Downey Turns 35 but Roots Go Back 118 Years

Downey, which began as an agricultural town 118 years ago, is celebrating its 35th anniversary of incorporation.

With a population of 91,444, the city is located in the center of the Los Angeles Basin, 12 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Downey remains one of the more prosperous Southeast cities with large numbers of its residents in middle and high-income groups, according to the 1990 census.

Rockwell International’s Space Systems Division is the city’s major employer with 5,800 workers. Rockwell International, which was formed in 1973, earned national recognition as the birthplace of the space shuttles. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and the most recent, Endeavor, were built in the Downey plant.

The area originally was settled by Southerners fleeing the Civil War. Newcomers eager for a share of the California Gold Rush soon followed. The community originally was dubbed Downey City. It was the brainchild of John Gately Downey, an Irish pharmacist who, unable to endure the rigors of gold mining, diverted his energy to maintaining his drugstore and immersing himself in politics.


After serving as governor of California for one term in Sacramento, John Downey returned to Southern California and was instrumental in bringing the new Southern Pacific Railroad line to his community in 1874. The railroad brought new residents and prosperity to the community.

On Dec. 17, 1956, Downey residents voted to incorporate to thwart an effort by Bell Gardens officials to annex part of the Downey area.


Total: 1991 (estimated) 92,899


1980-91 change: +12.5%

Median age: 35.3

Racial/ethnic mix:

White (non-Latino): 54%


Latino: 33%

Other: 10%

Black: 3%

Males median age: 34.1


Females median age: 36.6


Per capita: $14,905

Median household: $35,888


Average household: $41,374

Income distribution:

Less than $25,000: 33%

$25,000-49,000: 36%


$50,000-74,999: 19%

$75,000-99,999: 7%

$100,000 and more: 5%



Name of Company Employment Products or Services Rockwell International 5,800 space transportation Los Angeles County 4,562 county offices, medical services Stonewood Shopping Center 1,600 retail stores Downey Unified School 1,206 public education District Downey Community Hospital 1,100 medical services L.A. County Office of 994 county schools administration Education Aerojet Ordnance & 600 ordnance Manufacturing Co. GTE California 500 telephone utility City of Downey 440 city offices Coca Cola Bottling Co. 400 soft drink bottling

There are approximately 100 manufacturing plants in Downey, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Some of the other major employers are National O-Ring, Rio Hondo Memorial Hospital, Southern California Gas Co., Kirkhill Inc., Deveille Furniture, Regent Jack Manufacturing, Olympic Fastening Systems and Duray Inc.


Title Office Holder District Term Mayor: Barbara J. Hayden At Large (6-92) Mayor Pro Tem: Diane P. Boggs District 1 (6-92) Council Members: Robert G. Cormack District 3 (6-92) Robert S. Brazelton District 4 (6-94) Richard D. Carter District 2 (6-92)


Dates in parentheses are when their terms expire. Carter was appointed in September to replace Roy L. Paul, who resigned in July to become a Municipal Court commissioner. When his appointed term expires, that office will be open for election to a two-year term. The normal term, however, is four years.


Position Office Holder (* Acting) City Manager: Gerald M. Caton Assistant City Managers: Ken Farsing, Lee Powell Chief of Police: D. Clayton Mayes Fire Chief: Ron Irwin City Clerk: Judith E. McDonnell City Attorney: Peter M. Thorson Finance Director: Lowell Williams City Engineer: Robert M. Brace * Director of Public Works: Richard C. Redmayne * Director of Community Services: James R. Jarrett Director of Community Development: Art Rangel Assistant Community Development Director and City Planning Director: Ronald M. Yoshiki



Rives Mansion

Seeming to appear out of nowhere as it sits nestled between single-family homes and fast-food restaurants at the corner of Paramount Boulevard and 3rd Street is the tall, stately, white-columned Rives Mansion. James C. Rives, a former Los Angeles County district attorney and Superior Court judge, built the mansion in 1911 as a scaled-down replica of homes in the Deep South. The three-story house, which was in the Rives family for 35 years, has a 30-by-60-foot ballroom on the third floor. It was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In 1983, newspaper publisher Arthur Hendricks bought the mansion and has restored it to its original grandeur.

Original Golden Arches

Customers at the McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of Lakewood and Florence boulevards are eating at the California birthplace of the mammoth restaurant chain. The first McDonald’s restaurant was built in Phoenix but the second opened in 1953 in Downey. The first one was later demolished, leaving the Downey restaurant as the oldest example of the original style of golden arches architecture. The fast-food stand was declared a city landmark by the Downey Historical Society in 1980. In 1984, it was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but it has not yet been placed on the official roster.