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Neighborhood Spotlight: Huntington Park sticks to its roots and remains a working-class haven

In 1902, the tiny tract of La Park, looking to jump-start sales of residential lots that ranged from $75 to $350, took a gamble on a “Field of Dreams” development strategy.

Boosters, eager to lure a line of Henry Huntington’s popular Pacific Electric Railway to town, decided to build a way station named after the transit magnate in the hope that he, and his trolleys, would come.

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Their bet paid off.

Unable to resist the ego-burnishing allure of running a line to a town that bore his name — or more likely, correctly forseeing the profit potential in helping develop the hinterlands southeast of downtown Los Angeles — the railway baron was soon dispatching Red Cars to the newly dubbed crossroads of Huntington Park.

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The five-cent trolley fare to downtown L.A., combined with its modestly priced lots, soon made Huntington Park an attractive home-buying destination for working-class Angelenos priced out of tony close-in districts such as Bunker Hill and Angelino Heights.

Soon the wide, unpaved streets were — if not exactly lively — stirring to life.

A grocery store, an Episcopal Church and a schoolhouse sprang up, as well as a mansion for the town’s first grandee, George A. Garlow, a professor who peddled baldness cures. In 1906, Huntington Park incorporated as a city, population 526.

In 1909, canny citizens, once again looking for ways to attract passing travelers, cut the ribbon on a concrete horse trough. The free water for thirsty horses ensured that a steady stream of carriages stopped along Pacific Boulevard, Huntington Park’s main commercial drag.

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By 1933, the town could be fairly described as bustling. Unfortunately, that was also the year of the great Long Beach earthquake, which made short work of the brick buildings that predominated in Southern California at the time.

Huntington Park was particularly hard-hit. Buildings in the commercial district collapsed, and schools were so badly damaged that children were forced to attend classes in tents.

Enough structures survived, or were subsequently rebuilt, to leave Huntington Park with an rich, eclectic collection of historic buildings that endures to this day.

A drive down Pacific Boulevard reveals commercial buildings and theaters in a variety of 20th century styles, an architectural inheritance the city protects so zealously that it earned an “A” grade from the Los Angeles Conservancy for its preservation efforts.

(Los Angeles Times)

Neighborhood highlights

A working-class haven: Proximity to freight and transportation employment centers make Huntington Park a convenient home-buying location for workers in those industries.

An affordable price: Relatively modest housing costs put the dream of home ownership within reach for working-class workers.

Eclectic dining: The food in Huntington Park is as varied as the architecture, with everything from bánh mì to mole on menus across the city.

Neighborhood challenges

Economic hurdles: Homes in Huntington Park are within reach of more buyers than in other parts of the region, but a high poverty rate in the city leaves many residents sidelined.

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Expert insight

Carlos Garcia of Berkshire Hathaway has been active in the Huntington Park area since 2001 and said its diversity is a source of strength.

“Huntington Park is a strong Latino-based city, and the restaurants and shopping centers express that,” Garcia said. Area favorites are Avila’s El Ranchito and Las Molenderas.

The homes reflect the community as well. Spanish-style estates populate the area, and, as of late, he said a few modern builds are popping up.

Although it’s a less competitive market than some, he noted that Huntington Park’s housing stock is usually half of what’s available in neighboring communities, such as South Gate.

Market snapshot

In the 90255 ZIP Code, based on 11 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in August was $452,000, up 20.1% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Report card

Of the 11 public schools in the Huntington Park boundaries, eight scored above 700 on the 2013 Academic Performance Index. Pacific Boulevard scored the highest at 804.

Middleton Street Elementary and San Antonio Elementary both scored 792. Huntington Park Senior high, the area’s largest high school, scored 672.

Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.

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