Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lots of Dead Ends in Richland Farms Search

A lot of people are checking in since yesterday, mostly with dead ends, which makes this project of tracing the history of Richland Farms in Compton confounding.

Betty Uyeda at the Seaver Center can find anything on ProQuest, and she brought in some new information about other real estate developments near Richland Farms. She sent lots of ads on Athens-On-The-Hill and Richland Farms, and she wrote:
One of the most heavily promoted was Athens-On-The-Hill, a luxury rather than an agricultural development, its development happened earlier, but also during the same era as Richland. Athens-On-The-Hill was heavily advertised in the L.A.Times in the years 1912 and 1913. Attached are select articles as well as a couple for nearby Willowbrook and Panama Acres.

According to Leonard and Dale Pitt’s guide “Los Angeles A to Z”, Compton was where the region’s first artesian well was discovered. Aside from that, don’t quote me, but perhaps Richland didn’t have enough water, whereas Athens-On-The-Hill was in the city of L.A., opportunistically being developed in time for L.A. to get its water from the Owens Valley by 1913.

UCLA Library’s Susan D. Anderson, Curator of Collecting Los Angeles, suggested contacting the City of Compton and the Historical Society of Southern California. (Thanks also to Darlena Hunter at UCLA’s Bunche Center for forwarding my inquiry on to Susan).
  • Unfortunately, HSSC didn’t have much on our topic. Julian van Zandweghe looked through the indices of HSSC’s quarterly publication and found nothing specifically on Richland Farms. There were a few mentions of Compton, but he didn’t think those articles would be too helpful. He’ll let us know if something interesting comes up.
  • We will follow up with the City of Compton. Lorri Thomson, an assistant at the City offices, asked Compton’s Deputy Director about who would know about Richland Farms, and he directed us to Compton’s City Clerks office or the Planning Department.
City Clerks-(310) 605-5530 Planning Department-(310) 605-5532

Susan D. Anderson of UCLA also pointed us to George Pigeon Clements Papers, 1825-1945, which Alex here at KCET will look into:
George P. Clements (1867-1958) was an organizer (1918) and manager of the Agricultural Department of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (1918-39), a counselor on agriculture and conservation (1939-47) and Director of the Los Angeles County Farm Bureau. The collection contains manuscripts, printed material, reports, photographs, government publications, and correspondence related to George P. Clements.

Professor Josh Sides put us in touch with Natale Zappia, a colleague at CSUN who sent us a chapter he’s written for a forthcoming book Josh Sides is editing on South LA. Nat’s excellent manuscript provides a broad look at the history of farming in the South LA, especially Watts, At Josh’s suggestion, we also contacted Professor Kevin Leonard at Western Washington University, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he knows.

UC Extension Cooperative County Director Rachel Surls, Ph.D. got back to us and doesn’t have much to add since the history of farming in L.A. that she and Judi Gerber want to write is still in the planning stage.

The photo (below, in yesterday's post) of G.D. Compton and his wife Emily comes from Tom Philo, CSUDH, from their collection,186.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's the history of Richland Farms in Compton?

What's the history of Richland Farms in Compton?

Welcome to all the librarians, archivists, historians, producers, and interns who are helping to research the history of Richland Farms in Compton. So little is known about the past of this area, and now so many people are joining in to piece together the mysterious puzzle of how the farmlands deeded by Reverend Griffith Compton back at the turn of the twentieth century evolved into the Richland Farms of today. Within this history is an intimate look at South L.A.’s transition from a Methodist temperance colony in the 1800s to a thriving white, working class neighborhood in the teens to an African American urban sprawl in the latter half of the past century to today’s transitional, largely Latino population; Richland Farms has persisted through this time. This blog enables us to keep our progress public so anyone can follow the unraveling of this fascinating but forgotten part of LA's history and contribute to our shared knowledge.

KCET is preparing a segment of its DEPARTURES web documentaries on Richland Farms in Compton. KCET's DEPARTURES producers already have good contacts and information about Richland Farms today but the history is proving to be intriguing and mysterious. Although we have a good dozen or so historical photos from various archives, we haven’t had much luck at LA Public Library learning about the late 19th and early 20th century history.

It’s easy to learn about Griffith D. Compton settling the area in 1867, and also that he donated his land to create the city of Compton, stipulating that part of the land remain zoned for agriculture. Apparently he became a trustee of USC, so I will follow up on that. Tom Philo at CSU Dominguez Hills sent us a photo of Reverend Compton and his wife.

We have also learned some important history from the teens, thanks to Betty Uyeda at NHM’s Seaver Center, that Jonathan S. Dodge was part of a real estate development that promoted Richland Farms. Here’s what Betty wrote:

Nothing has surfaced in the Seaver Center’s collections relating to Richland Farms (we only have some U.S. geological surveys of Compton, circa 1929.) However, my perusal of the Historical LA Times in ProQuest turns up some interesting articles, some of which I have attached. One of the promoters of the subdivision, Tract 1473, was Jonathan S. Dodge, who was a banker, attorney, and may be the same man who was a member of the Board of Supervisors around 1917-1920, then soon appointed as State Superintendent of Banks of California.
Richland Farms was obviously promoted to appeal to the agrarian sensibilities of the era. Tract 1473 has its boundaries at Alondra at the north, Greenleaf at the south, Wilmington on the west and Oleander on the east side. L.A. County Assessor information shows that most of the homes in the area were built in the late 20s and 1950s.

Professor Josh Sides at CSUN, who wrote L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present as well as the article, “Straight into Compton: American Dreams, Urban Nightmares, and the Metamorphosis of a Black Suburb,” fills in some good history of Compton, but his research doesn’t speak specifically about Richland Farms. He would probably be a great resource—I’m trying to track him down. Librarian Betty Uyeda at Seaver has been the most successful so far, and she referred me to CSU Dominguez Hills, where special collections librarian Tom Philo has caught the Richland Farms bug. Tom searched the University’s specific Compton collections, but didn't find anything of note, nor did he find anything in the microfilms of the Compton Enterprise from the 1890s well into the 20th century. Tom wrote:
Having gone through a fair amount of this now, I’m going to hazard a guess as to the reason for the dearth of information. My guess is that at the time Richland Farms was established, it was not that big of a deal; that is, it was only one of many land/farm opportunities out there, both in Compton and other communities. The Enterprise, for example, carries repeated ads telling about farm opportunities in San Jacinto and other communities. There are other Compton opportunities as well. Ultimately, I think what is unique about Richland Farms is that it has existed to the present day, and that it has stayed true to its origins. I don’t know at what point Richland Farms began to be viewed as unique by Compton itself. Maybe the Herald American might be more helpful in that regard. [Tom will be looking there next.]
I recently spoke with Jud Grenier, the History Professor Emeritus and local historian (he did a lot of work with Gillingham, who was sort of the “official” historian of Compton). Jud could never recall hearing about Richland Farms, which surprised me, and that’s what leads me to wonder about it.

I’ve also contacted Dr. Rachel Surls of the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources and Judi Gerber; together, they are researching the history of agricultural L.A. Judi didn’t know about Richland Farms, and I haven’t yet talked with Dr. Surls, who wrote about present-day Richland Farms in her blog.

I contacted the following libraries, but they didn’t have anything on Richland Farms or agriculture in Compton: Southern California Library (Rachel), Compton Community College, L.A. Public Library.

Next, I’m going to contact USC to follow up Griffith Compton’s legacy as a trustee there and then call a lead mention in Professor Sides’ bibliography, the Don Meadows Collection in Special Collections at University of California at Irvine. I’m hoping that Professor Sides will call me back, but he’s probably on a research trip or vacation since it’s summer.

I am also hoping to hear back from Dr. Rachel Surls and the Librarian Darlena Hunter at UCLA Bunche Center, and to learn what Tom Philo finds out from his contacts at El Camino College and the historian he knows who specializes in Lawndale plus anything else he finds by searching the Compton Herald American.

Thanks to everyone for working together to learn more about Richland Farms!