A person living in Burbank at the beginning of the 20th century would
hardly recognize the massive residential and business sprawl the city
has become. A rural town of farms, ranches and small businesses has
transformed itself into a successful contemporary city, dropping most
of its rural ways. The business community of Burbank's early years
laid the foundation for the growth that Burbank has experienced.
The heart of Burbank's oldest business district was at the corner
of San Fernando Road and Olive Avenue. Burbank's first brick building
was constructed there in 1887 to satisfy the small population's
commercial needs. The Burbank Villa (now the site of the Olive Avenue
Post Office) was also constructed in 1887 at a cost of $30,000. The
Providencia Land, Water and Development Company was heavily promoting
the area to real-estate speculators and new residents. Its efforts
had limited success and were subjected to the ups and downs of the
nation's unstable economy of the time.
Burbank's business community was well on its feet by the early
1900s, though. Although Burbank's population was fewer than 500 in
1908, several businesses were well established and enjoying financial
success. The Randisi Winery, at 701 Eaton Drive, was prospering and
employed many Burbankers. Burbank State Bank, the city's first bank,
opened April 1, 1908, at the corner of Olive Avenue and San Fernando
Road. It received deposits of $30,000 on the first day! The Burbank
Daily Review made its debut July 9, 1908 -- the first time Burbank
had a local newspaper since 1889. By 1911, the year Burbank was
incorporated as a city, its business district consisted of a hardware
store, livery stable, dry-goods store, general store, bank and a
bicycle repair store, as well as several real-estate offices.
Evidence of Burbank's transformation from rural town to city was
evident in Burbank's business district by 1916. San Fernando Road,
near Angeleno Avenue, supported several businesses, including a
Goodrich Tires and the construction of Elizabeth Hotel, which is now
the site of Gordon Biersch. Both businesses reflect the increased
mobility of society of that time. The business district enjoyed
moderate success through most of the decade, but surged in the 1920s.
Burbank had 2,913 people living in 830 homes in 1920. By 1924, the
business district of Burbank was expanding on the west side of San
Fernando Road and stretched from Verdugo to Cypress avenues, and on
the east side to Palm Avenue. Once again, developers took advantage
of the good economic times and began to heavily promote California to
the people of the rest of the nation as a place of perfect weather
and healthy living. The 1920s saw incredible economic growth in the
country, and Burbank benefited from it. In the 1920s, Burbank's business community expanded to new industries and corporations,
including First National Studio (now Warner Bros. Studios), Libby
McNeil Cannery, Cooper Underwear, Burbank Furniture, Empire China Co.
and the Andrew Jergens Co.
The 1920s were especially significant to Burbank's transformation
from a rural town to a city. A growing population created the demand
for commerce and goods, and Burbank's business community met that
demand. Ranches and farms gave way to small businesses and larger
companies that decided to make Burbank their home. The city also
played its part by having the infrastructure transformed to meet
changing demands. Regular garbage pick-up began, and outhouses were
banned in 1922. In 1923, Burbank's village mail-delivery
classification was changed to city.
Burbank's business community has played a leading role in the
transformation of Burbank from a rural town to a modern city. Like
the business community of the early 20th century, the business
community of today is an engine of economic change for the city of
Burbank and its residents. The rural town we once were is lost
forever to the city we have become. We can take comfort, however,
that we have a small-town feel with a modern city appearance.
* CRAIG BULLOCK is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage
Commission. Reach him at BrbnkHeritageCom@aol.com.