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A CENTURY OF GROWTH

Paul Clinton

This is the first of a two-part series looking at 100 years of history

in Burbank.

BURBANK -- A hundred years can make all the difference.

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As Burbank prepares for the year 2000, the city’s agrarian beginnings

are a distant memory, a sharp contrast to today’s robust municipality.

In 1900, Burbank was an unremarkable farming community with a

population of 300 located in a sparsely populated swath of land between

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Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

A series of late 19th Century economic disasters -- a busted land

boom, plummeting wages, and a rash of bank failures -- had caused chaos

in the region.

Yet, with the new century came new optimism.

In the 1900s, scores of Burbank farmers harvested cantaloupe and wine

from an area with rich soil and a perpetually sunny climate.

“I understand that those Burbank wines were pretty popular,” said Les

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Rosenberg, president of the Burbank Historical Society.

The town had its first brush with a national celebrity in 1904 when

heavyweight boxing champ James Jeffries bought 107 acres for a ranch on

what what is now Victory Boulevard.

Local news began hitting the streets in 1905 when Los Angeles newsman

E.M. McClure and publisher J.F. Boughton launched the “Burbank Review.”

The pair began publishing the “Glendale News” the same year.

As the decade wore on, Los Angeles fought for congressional approval

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to build the Owens River Aqueduct, which would irrigate the farmlands of

the Valley. In an annexation bid, Los Angeles offered Burbank and other

communities a plentiful share of that water.

But in 1907 Burbank and Glendale told their western neighbor they

wanted no part of the arrangement and in 1911, by an 81-51 vote,

residents approved cityhood for Burbank. Thomas Story, who owned a

hardware store and livery stable on San Fernando Road, was installed as

the city’s first mayor.

Though ultimately overshadowed by aircraft manufacturing, the trucking

industry joined agriculture as the main industry in Burbank in its early

years. In 1917, the Moreland Truck Company opened on a 24-acre farm at

Alameda Avenue and San Fernando Road.

As the population grew -- hitting 2,913 in the 1920 Census -- other

industries began to move into Burbank.

The label “Media City” wouldn’t come until much later, but the

foundations were laid in 1926 when Warner Bros. absorbed the Olive Avenue

operations of First National Pictures. Only a fringe player in silent

movies, Warner Bros. emerged as one of the most successful studios of the

sound era.

With an arsenal of hard-nosed stars -- including James Cagney,

Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis -- Warner released gritty pictures like

“The Public Enemy,” “Little Caesar” and “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain

Gang” during the 1930s.

That same decade, Burbank picked up a two other major studios from

Hollywood. In 1934, Columbia began buying land for a 40-acre ranch. The

studio, which has since pulled out of Burbank, used the land as a set for

its series of jungle pictures.

More importantly, Disney set up shop on a 51-acre parcel on Buena

Vista Street in 1939. While Disney’s 1940 release “Fantasia” didn’t catch

on with the public, the studio rebounded three years later with “Bambi.”

It was a bit earlier, in the waning years of the 1920s, that Burbank

saw the arrival of the industry that would have the biggest impact on the

city’s economy in the first half of the 20th Century. In 1928, Allan and

Malcolm Loughead moved their aircraft manufacturing company from Santa

Barbara to Burbank.

On the eve of U.S. entry into World War II, in 1940, Lockheed bought

Union Air Terminal, Burbank’s regional airport. The airport, previously

known as United Airport, was built in 1930. Constructed for $1.5 million,

the airport served passengers traveling to San Diego and other nearby

destinations.

“This was the principal airport for Los Angeles,” airport spokesman

Victor Gill said. “It was the only place to catch a plane.”

Though it reached a peek of 1.2 million passengers in 1946, the

airport’s yearly flow dropped to 270,000 the following year when most of

the commercial carriers switched over to the growing Los Angeles Airport.

Lockheed expanded rapidly as Europe became engulfed in World War II and

the orders poured in for combat aircraft. Lockheed sold hundreds of

Hudson bombers to the British Air Ministry.

Fueled by the war effort, Lockheed transformed Burbank into a

fully-industrialized city.

“A lot of people went to work,” former Historical Society President

Mary Jane Strickland said. “It changed everything in Burbank.”

Strickland speaks from experience. She was an original “Rosie the

Riveter,” working on the line to help assemble P-38 Lighting fighters.

Like much of the rest of the nation, World War II helped lift Burbank

out of the doldrums of the Great Depression, spurring an era of renewed

growth. In 1943, the city christened a new Art Deco-style City Hall on

Olive Avenue. The distinctive building was added to the National Register

of Historic Places in the mid-1990s.

Also, in 1944, St. Joseph Hospital (now Medical Center) opened its

doors to meet the city’s growing medical needs.

During the 30s and 40s, Burbank experienced a period of unprecedented

growth. Between 1930 and 1950, the population jumped nearly five fold,

from 16,662 to 78,577.

As the city entered the postwar era, growth slowed, corruption

engulfed City Hall and attempts to open a modern shopping center fell

flat. By the late 1960s, with Johnny Carson poking fun at the thrift

shops in “beautiful downtown Burbank,” the city was once again in need of

a economic revival.


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