From dairies to samosas and saris

From dairies to samosas and saris
The Artesia Water Tower sits behind a home on Clarkdale Ave. (Christine Cotter / LAT)
Once a Portuguese-run dairy village, Artesia is now home to Southern California's largest Indian enclave. In the cultural and commercial district informally known as Little India, Hindi supplants English, saris are a wardrobe staple and fast food means samosas.


In the 1920s and 1930s, Portuguese and Dutch immigrants developed Artesia into one of the most vital dairy districts in Southern California. After World War II, developers targeted this rural countryside for future home sites. As Artesia's land grew increasingly valuable, many dairymen sold their businesses and moved operations to Chino and Central California.

Immigration rules relaxed in 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act, which spurred more South Asians to move to suburban neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Southern California's first Indian grocery store, Selecto Spices, opened in Hollywood, which was inconvenient to Orange County's Indian population. The Indian community was able to persuade Selecto Spices' owner to move the business in 1970 to the more centrally located Artesia.

Although Pioneer Boulevard was one of Artesia's less desirable stretches in the early 1970s, its affordability attracted newly migrated Indians, who set up shop there. For more than 30 years, Little India has been developing along Pioneer between 183rd and 188th streets.

What it's about

For many, Little India is home away from home. The filmi music made popular by Indian movies blasts from shops and cars and, perhaps, comforts homesick patrons as they stroll through Little India and think of Mumbai or New Delhi. Grocery stores are stocked with traditional Indian grains and spices, shops specialize in Indian jewelry, boutiques boast saris and the formalwear known as jodhpuris, beauty shops offer threading depilatories and Mehndi body art, and restaurants represent the South Asian country's diverse cuisines.

Little India is also the official gathering place for festivities. Artesia Park is home to the annual Indian Independence Day Celebration. The all-day event held every Aug. 15 includes games, food and entertainment by Bollywood (Indian cinema) celebrities. Other events at the park include mid-fall's Diwali, or Festival of Lights, and Navaratri, the Festival of Nine Nights.

Insiders' view

Indian residents enjoy the close-knit community and the proximity to shops and markets. "When you're here, you feel like you're back in India. You don't have to tell Indians to come here. They already know that this is the place to be," said Venkatesh Koka, a 12-year Artesia resident who owns shopping centers in Little India.

"If you want Indian stores and you want to be around Indian people, then you need to live near Little India," said Sam Shah of Re/Max of Cerritos.

Housing stock

According to Shah, Little India's neighborhoods are a "hodgepodge," with million-dollar homes next to rental apartments.

On the market now is a 1,229-square-foot, single-story home on Clarkdale Avenue listed at $539,500. Built in 1952, it has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and, unlike many older homes in Artesia, an attached garage.

A 2,310-square-foot, two-story home on Norwalk Boulevard is priced at $749,000. Built in 1981, this semi-custom home has three bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms and two balconies.

A 3,152-square-foot, two-story custom home built in 2001 on Grayland Avenue is priced at $1,199,000. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a walk-in pantry.

Report card

Students are served by the ABC (Artesia, Bellflower, Cerritos) Unified School District. Children from kindergarten through sixth grade attend Kennedy Elementary, which scored 793 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2006 Academic Performance Index Growth Report. Ross Middle School and Cerritos High scored 740 and 813, respectively.

Sources: ; Sam Shah of Re/Max of Cerritos; Venkatesh Koka of Realty Specialties; ; ; .