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It Has Always Been Rain or Shine In Playa Del Rey/Westchester

The winding road seen in this photo is present day Florence Boulevard.
The winding road seen in this photo is present day Florence Boulevard.

We are experiencing one of the worst droughts in California history. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, the drought has now affected 100% of the State. Our area, Westchester and Playa Del Rey, have been experiencing this cycle for hundreds of years. The cycle is one of dry years mixed with years of torrential downpours and flooding.

Los Angeles and its coastal basin are humid, with a Mediterranean climate of winter rains and warm summers similar to its European namesake. In fact, migrants from the eastern states, arriving in the early nineteenth century, described the coastal Los Angeles plain filled with ponds, wetlands, forested, and anything but a desert. The ponds dried up and the forests disappeared, not because the climate changed but because resources were simply overused or badly used.

From 1820 until the mid 1840’s, La Ballona was the center of a prosperous cattle enterprise. The beef and by-products sustained the local ranchers, while the hides and tallow were transported to the four corners of the world. Often called “California banknotes,” trading ships would call at local ports and barter with general necessities in exchange for the valuable hides. The hides were then shipped Around the Horn to places such as Boston, where they were processed into shoes and other leather goods.

The droughts and floods of the 1830’s and 1840’s destroyed most of the Rancho La Ballona cattle; leading to the Rancho’s ultimate demise.

Ignoring the historical risk of local cattle ranching, Canadian immigrant Daniel Freeman purchased neighboring Rancho Centinela, and many other parcels of surrounding land; parts of Rancho La Ballona and Rancho Sausal Redondo, which would one day be called Westchester and Playa Del Rey. Freemans herds grew into the thousands of head of cattle, horses, and sheep, but when the drought of 1875/1876 hit the area he lost over 22,000 animals to the disastrous drought.
The industrious Freeman had also planted vast orchards along the banks of Centinela Creek, and with this ranch in ruins, he reverted to dry farming.

Within a few years, he had thousands of acres under cultivation, growing various cereal grains, mostly wheat and barley. His harvest of 1880 equaled over a million bushels and he even shipped an entire shipload of wheat to Liverpool, England.

As a result, he became one of the richest men in Los Angeles, and went on to subdivide large tracts of his land, which became present-day Inglewood and Westchester.

In fact, the first lots sold in Westchester, were intended to be 1-acre home-farms, but demand for land quickly chopped these parcels into small lots.


VIEW OF THE FREEMAN FARM, 1888. West view from the Freeman Mansion on Prairie Avenue, looking towards Westchester. Freeman amassed a fortune farming wheat, barley, olives, lemons, limes and almonds on the ranch, and named his expansive land holding Inglewood, after his birthplace in Ontario. (Photo; Complements, Beach of the King-The Early History of Playa Del Rey And Westchester, California, Author).

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