The land upon which South Gate sits was once the site of Rancho San Antonio, a sprawling 30,000-acre spread that the king of Spain granted to Antonio Maria Lugo upon his retirement from the Mexican army in 1810.
The ranch was renowned for its scenic mix of mesas and alluvial plains, and Don Lugo ran it like a fiefdom. He expanded his holdings via land grants to his children and then leveraged the wealth he gained through his lucrative cattle ranching operation into a series of political appointments.
Lugo would eventually serve, as the city of South Gate’s official history notes, in the positions of “alcalde (mayor) of Los Angeles, juex del campo (judge of the plains) and a member of the Pueblo Council.”
The man was indefatigable, purportedly traveling on horseback from his rancho to Monterey at the ripe old age of 71, and actively ruling over his kingdom of cattle until his death in 1860.
Whether before his death he had put into place a succession plan that went as wrong as King Lear’s or he just assumed he would live forever, the result was the same: His heirs were unleashed and began to sell off their portions of his kingdom piecemeal.
Agriculture soon supplanted ranching as the dominant industry of the old rancho. The remnants of the power structures of the Californio era that Lugo represented were likewise upended, as new immigrants from the Eastern U.S. began the process of developing California by way of real estate speculation.
In 1917, the former cattle-concern-turned-real-estate-operation of the nearby Cudahy family began selling plots in a tract it advertised as “South Gate Gardens-Gateway to the Sea,” which took its name from the southern entrance to the Rancho San Antonio. On the first day, more than 250 half-acre lots were sold, and the suburbanization of the rancho began in earnest.
Just a few years after the city incorporated as South Gate in 1923, the rise of the L.A. region as a manufacturing center saw the industrial giants of the era, including Firestone and General Motors, flocking to the new city to take advantage of its plentiful, cheap land and growing labor pool.
By the 1970s, South Gate’s industrial fortunes were in decline. The union jobs disappeared as the big factories closed and smaller clothing manufacturing operations took their place. Those jobs provided key sources of income for new arrivals from Latin America, and today South Gate remains an important gateway city for immigrants to America.
An affordable option: South Gate’s plentiful stock of modest yet sturdy single-family homes makes it one of the last bastions of affordability in the L.A. basin.
A working suburb: With more than 24,000 jobs within the city limits, South Gate offers solid employment opportunities without a long commute.
Planning for the future: With a light-rail line coming within the next 10 years, and redevelopment of historic Tweedy Boulevard in the works, South Gate is actively working to modernize its infrastructure.
Economic development: Although South Gate has retained a sizable manufacturing base, there is more for the city to do to attract higher-paying jobs for its residents.
Rony Velasquez of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices said that despite a generational culture of families staying put in South Gate, the local government is still making strides to make the city less stagnant.
“Tweedy Mile is the central hub of activity, and the City Council has been actively pursuing development in that area to attract new businesses,” Velasquez said.
He added that most South Gate families are too focused on paying the mortgage to build new constructions or make significant improvements to their homes, but he hopes that those changes will come in time.
“For now, the status quo isn’t changing,” he said, before mentioning some new developments that might represent a change of pace. “The city redeveloped South Gate Park a few years ago, and we’ve also seen an empty lot turn into a new shopping complex.”
In the 90280 ZIP Code, based on 25 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in December was $423,000, up 7.2% year over year, according to CoreLogic.
There are 19 public schools in South Gate. Standouts include Bryson Avenue Elementary, which scored 850 on the 2013 Academic Performance Index, and Victoria Avenue Elementary, which scored 821.
Madison Elementary and Tweedy Elementary scored 804 and 802, respectively. South Gate Senior High, the city’s largest public high school, scored 708.
Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.