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A New Kind of City...Lakewood

Visitors to model homes in the Lakewood Park development, 1950. Courtesy of City of Lakewood historical collection.

The post-World War II years placed a huge housing burden on the Los Angeles County. The local aerospace and defense industry was booming and hundreds of new residents were streaming into the county each day. In 1949, developers Louis Boyar, Mark Taper and Ben Weingart borrowed close to $9 million from Prudential Insurance and purchased 3,375 acres of farmland in Southeast Los Angeles County. Over the next five years, they frantically laid out 133 miles of streets and erected 17,500 homes in assembly-line fashion. Time Magazine called this new community the largest housing development in the world. As each subdivision opened, people lined up to buy the $7,500 to $9,500 homes. One salesman sold 107 homes in one hour.

Aerial view of Lakewood Park development, 1950. Courtesy of City of Lakewood historical collection.

In 1951, the developers also built the massive Lakewood Center Mall. The mall offered parking for 10,000 cars, making it the largest shopping center in the United States at the time. May Company opened their massive store in Lakewood Center in 1952 to more than 200,000 shoppers in its first days.

Design concept of May Company store in Lakewood Center, 1950. Courtesy of City of Lakewood historical collection.

In 1954, after rejecting annexation by Long Beach, the community became the first city to incorporate in California since 1939. The newly-minted City of Lakewood adopted an innovative new proposal for city government by attorney John Todd. The "Lakewood Plan" proposed to save money and expedite the city-formation process by contracting with the county for essential city services such as police and fire protection and street maintenance. Lakewood became the first city in the nation to become a "contract city," a model that has been adopted by 25% of California's cities and dozens more throughout the nation.

L.A. County Sheriff's Deputies in Lakewood on recruiting drive, circa 1960. Courtesy of City of Lakewood historical collection.