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!


  1. Hi Katie!

    Great to see you doing this and I am so eager to learn more along with you.

    I think I know the Lawndale historian that Tom Philo does, it has to be Jim Osborne, he and my hubby are good friends, and I am actually too since he helped me with my last book. So, I can talk to him too if you'd like.

    Let me know if I can help in any other way.

  2. I'm trying to research media in Compton and understand the various newspapers in the community during the post war years to the present. I came across a brochure that describes the early days of the Compton Bulletin and mentions the Herald American and the Matropolitan Gazette. The book Ill-At-Ease in Compton by Richard Elman (1967) refers to three newspapers but doesn't identify any of them by name. The publisher of the most significant paper is referred to as "The Colonel." I've been in touch with Josh Sides about this and he referred me to ProQuest but I'm not a great ProQuest researcher. Who might know this? Margaret Shore (mshore@roadrunner.com)

  3. I'd love to hear about any updates on researchers and community people to turn to for news and history of Richland Farms. I've heard about some recent struggles to keep the community intact. I teach at CSUDH nearby and think my students would like to learn more too. Richland Farms is touched on in Robert Lee Johnson's Arcadia book on Compton.
    http://www.amazon.com/Compton-Images-America-Arcadia-Publishing/dp/073859539X Good article here: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/feb/20/local/la-me-richland-farms-20110220
    I'll check with Tom Philo too. vpvhprice at gmail.com