Orange groves, cows and strawberry fields

A photo from Compton, California, a now completely urbanized community on the city limits of Los Angeles, back in 1910. Indeed, most of flatland LA and environs was farms, orchards, vineyards and cattle pasture well into the 20th century. As farmers sold out to developers the city would often end on one side of the road and fields begin on the other side. When I was a kid in Orange County in the sixties and seventies, the entire area was a patchwork of intense development and farmland. One year there’d be strawberry fields and orange groves, a year later there’d be a new housing tracts, a shopping center, a freeway, a mini-mall (I don’t think they called them mini-malls yet, though), an amusement park. Disneyland still had strawberry fields across the street. My folks finally bought a place way the hell out in Brea, which was like the edge of the world in 1971, and our tract had been cow pasture—maybe cattle land would be a better description—just a year or two earlier. The cows were gone, but the flies remained. There were still lots of cattle across the road, we’d pass by herds of the beasts on the way to Brea Olinda High School. All the kids had stories about running for their lives chased by an angry snorting bull. A few years later not even the flies remained. It was solid suburban tract homes. In the early seventies, though, Brea Olinda High was still rural enough thst it had a farm right on campus, and the Future Farmers of America kids drove their cows and hogs, goats and sheep across campus, the long haired suburban kids jeering and laughing. They got the last laugh, too, those jeering suburban kids, the farm was closed a few years later as the last pastures and groves in the area were plowed up and houses and a new mall put up in their place. Last time I was in Brea I got lost. I was going to show Fyl where we’d first lived in a rental across from a park, and sometimes we’d walk home from Brea Junior High through downtown Brea, a stretch of Midwest farmtown on the fringes of Orange County suburbia, a world away from Surf City USA. But the two lane road between pastures was now a six lane river of asphalt, and every last thing I remembered was gone. Only the street names remained.

A wagon load of sugar beets in Compton, 1910. Source: California State University, Dominguez Hills, Archives and Special Collections. Thanks to Los Angeles Relics on Facebook for posting this picture and inspiring this essay.