Land baron Lucky Baldwin lent it his name, but it is Baldwin Park alone that is responsible for its distinctive character.
This city of 70,000 has a twentysomething mayor--one of the youngest in the nation--and has experienced a long battle against poverty, intramural political warfare that included bitter recall elections, and a mini-Watergate involving the Police Department.
The San Gabriel Valley's "Hub City," at the confluence of two major freeways--the 605 and San Bernardino--was originally called Pleasant View, and later Vineland, before it became known as Baldwin Park by 1912.
The small town began to grow and focused its commercial core on a transportation link--the Pacific Electric Railway--running along Ramona Boulevard.
In the 1950s, with the San Bernardino Freeway running through the San Gabriel Valley, other cities took advantage of it, putting their commerce within sight of the offramps. But Baldwin Park stubbornly kept its business district along the old Red Car lines--it cost the city millions in commerce.
The city's political turmoil began in the 1970s, 20 years after its incorporation, with a nasty recall election, bickering among officials and a wiretapping scandal involving the Police Department.
In 1973 and 1974, Baldwin Park took the brunt of a statewide debate over a California Supreme Court school financing decision known as Serrano-Priest. Beverly Hills was constantly named as the "rich" city, and Baldwin Park was repeatedly fingered as the "poor" one.
The city made news again in 1982, when a Rand Corp. report based on socioeconomic data put Baldwin Park on a list of five local cities it declared "disaster areas."
Officials countered with an aggressive redevelopment plan, and went after everyfederal nickel, dime and dollar they could. In 1985, Baldwin Park was the only city west of the Mississippi River to receive a federal urban development action grant, which, among other developments, helped to create a shopping center and its flagship Marriott Hotel.
Despite the economic upsurge, the late 1980s found City Hall like a rudderless ship, when recall elections and political upheaval forced some officials to resign and found others deserting civic office over personality disputes.
The city's turbulent chapter ended in 1992, after voters elected an ambitious 23-year-old Latino mayor. Fidel Vargas was quickly thrust into the national spotlight, in Time and Newsweek magazines, on CNN and as a White House guest. His youthful vigor and the lessons he learned at Harvard helped him wipe out the graffiti covering walls in the city. He has steadily lowered the crime rate, with police bike patrols and weekend helicopter flyovers. He raised the city's rate of home ownership along with its self-esteem, pushing a city-assisted program for first-time buyers.
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By the Numbers
Incorporated: January 25, 1956
Square miles: 7
Number of city parks: 7
City employees: 181
1996-97 operating budget: 13 million
Average household size: 4
Median age: 26
MONEY AND WORK
Median household income: $32,684
Median household income/LA County: $34,965
Median home value: $149,700
Employed (16 and older): 31,233
Percentage of women employed: 53%
Percentage of men employed: 78%
Married couple families with children: 46%
Married couple families with no children: 18%
Other types of families: 23%
Nonfamily households: 13%
Total stores: 350
Total employees: 2,004
Annual sales: $253 million
Source: Claritas Inc. retail figures are for 1995. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.