Friday, December 13, 2013

From Red Neck to Red Beans and Rice. Downey, California in 30 Years.



Downey, California: A new kind of suburban idyll

The etched-glass door of the Downey Brewing Company still reads "Foxy's" -- all that's left of the restaurant that occupied the space for decades, catering to a long-gone crowd.
Pub co-owner Sergio Vasquez remembers the place as "a coffee shop which served Scandinavian food." But, he says, as the city's demographics changed, "The population didn’t catch up with it. The only people that really attended were elderly people. They decided to shut it down. And that’s where we came in.”
Today, the five-year-old boutique brewpub buzzes with the sounds of craft beer pouring out of taps, clanking glasses and dishes, and a crowd of patrons that - like the population on the outside - is mostly Latino.
 Downey Middle Class

(Jessica Haro and Eric Ibarra sit at a fountain on the corner of Firestone Blvd and Downey Ave on November 9th, 2013.) Photo by Mae Ryan/KPCC

In some ways, the pub's story reflects the story of Downey, a onetime aerospace hub which, like nearby Whittier and a cluster of other Southern California communities, embodies the latest chapter in the evolution of Latino L.A.

Back in 1980, Downey was mostly non-Latino white, with Latinos representing less than 17 percent of the population.

 It was an earlier era's picture of the suburban idyll: wide green lawns, tidy ranch-style homes,

 a Stonewood Shopping mall, a golf course,

 an iconic McDonald's with golden arches that's still the chain's oldest surviving outlet.
                 (Karen and Richard Carpenter grew up in this house in Downey)

The Carpenters, the soft-pop singing duo, once attended Downey High School, the home of the Vikings..

Thousands of residents held good jobs at the sprawling Rockwell aerospace plant, which in its heyday produced Apollo capsules and the Space Shuttle.

But defense cuts began taking their toll in the 1990s.

By the time the plant closed in 1999, the city's white suburban identity was in a state of flux, with many families moving out.
(Above, Russel Epson, a member of the Downey Seventh-Day Adventist Church, take his daily walk down Downey Avenue.)
Left behind was a mix of retirees, languishing businesses,

 and - for some Latinos who had been saving their pennies in more modest communities nearby – opportunity.

Like Vasquez, who grew up a short distance to the west in Bell, Latin American immigrants and their descendants gradually began transforming the city.

They started buying up the ranch-style homes and investing in businesses.

 Today Downey is 71 percent Latino – and like their predecessors – these newer residents are mostly middle class.

University of Southern California sociologist Jody Vallejo says they represent a growing group of upwardly mobile (Yuppies) Latinos who have chosen to settle in Latino-majority communities that reflect their economic reality. These include Whittier, West Covina, pockets of Orange County, and Downey,

"Which is often referred to by Mexican Americans themselves as the Mexican American Beverly Hills," Vallejo says.

Okay, so it's not quite Beverly Hills.

Downey has a mix of more and less affluent neighborhoods, with property values generally higher on the north end of town.

But with a median annual household income of more than $60,000 - and close to 40 percent of its households earning $75,000 or more, according to a Cal State Long Beach analysis  - it’s earned its reputation as a middle class Latino stronghold.

The Latino version of the middle-class "ethnoburb" - a term typically associated with Asian American suburbs - is a phenomenon that Vallejo says began in the 1990s but took off in earnest during the last decade.

 It coincides with slow but steady gains in educational and career attainment among Latinos as the great, post-1965 wave of immigration from Latin American settles into its second and third generations.

For those who succeed, moving into communities once perceived as out of reach is part of "making it," Vallejo says.

"Many Latinos who are moving to places like Downey did grow up in places like South Gate or Lynwood, and really saw, or see, Downey as the next step," Vallejo says.

 "Growing up, you thought that's where all the wealthy or the middle class people lived.”
 (Reeves Mansion on Paramount Boulevard, across from the Nordic Fox restaurant.)
Mexico City transplant Elsa Valdez once lived in Maywood. But for her, Downey was the always the place to go.
                                     (The Krikorian Theater)
“This is the city that we were coming to the mall, to the theaters," Valdez said. "I see the city that it was cleaner than the city that I was living. It is also really close to my community, that is, Latin people in Huntington Park, Maywood, Cudahy and all those cities.”
Valdez bought in Downey in 1995. Now she sells real estate in the area, and says most of her clients are the children of immigrants - entrepreneurs and professionals who can afford homes costing half a million or more.
This latest wave of residents has spawned a new wave of businesses, including upscale Latino-owned ones.

 Recently, Valdez took her mother to lunch at Porto's, L.A.’s famous bakery begun decades ago by a Cuban immigrant family. The $14 million Downey location opened three years ago, drawing long lines of customers who line up at gleaming glass counters to order flawless guava pastries and steaming cups of café con leche brewed on on luxe equipment.

City officials have drawn several chain restaurants and other businesses catering to middle-class tastes, but there's a homegrown element, too: an art gallery that opened last year and highlights the work of local artists, for example, and a soon-to-open upscale independent steakhouse whose chef has promised a signature mac and cheese spiked with chorizo.

"All one needs to do is look around to see the effects of gentefication," says Vallejo,

 using a coined term that refers to gentrification by Latinos.

There are still a few wants: For example, a specialty grocer. A Facebook campaign by residents to lure a much-coveted Trader Joe's (Whittier has the nearest) has not yet done so.
Outgoing Downey mayor Mario Guerra says that in some cases, a majority Latino population can still be a hard sell for some retailers.
       (New Downey Mayor, Vernando Vasquez was sworn in December 2013)
“There’s certain businesses that look at a certain demographic, and don’t take in the reality and look at the buying power of Latinos," Guerra says. "And it’s sad for them, because they are missing out on opportunities.”
(At Sambi's of Tokyo for a Sister City Association Christmas Party with former Mayors Barbara Riley and Joyce Lawrence of Downey.)
(Above, Former Mayor Rick Lopez and Judge London Steverson at City Hall. circa 2003.)

But there are others willing to cash in on that buying power.
(The Abortion Clinic on Firestone was open six days a week. Right-to-Lifers were picketing out front)

Guerra and other city officials broke ground recently at the old Rockwell site, making way for a new development that will host theaters, restaurants and a pedestrian shopping village.
      (As we drive out of Downey on Firestone Boulevard, we wish you well.)

After being sworn in, Mayor Fernando Vasquez said "Only in America can a son of immigrant parents with a 1st grade education earn a college education and become the Mayor of Downey. Thank you Downey for allowing me to serve as your 46th Mayor!"

Leslie Berestein-Rojas
Leslie Berestein Rojas, Immigration and Emerging Communities Reporter
"On Tuesday I was sworn in as the Mayor of Downey. It was a historic night for our city as I became the first Latina to be sworn in as Mayor for our great city of Downey. Equally historical is that this is the first time in the history of Downey that two females serve together as Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem. Claudia Marroquin- Frometa is our Mayor Pro Tem and I look forward to serving with her in our new roles.
I am truly blessed and honored to serve as Mayor. Thank you to all the residents who voted me into office in 2016, and have given me this opportunity to serve our city.
To everyone that posted on my Facebook page, thank you for your congratulatory messages. To everyone that came to my swearing in, thank you for attending. It was nice to see everyone!!" (Blanco Pacheco)
❤️💕 #downey #Mayor2020
(Above, Mayor Blanco Pacheco, center, with Miss Teen Downey 2019-2020, Sarah and her brother, Sam,)
Image may contain: 3 people, including Blanca Pacheco, people smiling, screen  
  • More from Leslie Berestein Roja

    • Fernando Vasquez, center, was sworn-in as Downey mayor Tuesday. He is pictured with finance commissioners Jason Valle and Ricardo Perez.

    Vasquez becomes Downey's 46th mayor
    New mayor plans expanded community events in 2014, including a 'Tour de Downey.'
    WRITTEN BY :   Christian Brown, Staff Writer

    DOWNEY - With more than 100 community leaders, city officials, and residents looking on, Councilman Fernando Vasquez was sworn-in as the 46th mayor of Downey on Tuesday night December 10.

    The 34-year-old councilman, who was elected in 2010, was administered the oath of office by his fiance' Donna Noushkam.

    Echoing themes of economic growth, quality of life, and community engagement, Vasquez reaffirmed the city's commitment to the Healthy Downey initiative by introducing an array of new 2014 community events, including a "Tour de Downey" bicycle race.

    "Folks, we're going to have a big Downey bike day with a 30-mile route for experienced cyclists and a five-mile route for those who want something smaller," he said. "But we want to promote active living and encourage people to spend time in Downtown Downey."

    Vasquez said he will also advocate a bicycle-sharing program modeled after a similar system in Denver. The program will allow users to pick up and drop off bicycles as often as they like at designated stations throughout the downtown area using their credit cards as currency.

    The incoming mayor also said he hopes to host a FIFA World Cup viewing party for the community on June 22 when the United States soccer team faces Portugal.

    "Soccer is very popular in our community -- and I see a lot of communities come together for these games," he said. "We're very fortunate that the U.S. plays Portugal on a Saturday at noon."

    Vasquez's other community-building events include an international food festival, highlighting Downey's strong Mexican, Cuban, Greek, Lebanese, Argentine and Brazilian communities, summer sunset rooftop events, such as movie screenings, and a music and arts festival.

    "We want to rebrand the city as a regional hub for arts and culture. There's been a huge push for the arts, it's one of the city's strengths," Vasquez said. "Cities like Long Beach and Santa Monica are known for their arts communities, but in Downey, we have a lot of talent. We need to support them."

    In addition to the new events, Vasquez said he plans to hand out Mayor's Healthy Heart awards to local hospitals, nursing facilities, doctors, coaches, teachers, and trainers who are making a difference in the community.

    Vasquez also pledged to embrace new technologies such as solar power on public facilities, online water bill payment options, and social media for means of community engagement.

    "Managing city funds responsibly, business and economic growth, running city operations smoothly, maintaining a high quality of life, and engaging our citizens...anything proposed [by the council] has to meet these priorities," said Vasquez. "We will continue to have a balanced budget and a healthy reserve so we can weather any storm in the future."

    Citing it as a quality of service issue, Vasquez also strongly reaffirmed his commitment to maintain the Downey Fire Department.

    Before Vasquez's swearing-in ceremony, outgoing mayor Mario Guerra gave a final address, highlighting the accomplishments of the Healthy Downey initiative, which motivated him to lose 84 pounds over the course of 2013.

    During his tenure, Guerra facilitated Walking Wednesdays, Walk to School Day, National Night Out, and Dia De Los Muertos, which was attended by 4,000 people.

    In 2013, Downey became an All-America City and a sister city to Roscommon County, Ireland, the birthplace of the city's namesake Governor John Gately Downey.

    Guerra also touted the groundbreaking ceremonies for The View apartment complex, the Downey Gateway food court, and the Promenade at Downey, which will create 1,500 permanent jobs once completed.

    "I'm looking forward to working with Mayor Vasquez. When I leave, I do get a different office," Guerra said drawing laughs. "But we're in good hands -- Fernando has a great vision." 


  1. Sara said:
    The City of Downey has turned into an overpopulated suburban version of Tijuana. I have lived in this city since 1982 and it is nothing like it used to be. Each year there are more and more people, mostly Spanish speaking. The streets are always full of traffic and everyone you encounter when you are out are rude; cashiers, tellers, people in retail, etc. Forget the mall! Stonewood is horrible. Its overcrowded, filthy and disgusting. People that used to live in surrounding ghettos have infiltrated this once nice city. Despite everyone from surrounding cities coming to Downey because they feel they are 'moving up', they are actually all 'bringing down' the town. Residents have steadily left over the years and the remaining older people, of all races I might add, are sick and tired of the way the city is. They want out and they are all moving. Give this city 5 years and it will be just like Lynwood. More gangs, drugs, crime, and overpopulation.

  2. Estela Salas-Sarmiento said to Sara:
    Well my previous comment was blocked, so let me try to be as offensive as you without "crossing the line". Downey in the 70s was a xenophobic community. I experienced first hand being racially profiled as soon as I crossed the bridge on Florence ave. Sara, let go of the past and accept it's no longer reasonable to "ghettoize" groups based on ethnicity. Also, I find it hard to believe that you ever ventured into the mean streets of Tijuana. If you had, you would have seen that "people in retail" are typically quite pleasant and hard working; I don't think Latinos have monopolized that market to the extent your comment suggests.

    I wish you could teach us Latinos how not to use drugs, commit crimes, and join gangs--oh wait a minute! I don't do any of that. You know why? It's not ethnicity, it's SES, SARA!

  3. Ernesto said to Sara:
    Maybe the reason they are rude to you is because people treat you as a reflection of who you are. If you are an bitter, hateful person, you will receive the same treatment in return. I have been here since the late 70's and I think the city is finally getting an identity of its own. The only thing that matters are the people that are here now trying to make it better. The residents that leave, good riddance.

    The way you speak about spanish speaking people is so hateful, it's almost like you resent people who are different that you or what you are accustomed to. You are a scary person that, as the most said below, should consider moving away to somewhere you can have a better attitude. good luck Sara

  4. Sara to Sara:
    Oh, and those huge "McMansion" houses that these people are building. They look ridiculous and out of place. Some even have ridiculous looking statues of lions. What is that all about. Yes, I have to speak up here. It is sad to see Downey the way it is and its even worse to read an article like the one above that almost glamorized this 'new' Downey. Horrible, just horrible.

  5. We used to call them "Taj Mahals". This is the first time I have heard the term "McMansion". I am curious as to its derivation.
    I spent twenty of the best years of my life in Downey, on Downey Avenue.

  6. Adele to Sara:
    McMansions aren't new. I saw them going up in the 70s. So what? And statues? Haven't you seen the house at 7th and Wiley-burke? That house went up in the 60s. Again, so what? Diversity is great. Do you want everything in Downey to be ticky-tacky?

  7. Downey DAD to Sara:
    Sara , you are exactly the type of person that NEEDS to leave. Please do us all a favor and move out.

  8. Downey DAD to Sara:
    So you have a problem with people that are culturally different and value different things than you. It is all very clear Sara,

  9. JDiaz said:
    Great article, and yes, there are some great improvements, some of which I personally disagree with. Its nice to see businesses opening up, however, this town needs more than just fast food chains, eateries, and bars to flourish. I think a convention center where the new shopping center is being built would have been a better choice. The residents in this city need FULL TIME JOBS with benefits and good pay to flourish here. Fast food chains and bars aren't going to offer that. I understand that the city may benefit greatly from new alcohol and liquor licenses, but the Downey City Council should be working harder to attract BIG businesses to establish themselves here in this once conservative community.

    Also, I like to give Stay Gallery BIG kudos for bringing culture and creative education to the city. We need more places like that around here.

    Although bars are great, the destructive consequences of these sprawling businesses in this town seem to be overlooked. I live next to The Palms restaurant, which attracts riff-raff and trouble from other cities, including prostitution, drug deals, and drunkards who stumble around the neighborhood, even on Sunday nights. I once viewed Downey as being "the land of milk and honey" and now, I see this fine town decaying. I notice things going down hill mostly in neighborhoods that are heavily concentrated with apartments. I understand the communal living culture of the evolving demographics, but seriously, people need to take pride of ownership around here, even if they rent. I'll close with this: Inglewood, in it's heyday, was just as clean, crisp, and conservative as Downey was pre-1999. Huntington Park used to be just as nice. Let's see where this town stands in a few years.

  10. Mike in Whittier said:
    I'd have to live pretty far on the west side to consider Whittier near Downey. And the Trader Joes in Cerritos is closer to Downey than Whittier. I actually liked the article, though.

  11. Adele said to Mike in Whittier:
    Whittier's not as far as you think. Go back - way back - to the early 30s. My Dad lived on Studebaker Rd, in the Triangle area (far east side) of Downey, which was outside the Downey School District. He graduated from Whittier High School.

  12. DowneyDad said:
    great article… a region on the rise for sure.

  13. Sara said to DowneyDad:
    Not exactly, but I guess it depends on who you ask.

  14. Mayor Fernando Vasquez said : Only in America can a son of immigrant parents with a 1st grade education earn a college education and become the Mayor of Downey. Thank you Downey for allowing me to serve as your 46th Mayor!