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Squeezed Out : Remembering The Valley’s Orange Empire

Before the housing tracts, malls and freeways, the San Fernando Valley was home to a thriving citrus industry that in its heyday covered 15,000 acres. From the early 1920s to the late 1950s, oranges were grown and packed in harvested for local consumption as well as the rest of the country. Packing houses located in San Fernando, Pacoima, Reseda and Owensmouth (which was later renamed Canoga Park), processed the local oranges, mostly Valencias.

Oranges in California date back two centuries to the Spanish missionaries who first brought the seeds. The first California orchard was planted at the San Gabriel Mission in 1804, followed in 1840 by the first commercial orange grove in what is now downtown Los Angeles.

In the San Fernando Valley, the stage was set with the opening of the Owens Valley Aqueduct in 1913, which made it possible to grow irrigated crops. in the San Fernando Valley. In addition to oranges, Valley farmers also grew walnuts, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, alfalfa and flowers.

The citrus industry in the Valley hit its peak in the 1930s. By the end of World War II, the housing boom began squeeze out the orange groves . New homeowners, while fond of the fragrant scent of the orange blossoms, did not appreciate the manure and tractors that went along with the groves. As a result of infringing development, yields declined while the asfarmland became more valuable as residential housing.

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By the early 1970s, only 350 acres of orange groves remained. Today, only a handful of groves are left, totaling about 40 acres.

Labeling the crates Created by artists and graphic designers, colorful paper labels were slapped on orange crates to catch the attention of prospective buyers. The artwork is divided into three periods, providing a glimpse of the social as well as commercial art history of California from the 1880s through the mid-1950s. The labels, no longer used after cardboard boxes replaced wooden crates in the mid-1950s, are now collectibles.

Survivng development A drive has begun to preserve the historic seven-acre grove at Cal State Northridge, at the corner of Nordhoff Street and Zelzah Avenue. Last year, the grove was rededicated at a ceremony in conjunction with a “Feeling Grovey Festival” to raise money for a new irrigation system. Sunkist Growers Inc. donated 150 trees to the project to replace those in the 500-tree grove that were dead or dying. Sources: “California Orange Box Labels,” by Gordon T. McClelland and Jay T. Last; Sunkist Growers, Inc.; Catherine Mulholland and the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office; Research by STEPLHANIE STASSEL


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