County Department History

COUNTY GOVERNMENT AND DEPARTMENT HISTORIES

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

The County Charter was adopted in 1850.  Two members of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisors Eduardo Pollorena (Poyorena) and Bernardino Guirado were elected and were residents of Los Nietos.  The County Hall of Records, served as the meeting place for the Board of Supervisors after 1912.  Read more about Supervisors Pollorena and Guirado at http://bos.lacounty.gov/About-Us/Board-of-Supervisors/Board-Member-Biographies.  See historic photos of all the Board of Supervisors at http://bos.lacounty.gov/About-Us/Board-of-Supervisors/Historical-Board-Group-Photos

 

Description of Supervisorial Districts in 1888

First District: Included the Townships of Soledad, San Fernando, San Gabriel, El Monte, Azusa and
San Jose Hills.  Second District: Portion of Los Angeles City east from Main Street to the river to the most northern part of the City.  Third District: All portions of Los Angeles City west of Main Street.  Fourth District: Compton, Long Beach, San Antonio, Santa Monica, La Ballona, Wilmington, portions of Los Nietos west of the San Gabriel River and north of Telegraph Road.  Fifth District: Anaheim, Westminster, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano, and part of Los Nietos Township, east of the San Gabriel River, south of the old Telegraph Road.

Los Angeles County Hall of Records:  The Hall of Records was originally built in 1909 and located at 220 N. Broadway in downtown Los Angeles (at the present site of the Criminal Court House).  The Hall of Records served as the City Hall for County government.  Some of the County Departments that operated in the building during this time were the County Auditor-Controller, Board of Equalization, Civil Service Commission, Board of Supervisors,
County Counsel, Superior Courts, Vital Statistics, and the Marriage License Bureau.  After the demolition of the 1909 building, the new County of Los Angeles Hall of Administration was dedicated in 1960 and located at its present site of 500 W. Temple Street.  See photos of the last Board of Supervisor’s meetings at the old Hall of Records, and the first Board of Supervisors meeting at the Hall of Administration in 1960 on the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive at

             

The First County Seal (1887-1957):  The original 1887 County of Los Angeles Seal displayed grapes hanging from a vine, surrounded by the words "Board of Supervisors-Los Angeles Co. Cal."   

Agricultural Commissioner/ Weights and Measures (ACWM)

The first official seal of the County of Los Angeles contains hanging grapes and portrays the importance of the vineyards during the 1800’s.  Los Angeles County was once the winemaking capital of California.  Wine making flourished during the period of the early Spanish Missions including the San Gabriel Mission.  In the 1870’s, a pest invaded destroying many vineyards and owners faced financial ruin.  The efforts to eradicate the insect pest led to the creation of the United States Department of Agriculture and later the State of California created the Board of State Viticulture Commissioners.  The State Commission evolved into the creation of the
County Agricultural Commissioner. 

 

The Department initiated pest and plant eradication projects included spraying for noxious weeds.  The Puncture Vine, which was a road hazard, flattened tires.  The Canada Thistle, which infested agricultural land, and the Argentine Ant, were orchard pests.  During the height of the agricultural boom, the County led the nation in the production of agriculture, and Agricultural Commissioner Harold “Buddy” Ryan had a long run serving as the Commissioner for over 44 years (1918-1962)

 

During the 1950’s, areas in Los Angeles County were divided by districts for agriculture inspections.  The County’s District 10 included Whittier, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, and Montebello, with the Rio Hondo as the western border.  “Orchard Cards” were filled out and helped track growers, their property location, crops, variety, year planted, and number of trees and acres.  Inspectors would issue citations to owners of diseased, neglected, or abandoned crops, and if dead crops were not removed, the County would remove them.  By the 1960’s many orchards were on the decline.  You can see a copy of an Orchard Card that was issued to the Parnell School for Girls that once existed where Parnell Park is currently located, and other vintage department photos, on the
Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive at:   (Sources:  Agricultural Commissioner/ Weights and Measures and The Department of Crops and Livestock Report, Department of Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures, Los Angeles County 2010).

 

Parks and Recreation

During the 1950’s, Supervisor Frank Bonelli was active in creating new parks in the Whittier Unincorporated area due to the local municipal demands of new residents after WWII.  See photos of Supervisor Bonelli at dedication ceremonies at Sorensen Park, playing with local children at Gunn Park (now Adventure Park), and ceremonies at Whittier Narrows Regional Park on the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archives.

 

Adventure Park (Gunn Park):  On October 20, 1959, the Department of Parks and Recreation purchased
15.52 acres of land for the purpose of building a recreational facility in the Southeast Whittier area.  Adventure Park, formerly Gunn Avenue Park, was dedicated on May 31, 1962.  The Department and the Board of Supervisors, decided to rename this facility Adventure Park for its positive name.  See photos of Supervisor Frank Bonelli with local children at the park construction site on the Whittier Unincorporated Photo Archive.  

 

Amelia Mayberry Park: Dedicated on February 19, 1958, Amelia Mayberry Park was named after a local community leader who resided in the area and donated the land for the park.  According to the Los Angeles Times, a special committee was formed in 1954 of the local Coordinating Council to promote the development of a local park in South Whittier, specifically the 17-acre site where the park is now located.  Carnivals were held to raise funds to assist with the development.  The site had been secured by the County of Los Angeles during the late 1940’s, however a County policy against developing new parks prohibited the development of the site.  Through the efforts of the Whittier Coordinating Council, in 1955, County officials made an exception to this, as well as other local parks.  In 1957, the County opened bids for the construction of a recreation building which was estimated to cost $131,000.  Read about Amelia Mayberry under “Notable Landowners”.  See photos of Mayberry Park on the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive.   

Amigo Park:  During the 1960’s residents and a local volunteer club began promoting the use of a vacant parcel of land as a playground.  Over the years, residents have helped maintain the lot for local children to play in.  In 1985, the County purchased the land and eventually developed the property into a park. 

Sorensen Park:  In the late 1940's, residents of the surrounding community organized the Sorensen Park and Recreation Association.  Their efforts, in part, also led to the founding of a library within the grounds of the park. 

Whittier Narrows Regional Park:   

The Whittier Narrows is named as such due to the “narrowed” area that exists between two hill areas, the
San Jose Hills and the Montebello Hills.  Whittier Narrows Regional Park is actually a flood control area that includes a dam which was built in response to a long history of flooding along the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers and surrounding communities.  The park area is leased to the County of Los Angeles for recreation.   The area is the location of significant events in local history including the site of the original Mission San Gabriel constructed in 1771 along the banks of present Rio Hondo River, and a battle to control California which occurred in 1847.  Segments of the film Birth of a Nation directed by D. W. Griffith, were filmed here in 1914 as well as segments for the Tarzan movie series. 

 

Miniature Railway:  This railroad once operated on a 1-mile long track in the Legg Lake Park area of the Whittier Narrows Regional Park under a concession from the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department.  The parts that make up the miniature railroad were manufactured in 1904 and during the 1960's the small railroad operated on a 15-inch gauge track.

 

Public Library

The County Free Library Act of 1912 led to the creation of the Los Angeles County Free Library which evolved into the County of Los Angeles Public Library.  The first local library was opened in 1919 at Los Nietos School.   

 

Los Nietos Library: The Los Nietos Library had its beginning shortly after World War I, in September 1919.  Since its founding, the library has offered service at five different locations. A bookmobile provided library service to the community for a short time.  A new library is currently under construction at Los Nietos Middle School, which will expand space, and return the library back to its original 1919 location.  Below is a listing of the previous library locations:

1919: Los Nietos School

1939: 2031 Norwalk Boulevard

1948: Bookmobile

1949: Los Nietos School Cafeteria

1950: 8801 Norwalk Boulevard (currently Sunshine Market on Norwalk Blvd. in Los Nietos)

1979: 11644 E. Slauson Avenue

Sorensen Library: In the late 1940's, residents of this community organized the Sorensen Park and Recreation Association.  Their efforts, in part, led to the founding of a library within the Sorensen Park area.  Named after local citrus rancher Christian Sorensen, the original 1,000 square foot library was dedicated in 1956 and never expanded due to budget constraints.  In November of 1992, Sorensen was one of ten County libraries closed in response to budget cuts.  In 1996, Sorensen was re-opened with funds available through a Community Services District and in November 2008, Sorensen Library closed once again so a new facility could be built.  The new building opened October 1, 2010, and at 10,655 sq. ft., the new building is ten times the size of the former library.  The new Sorensen Library is the County Library's first green library.  See photos of the Sorensen Library dedication in 1956 at the County Library website at   http://www.colapublib.org/libs/sorensen/index.php and on the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive.   

              

South Whittier Library

South Whittier Library was founded in 1915.  The library's first location was in a one-room schoolhouse at South Whittier School located on Los Nietos Road near the Anaheim-Telegraph Road.  Amelia Mayberry was the “Free Library” librarian from South Whittier's first separate built-as-a-library building was dedicated on April 16, 1956.  After 16 years at that location on Laurel Avenue, the library moved to its present location at 14433 Leffingwell Road.  The library closed for renovations in January 1988.  Interim service to the community was provided by an outreach van from January to October 1988, when the remodeled and expanded facility opened for service. 

 

Public Safety

Fire Department

The Early Years:  The Los Angeles County Fire Department began in 1920 and was referred to as the Los Angeles County Forestry Department and Fire Protection Districts.  Prior to the construction of the two present day
Whittier Unincorporated fire stations; Fire Station 96 (1956), and Fire Station 15 (1962), fire protection was provided through fire districts.  Some stations serving the Whittier Unincorporated area, such as Fire Station 49 (La Mirada), later became part of an incorporated city.  The City of Whittier, which is now part of the County Fire District, originally had a volunteer fire department located on South Comstock Avenue during the early 1900’s and established a paid professional firefighting unit in 1924.  Volunteers used hand fire carts that were stored in the first city firehouse, made out of galvanized steel complete with a bell tower. 

 

Memories of Old Fire Station 17: In 1923, the Santa Fe Springs Fire Protection District was formed serving the Santa Fe Springs oil fields and surrounding Whittier Unincorporated area.  Captain A.J. Marty was appointed in charge of the District and stored an old Graham Chemical Truck in his garage.  In 1926, Station 17 was built on the property of the Pacific Clay Products Pipe factory on Norwalk Mills Road (present day Norwalk Boulevard) in Los Nietos (present day Santa Fe Springs) a few blocks south of Los Nietos Road.  The station was built with a Spanish-Mediterranean design and tiled roof.  Seven men were assigned at this station.  In 1931, a lot located on what was described as “the northern end of the Santa Fe Springs District on the McNees Tract at Western and “C” Streets” was purchased and intended to be built as Fire Station 15.  Due to protests from a major oil company, the plan was abandoned.  In the early 1940’s, Fire Station 17 served as Battalion Headquarters which included dispatching operations conducted out of the second floor.  Battalion Chiefs Keith Klinger and Glenn Griswold oversaw operations during this period.  Chief Griswold was known for creating the “fog nozzle” used in firefighting and was Southern California’s most experienced authority on fighting oil fires.  Chief Klinger was appointed as the County’s Fire Chief in 1953 after Fire Chief Cecil Gehr was killed in an auto accident responding to a fire.  Chief Klinger retired in 1969 after 35 years of service.  Chief Griswold was killed in action during WWII while serving as a Fire Chief in Naples, Italy.  Retiree Harry Miller (served 1942-1968) as a fire dispatcher at Fire Station 17 in the early 1940’s.  Here are some excerpts from his recollections of the area: 

 

“Fire Station 17 was a two-story, cement building, with a full hose tower.  There was a porch looking out the front of the building on the second floor.  There was a beautiful view of a vacant field across the street.  There was an attached shop and garage, Captain’s quarters, and an office for the Chief, who at the time was Glenn G. Griswold.  Also, there was a low cement tank behind the station that was used for oil-fire drills and such.  Next door on one side was Pacific Clay, a large tile and pipe manufacturer, and on the other side was the Sparkletts Water Company, and the man who ran it lived in a house that was part of the business.  There was the Pacific Clay Fire on Thanksgiving Day in 1950.  That was a doozy.  As you know, Santa Fe Springs was eventually incorporated and used the building for its Road Department for some years.  It has since been torn down.”

 

According to Miller, during these early days, firefighters worked 72 and 96-hour workweeks and were on duty every other day. Their monthly salary was approximately $170 dollars.  An old milk wagon was converted into a butane-fired commissary unit for meals served in the field.  In 1946 the Santa Fe Springs Fire Protection District became part of the San Gabriel Valley Fire Protection District and in 1951 Engine 15 was eventually stationed at the newly built Fire Station 15 located on Colima Road north of Whittier Boulevard.   County Fire Station 17, which had been relocated to 11901 East Washington Boulevard, was later relocated to their present day location, 12006 Hadley Street, in the City of Whittier.       

 

A New Era: In 1958, the City of Santa Fe Springs inaugurated their separate fire department.  In 1962 the area surrounding Fire Station 15 on Colima Road was annexed into the City of Whittier and turned over to the Whittier Fire Department.  A new Fire Station 15 was constructed on Santa Gertrudes in 1962 which now serves both the City and the Whittier Unincorporated area.  In 1975, the City of Whittier disbanded their fire department, ending a 74 year history, and annexed into the County Consolidated Fire Protection District.  During the 1950’s, the southern portion of the Whittier Unincorporated area included portions of present day La Mirada.  Serving this area was Fire Station 49, which was located south of the corner of Rosecrans and Valley View Avenue.  After the City of La Mirada incorporated in 1960, the fire station relocated to its present site next to City Hall on La Mirada Boulevard. 

 

After the housing boom public safety needs were dramatically increased resulting in the construction of Fire Station 96 in 1956, and Fire Station 15 in 1962.  The stations represented landmark fire service improvements for the area.  Fire Station 96 was referred to as “the Farm” because of the collection of poultry that was kept in the backyard of the station.  Chickens, roosters, ducks, and geese were familiar to school children as they toured the station.  Despite the population growth, the “Sunshine Acres” area, where Fire Station 96 is located, was still relatively rural when it was built, and still surrounded by open space.  A lumber yard was located across the street, a horse stable and railroad line were located nearby.  (Source: County of Los Angeles Community Connection, Spring 2003, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Historical Overview of Fire Service to the Whittier Unincorporated Community).  See vintage fire department photos of local stations at the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive at    http://history.colapublib.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15952coll13

 

Sheriff’s Department

Prior to the establishment of the Sheriff’s Department in 1850, law enforcement was directed under the jurisdiction of a constable.  The Whittier Unincorporated area was originally considered part of the Los Nietos Township and later the Whittier Township.  According to Paul R. Spitzzeri’s article for “The Branding Iron”  (Fall 2007), “townships were jurisdictions set up to provide for a post office and judicial apparatus, meaning a Justice of the Peace and his court and constables patrol the area, in unincorporated areas of counties.”  (Source: http://www.lawesterners.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/249-BI_249.pdf).  

 

Since the formation of the Sheriff’s Department in 1850, twenty-four men have served Los Angeles County as Sheriff.  Two were killed in the line of duty.  In 1907, the Department purchased its first automobile for use by the Sheriff. 
Mrs. Margaret Q. Adams was sworn in as the first female Deputy in the United States in 1912. 

 

Prior to 1913, the Whittier Township Constable and Deputy Constables were paid per arrest and worked out of the Justice Court.  Most of their arrests were court ordered.  In 1926 Sheriff’s Sub-Station 4 (Norwalk) began policing the City of Norwalk and the Whittier Unincorporated area.  All calls for service were received through the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Station switchboard and forwarded to the Norwalk Sub-Station.  The Sheriffs’ Department did not have a switchboard to send out calls until 1931.  The marked patrol car system was inaugurated and uniforms were adopted in 1932.  Prior to this time, all personnel wore civilian clothes.  In 1935, two-way radios were installed in patrol cars allowing deputies to answer calls from their patrol vehicles and the Sheriff's School of Instruction, now known as the Sheriff's Academy, was opened. 

 

The Constabulary was responsible for the Whittier Unincorporated area until the early 1940s. Deputies assigned to the Norwalk Station did not patrol, they only answered calls for service from the station.  The Sheriff’s “Night Detail” patrolled high crime areas as needed, but were assigned to the Hall of Justice Main Office.  (Source: courtesy of
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.)    After the closing of Lowell High School in South Whittier in 1980, the County purchased the land and opened the Sheriff‘s Training Academy (STAR Center) at the corner of Telegraph Road and Colima Road.  You can read more history about the Sheriff’s Department at http://shq.lasdnews.net/pages/tgen1.aspx?id=SHM.  See a list of all past Sheriff’s at http://www.laalmanac.com/crime/cr68.htm (Source: Los Angeles Almanac at www.laalmanac.com.)  Read a bio on Whittier Township Constable, George M. Bankston, and view photos of local constables on the Whittier Unincorporated Digital Archive. 

  

Regional Planning

Regional Planning was created in 1922 with the establishment of the Regional Planning Commission, a body that still exists and is responsible for advising the Board of Supervisors on all planning matters.  It is the oldest planning body in the United States.  It became an independent Department in 1974 and continues to support the Commission and Board of Supervisors.   Read about the Department of Regional Planning’s preservation efforts at http://planning.lacounty.gov/preservation

.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=3bca47ad1e734dc49857ebffbf4574c5he co

The Mills Act: The Mills Act grants local governments the authority to enter into contracts with the owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic properties, with a potential property tax relief.  The Department of Regional Planning is responsible for reviewing applicants for potential contracts with homeowners.  For more information on this and historical landmarks, log onto http://planning.lacounty.gov/preservation/landmarks.

Health Services:

For over 150 years, Los Angeles County has provided health services to residents regardless of their ability to pay for care. The County of Los Angeles healthcare system began in 1856, when the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul opened an eight-bed facility.  In 1878, the County opened its own 100-bed Los Angeles County Hospital.  The University of Southern California (USC) Medical School entered into an affiliation with the Los Angeles County Hospital in 1885.  The department, known as the Department of Charities, responded to the population growth of Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s and constructed the County General Hospital on Mission Road (now LAC+USC Medical Center), which became a training site for new physicians.  https://dhs.lacounty.gov/wps/portal/dhs/moredhs/historyofdhs/

 

Department of Public Works (DPW):

Going back to the turn of the last century, the Department of Public Works (DPW) was made up of the once-separate County Roads, County Flood Control District, and County Engineer Departments.  These individual departments helped shape and support the community through the construction of streets, roads, storm drains and flood channels.  DPW also served as building managers for County fire stations, libraries, community centers and other facilities. There were ten major floods in the Los Angeles area between 1850 and 1900.  With no devices to confine the floods, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers sometimes carved out new channels and changed their courses.  The Los Angeles Flood Control District was created in 1915.  The County Road Department began in 1913, and in 1916, the Office of the County Engineer was created and responsible for building and safety, land surveys, and designing waterworks.  Major thoroughfares like Whittier Boulevard and Telegraph Road were paved through in some areas in 1925.  Streets were widened and expanded and traffic signals were modernized as the region grew and former farmlands transformed into new residential areas. 

 

Municipal water, sewer and storm drain facilities were built and upgraded under community streets throughout the 20th century as the populations grew.  In the 1940’s a County Master Highway Plan was developed.  Local road improvement projects, like sidewalks and street widening of Telegraph Road in South Whittier, (Carmenita Road to Mills Avenue), occurred in 1955.  In the midst of the housing boom, traffic control measures were needed.  In 1961, the County Road Department installed several traffic signals at major intersections including Mines Boulevard in Whittier Downs, Carmenita Road at Meyer and Leffingwell Roads, and Slauson Avenue at Pioneer Boulevard in Los Nietos.  Significant storm drain improvements were constructed between 1960 and 1970 and State and County roads were the main thoroughfares before Interstate 605 was built in 1963-64.   

United States Army Corps of Engineers:  Prior to 1914, there had been no effort to develop flood control facilities in Los Angeles County.   In 1938, the Army Corps of Engineers gained responsibility over drainage in Los Angeles County and the Whittier Narrows Dam was included in a plan for flood control; and was constructed in 1957.  During the early 1950’s, buildings located within the sphere of the dam construction site included neighborhoods located north of Mission Mill Road, between the San Gabriel River and San Jose Creek.  Streets affected were Shadow Lane, Kratt Lane, Chancellor Avenue, and Spring Grove Avenue.   Homes and other buildings were sold at bid by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Some families chose to move their homes to other locations.  (Source: The Whittier News, Whittier California, May 22, 1950.)  Read more about the Army Corps of Engineers at http://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Stories/Article/477249/the-la-river-and-the-corps-a-brief-history/

 

Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC)

The County Clerk was established after the State Legislature divided California into 27 Counties in 1850.  Los Angeles County was much larger during this era, and included Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange Counties between this time and the late 1800’s.  The first Los Angeles County election took place in April 1850 resulting in Benjamin D. Wilson being elected as the first County Clerk, and Ignacio Del Valle as the first County Recorder.  These positions were established a year before the Board of Supervisors.  (Source: Seaver Center for Western Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County).

 

One means of registering livestock was through cattle brands.  The County Recorder accepted pieces of leather with the brand and earmarks burned into it.  The RR/CC still has some archived cattle brands on leather registered to Whittier Unincorporated area landowners such as Pio Pico and Jose Maria Ramirez from the 1800’s.  Others are in the repository of the Seaver Center for Western History at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.