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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 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, at the time, the largest shopping center in the United States. In 1952, May Company opened their massive store in Lakewood Center, drawing in 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.

The success of this new community did not go unnoticed. Seeing a huge new source of revenue, the neighboring City of Long Beach attempted to annex the rapidly-growing unincorporated community of Lakewood. In 1954, Lakewood voters rejected annexation and sought to protect themselves from further annexation attempts. The community became the first to incorporate in California since 1939. Until then, incorporation was difficult and expensive, requiring a new city to instantly provide police, fire, street maintenance and other essential services to its citizens. Newly-minted City of Lakewood adopted an innovative new proposal for city government, promoted by attorney John Todd, for saving money and expediting the city-formation process. The "Lakewood Plan" proposed to contract with the county for essential city services, offering additional money to the county's coffers while lowering a city's own costs. Lakewood became the first city in the nation to become a "contract city," a model that has since been adopted by a quarter of California's municipalities and dozens more cities throughout the nation.

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

See City of Lakewood