of the “100 coolest people in Los Angeles” by Buzz, wrote the non-fiction Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. In this book, Waldie described his experience growing in the blue-collar 1950s Lakewood.

“My house was built by a real estate development company in 1942. The company built eleven hundred houses on land Clark Bonner had sold them. The company built the houses for workers at the Douglas Aircraft plant. My house was bought by a guard at the federal prison on Terminal Island in Long Beach.” Houses in Lakewood were built rapidly–17,500 houses were built in less than three years. These houses worked for the growing population in Southern California and people moved in as quickly as the houses were built. While the population of Lakewood was only 15,000 in 1948, it jumped to 90,000 in 1952; this showed a whopping 500% growth in just four years! Lakewood fulfilled the dream of Americans, particularly white middle-class Americans, by providing a peaceful place where the family can reside in; However, this came at the cost of wiping out nature.

As you can see in the map below, one can identify the imprint of humanity on the streets. The center of the map showed Del Amo Boulevard on the north, Paramount Boulevard on the east,  Carson Street on the south, and Lakewood Boulevard on the east; these streets formed a perfect square on the map. These streets also served as Lakewood’s primary thoroughfares, along with frontage roads on either side of the residential districts. These roads worked together so there will be no reason for people  to drive through the residential areas unless they live there. Prior to learning about the history of Lakewood,

A current map of churches enclosed or surrounding Lakewood. (Source: Google Maps)

A current map of churches enclosed or surrounding Lakewood. (Source: Google Maps)

On another page of the book, Waldie described Lakewood in the 1950s in term of its demographics, “It was often said of this suburb, as houses filled quickly in 1950 and 1951, that every other house was either Jewish or Catholic…I lived in one of the houses that was Catholic.” Even to this day, many churches surrounded Lakewood’s community. As  demonstrated in the map below, there are roughly ten churches located within a 4-mile radius from the center of Lakewood. The religious demographics in the 1950s still continue to impact the Lakewood and its communities.

Lakewood center mall
Lakewood Center in the late 1950s. May Co. store is in the background of this photo.

Lakewood Center in the late 1950s. May Co. store is in the background of this photo. (Source:

In 1952, Southern California’s first open-air shopping mall opened. Lakewood Center Mall was built in Lakewood, California. To make living in Lakewood more convenient for its residents, Lakewood Center was built.

The interior design of the Lakewood Center. Macy's, one of the large departments stores in the mall, is in the background of this photo.

The interior design of the Lakewood Center. Macy’s, one of the large departments stores in the mall, is in the background of this photo. (Source:

Lakewood Center was the nation’s largest shopping center for its first two years of operation. At the time, the original mall featured over one hundred stores! The Lakewood Center is currently ranked the 18th largest shopping mall in the United States at 2,093,006 square feet.

According to, the mall sits on a 154 acre tract and has parking accommodations for over 10,000 cars. The mall’s existence contributed to a resident’s suburban life because it served as a place where he or she can shop freely. In the late 1980’s, the mall was enclosed and experienced a renovation in 2000, when a new wing was added at the rear. If you have ever visited the Lakewood Center, you will find that it is a rather concealed space with very little choices of routes to explore. It seemed that whenever I shop at the mall, I would end up going on the same route despite my search for different items. The layout of the mall portrayed how the even shopping environment is tightly controlled in Lakewood (see map below).

This is the current directory of the Lakewood Center Mall in map view. (Source:

This is the current directory of the Lakewood Center Mall in map view. (Source:


According to the 2010 United States Census, Lakewood has a population of 80,048, which a population density of 8,456.4 people per square mile. The racial makeup of Lakewood is mainly White (56%), followed by Asian (25.3%), other races (11.6%), two or more races (5.7%), Pacific Islanders (0.9%), and African Americans (0.7%). The American dream was partially realized in Lakewood as the 2010 Census reported 79,939 people (99.9% of the population) lived in households, while the rest of the population lived in non-institutionalized group quarters or were institutionalized.

While Lakewood continue to carry the expectations of its people and to fulfill the American dream, it will also follow its motto. After all, for Lakewood: Times change, values don’t.



Baker, Allison, Michael Stover, and Donald J. Waldie. “The Lakewood Story.” City of Lakewood, California – Lakewood California History. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2016.

Broder, John M. “50 Years Later, a Still-Proud Suburb Is Starting to Fray.” New York Times 14 July 2004: A16. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 April 2016.

Lakewood Center Mall History.” Mall History. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2016.
Waldie, D. J. Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print.

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