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!


Much like its suburban neighbor, Compton, Lynwood was originally seen as a model for the working class American Dream. It is the most centrally located of the 4 neighborhoods described on this site—as well as the only one to reside in L.A.’s inner city as opposed to the surrounding county area. As such, time has had a more noticeable effect on it as the inner city fell increasingly out of favor from the public eye. An effect that has not been particularly kind to its residents.

With lower property values, lower income levels, lower high school and college graduation rates, and higher Hispanic and African American populations than Lakewood, Cerritos, and Long Beach, Lynwood reflects the still-present disparities in L.A.’s makeup.

Read on, to explore Lynwood’s transformation.

Watch out for snake thieves (Ramirez)!

Watch out for snake thieves (Ramirez).

A History

Lynwood’s birthplace was the then Rancho San Antonio. A future mayor of Los Angeles, Don Antonio Lugo, acquired this area in 1810. After being deeded and passed around over the years, the property ultimately was acquired by C. H. Sessions in 1902, who established a dairy and creamery. He named the area after his wife, Miss Lynne Wood.

Sewer system being installed in mid-1930s Lynwood neighborhood (Johnson and Diaz 39)

Sewer system being installed in mid-1930s Lynwood neighborhood (Johnson and Diaz 39).

By 1961 Lynwood was deemed an “All-American City,” where thousands of WWII vets and their families could call home. Affordable housing, nearby factory jobs, and big-name stores made Lynwood seem like the ideal place for white, blue-collar workers to achieve their slice of the American Dream. Lynwood was a pretty typical Los Angeles central city suburb model. This model included nearby suburbs such as Compton, Huntington Park, and South Gate (Sides 3). The central location and working class composition distinguished these neighborhoods from the more geographically distant and affluent traditional suburbs of post WWII (Sides 3).

My own grandparents raised their family here, watching the city rapidly transform from the ’50s to the ’90s.

Living the American Dream (King)

Grandma King, living the American Dream in 1950s Lynwood (King).

White Flight

In 1970, 98% of Lynwood’s residents identified themselves as white. After the Watts’ Riots of 1965, “Lily White Lynwood” would start to see a decline in its white population (Leonard). The 1980s saw a substantial increase in Lynwood’s black residents as the white population declined (“Lynwood History”). Today, the Hispanic population makes up Lynwood’s largest demographic at around 89% after steadily increasing since the 1970s and 80s (“Lynwood History”). This demographic shift marks an overall trend within the Los Angeles area as white populations moved further away from the inner city.

The construction of the Century Freeway (I-105) in particular served to completely transform Lynwood socially, economically, and geographically. The I-105, completed in 1993, marks California’s last completely new freeway as well as the nation’s most expensive road at $2.2 billion (Reinhold). The years of lawsuits, protests, mounting expenses, and resolving the problems that come from displacing thousands of people also suggests that this will be one of the last times a major city will attempt to build a freeway right through its urban core (Reinhold). The freeway, meant to symbolize progress for LA County as a whole, sliced the city of Lynwood in two, demolishing homes, crippling property values, and scaring away business.

Abandoned homes awaiting freeway construction in the early 1980s (Gates)

Abandoned homes awaiting freeway construction in the early 1980s (Gates).

I-105 construction in the early 90s (Gates)

I-105 construction in the early 90s (Gates).

Lynwood Station from the 1950s to today (Garsvo)

Lynwood Station from the 1950s to today (Garsvo).


Today, Lynwood has a population of about 70,000 people, with the largest age group composed of people 20 and under (“History of Lynwood”). Over the past 40 years, there has been a population percentage decline in educational attainment while family size has risen (“Lynwood History”). By 2010, 25% of its households were lower income, compared to the national average of 16% (“Lynwood History”).

The Lynwood post office was the first federal building to open in Lynwood in 1940. It is still in use today (Johnson and Diaz 43).

The Lynwood post office was the first federal building to open in Lynwood in 1940. It is still in use today (Johnson and Diaz 43).

Such a shift in the past few decades was not an uncommon fate for many of L.A.’s working class neighborhoods. As the city’s more affluent moved farther and farther away, L.A.’s urban core got left behind in terms of development. Traditional suburbs, such as Lakewood, were seen as the new future of community living. Such investment led to these suburbs becoming increasingly independent centers of industry and commerce. Places like Lynwood or Compton were more viewed as lost causes, and their lack of stable infrastructure today is evident of this.

Barbed wire and tagging are both common sites when walking around Lynwood (Ramirez).

Barbed wire and tagging are both common sites when walking around Lynwood (Ramirez).

Lynwood today is the product of inattention and neglect, as later, more promising-sounding suburbs like Lakewood, Cerritos, and Long Beach were invested in. It is still a home to thousands, but there is not much of a thriving community to be found.

By 2010, about 38% of Lynwood’s population had earned a high school degree and 4% earned a Bachelor’s degree (“Lynwood History”). At Firebaugh High School, 93% of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch (“Lynwood”). Firebaugh alumni Karen Ramirez describes how “5% of the teachers are cool and passionate about what they teach, unlike the other 95%. 80% of the staff are power-hungry condescending assholes. They love being in charge of children who cannot fight back.” There is a lack of infrastructure for supporting youth, perpetuating a cycle of aimless youth not evident in suburban neighborhoods farther away from L.A.’s urban core.


Firebaugh High School (Ramirez)

“Plaza Mexico” is one of Lynwood’s biggest shopping centers, primarily dealing with affordable merchandise for a less affluent, largely Hispanic population. The plaza has a 19th century Spanish architectural style in mind – carrying on Southern California’s love for the Spanish Fantasy.

Plaza Mexico

Plaza Mexico

With homes valued at around $350,000, Lynwood is more of a place to find affordable housing – at least when compared to $500,000 at Long Beach or Lakewood, or $650,000 at Cerritos (“CA Home Prices & Home Values”).

Apartments, motels, and hotels are a common sight in Lynwood. The city is a "passing city," with most people only staying a few nights before continuing onto their real destination (Ramirez)

Apartments, motels, and hotels are a common sight in Lynwood. The city is a “passing city,” with most people only staying a few nights before continuing on to their real destination (Ramirez).

Lynwood’s fate, once a shining example of the American Dream but now a less brag-worthy city in the Los Angeles landscape, reflects L.A.’s generally flippant attitude towards conserving its past in order to nurture a future. L.A. has changed its image countless times over its relatively brief existence. Buildings go down as quickly as they go up, historic neighborhoods being relocated wherever convenient. Inner city, working class suburbs such as Lynwood were originally seen as a beacon of hope and fresh start for thousands. However, once Los Angeles started to fall out of favor in the public eye as traditional suburbs began cropping up, Lynwood was left behind and forgotten.




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“CA Home Prices & Home Values.” Zillow. Zillow, n.d. Web. 08 May 2016.

“History of Lynwood.” Lynwood. City of Lynwood, 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

Garsvo, Eriks. Pacific Electric. N.d. Craig Rasmussen Collection, Lynwood. Pacific Electric. Web.

Gates, Jeff. 1980-95. In Our Path, South LA. LA Curbed. Web. 5 May 2016.

Johnson, Ilu, and Chris Diaz. Lynwood. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2012. Print.

King, Samuel. “King Family.” 1953. JPEG file.

Leonard, Jack. “A City Divided.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 29 Jan. 1999. Web. 01 May 2016.

“Lynwood.” Mapping L.A. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 09 May 2016.

“Lynwood History.” Mooseroots. Graphiq, Inc., 2016. Web. 2 May 2016.

Ramirez, Karen. Driving Through Lynwood. 2016. JPEG files.

Ramirez, Karen. Personal Interview. 8 May 2016.

Reinhold, Robert. “Opening New Freeway, Los Angeles Ends Era.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Oct. 1993. Web. 02 May 2016.

Sides, Josh. “Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban Nightmares, and the Metamorphosis of a Black Suburb.” American Quarterly, 56.3 2004: 583-605.


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