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.
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.
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.
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.
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”).
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.
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.
“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.
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”).
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.
“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.