Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in Alta California, the area that is now Downey was inhabited by the Tongva ethnic group, which came to be called the Gabrielino by the Spanish. The nearest Tongva settlements appear to have been just north and northeast of present-day Downey, although there is difficulty in locating them precisely. The villages of Naxaaw’nga and Sehat seem to have been situated near the present-day community of Los Nietos, or perhaps farther west on sites that were lost to floods of the San Gabriel River. Chokiishnga and Huutnga are other Tongva place names that may have referred to villages in the general area north of Downey between the San Gabriel River and Rio Hondo. In all four cases, it is difficult to relate the original location descriptions, based on ranchos and land grants, to more specific sites identifiable by today's landmarks.
Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was initially founded on September 8, 1771, near these concentrations of Tongva population, at a site in the Whittier Narrows on a bluff overlooking the Rio Hondo near the intersection of today's San Gabriel Blvd and Lincoln Avenue. After five years, flooding forced the relocation of the mission to its present site in San Gabriel.
In 1784, Governor Pedro Fages granted to former soldier Manuel Nieto (1734–1804) the largest of the land concessions made during the Spanish control of California. Its 300,000 acres (120,000 ha; 1,200 km2) stretched from the Santa Ana River on the east to the Old San Gabriel River (now the Rio Hondo and Los Angeles River) on the west, and from the mission highway (approximately Whittier Boulevard) on the north to the ocean on the south. Its acreage was slightly reduced later at the insistence of Mission San Gabriel on whose lands it infringed. The Spanish concessions, of which 25 were made in California, were unlike the later Mexican land grants in that title was not transferred, but were similar to grazing permits, with the title remaining with the Spanish crown.
The Rancho Los Nietos passed to Manuel Nieto's four children upon his death and remained intact until, in 1833, his heirs petitioned Mexican Governor José Figueroa to partition the property. The northwestern portion of the original rancho, comprising the Downey-Norwalk area, was granted as Rancho Santa Gertrudes to Josefa Cota, the widow of Manuel's son, Antonio Nieto. At approximately 21,000 acres (8,500 ha; 85 km2), Santa Gertrudes was itself a sizable rancho and contained the old Nietos homestead, which was a center of social life east of the pueblo of Los Angeles. After the Mexican–American War concluded in 1848, many of the Californio ranchos were obtained by affluent Anglo-Americans who were immigrating west under the United States manifest destiny doctrine, and marrying into established Californio Spanish families. This migration was distinct from that prompted by the California Gold Rush farther north.
Dairy was a major industry in Downey. The Central Milk Agency marketed the milk for "seven hundred dairymen whose dairy herds range from thirty to two thousand head" with the value of the products marketed in excess of $1,000,000 per month.
Some of Downey's settlers came from Ireland. Downey was founded by and named for the former and youngest ever governor of California, John Gately Downey, who was born in Ireland. Although he was an Irish Democrat, he supported the Republican Lincoln in his efforts to keep the Union intact during the American Civil War. He pioneered the modern subdivision with land he acquired between the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel River, in about 1865. Downey was convinced that oranges would flourish in Southern California, so he imported several varieties, and therefore set in motion what became one of the state's biggest cash crops. In conjunction with the construction of the Tehachapi Loop, the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1873.
Farmers in the area grew grain, corn, castor beans and fruit, and by 1935 Downey was characterized as an "orange-grove town". Downey was incorporated in 1956, and instituted a charter form of government in 1964. Suburban homes and factories replaced the farms after World War II.Aerospace
Vultee Aircraft was Downey's largest employer during World War II, producing 15% of all of America's military aircraft by 1941. The company was a pioneer in the use of women in manufacturing positions, and was the first aircraft company to build airplanes on a powered assembly line. Vultee became a part of North American Aviation, (later North American Rockwell, then Rockwell International which was then bought by the Boeing company) whose facilities were the birthplace of the systems for the Apollo Space Program as well as the Space Shuttle. For over 70 years, Downey's Rockwell NASA plant produced and tested many of the 20th century's greatest aviation, missile, and space endeavors. By the early 1970s, the facilities encompassed some 1,700,000 square feet (160,000 m2) of enclosed area over more than 200 acres (81 ha). But, by the post-Cold War 1990s, Downey was brutally hit by cutbacks in the defense budget. Rockwell International, who once had over 30,000 employees, had less than 5,000 in 1992. The seventy-year history of airplane and space vehicle manufacturing in Downey came to an end when the Rockwell plant closed in 1999. The former North American Rockwell plant was demolished, and the site now features the Columbia Memorial Space Center, Downey Landing shopping center, a Kaiser Permanente hospital, a city recreation fields park, and the former movie studio site of Downey Studios.Other landmarks
Near the center of the city lies what was the 1960s the busiest intersections in California, the intersection of Lakewood Boulevard (State Route 19) and Firestone Boulevard (former State Route 42). Route 19 was a major thoroughfare between Pasadena and the port at Long Beach, and Route 42 was along part of the old Spanish El Camino Real trail that connected Pueblo de Los Angeles to San Diego.
In the 1960s the town's Downey Records achieved some notoriety with recordings such as The Chantays' surfing instrumental "Pipeline"; nearly two decades later, Downey local music scene led to the founding of The Blasters and Dark Angel.
Downey is home to Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, which is the main public rehabilitation hospital for Los Angeles County. Rancho Los Amigos is renowned worldwide for its innovative contributions to the care of spinal cord injuries and post-polio syndrome.
Downey was featured in the 2008 American action comedy film Pineapple Express. Many of the buildings along Florence Avenue are seen in a driving sequence early in the film.
Downey is located at 33°56′17″N 118°7′51″W (33.938164, -118.130801).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.6 square miles (33 km2). 12.4 square miles (32 km2) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) of it (1.27%) is water.
The cities of South Gate and Bell Gardens are adjacent to the west and northwest, Pico Rivera lies to the northeast, Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk to the east, and Paramount and Bellflower are to the south.
According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Downey has a semi-arid climate, abbreviated "BSk" on climate maps.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Downey had a population of 111,772. The population density was 8893.3 people per square mile (3,433.7/km²). The racial makeup of Downey was 63,255 (56.6%) White (17.7% Non-Hispanic White), 7,804 (7.0%) Asian (2.2% Korean, 2.2% Filipino, 0.6% Indian, 0.5% Chinese, 0.3% Vietnamese, 0.3% Japanese, 0.2% Thai, 0.1% Cambodian, 0.1% Pakistani), 4,329 (3.9%) African American, 820 (0.7%) Native American, 221 (0.2%) Pacific Islander, 30,797 (27.6%) from other races, and 4,546 (4.1%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 78,996 persons (70.7%); 54.0% of Downey residents are of Mexican ancestry, 3.9% Salvadoran, 2.0% Cuban, 2.0% Guatemalan, 1.1% Peruvian, and 1.0% Nicaraguan ancestry.
The Census reported that 111,089 people (99.4% of the population) lived in households, 122 (0.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 561 (0.5%) were institutionalized.
There were 33,936 households, out of which 15,697 (46.3%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 17,405 (51.3%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 6,289 (18.5%) had a female householder with no husband present, 2,796 (8.2%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 2,357 (6.9%) POSSLQ, and 225 (0.7%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 5,721 households (16.9%) were made up of individuals and 2,211 (6.5%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.27. There were 26,490 families (78.1% of all households); the average family size was 3.68.
The population was spread out with 29,972 people (26.8%) under the age of 18, 12,108 people (10.8%) aged 18 to 24, 33,056 people (29.6%) aged 25 to 44, 25,057 people (22.4%) aged 45 to 64, and 11,579 people (10.4%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33.3 years. For every 100 females there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.4 males.
There were 35,601 housing units at an average density of 2,832.7 per square mile (1,093.7/km²), of which 17,135 (50.5%) were owner-occupied, and 16,801 (49.5%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 1.4%; the rental vacancy rate was 4.9%. 59,555 people (53.3% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 51,534 people (46.1%) lived in rental housing units. Approximately 30–40 homeless reside in the area.
According to the 2010 United States Census, Downey had a median household income of $60,939, with 11.8% of the population living below the federal poverty line.
As of the 2000 United States Census, there were 107,323 people, 33,989 households, and 26,001 families residing in the city. The population density was 8,641.7 inhabitants per square mile (3,336.4/km2). There were 34,759 housing units at an average density of 2,798.8 per square mile (1,080.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 53.48% White, 7.74% Asian, 3.75% Black or African American, 0.87% Native American, 0.22% Pacific Islander, 29.05% from other races, and 4.89% from two or more races. 57.85% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 33,989 households out of which 41.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.1% were married couples living together, 15.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 23.5% were non-families. 19.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.11 and the average family size was 3.55.
In the city, the population was spread out with 29.2% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 31.2% from 25 to 44, 18.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 94.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $46,000 and the median income for a family was $50,017. Males had a median income of $35,991 versus $28,768 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,197. About 9.3% of families and 11.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.4% of those under age 18 and 7.6% of those age 65 or over.
Starting in the late 1980s, Downey has become a renowned Latino majority community in Southern California, and the majority of residents moved in were middle or upper-middle class, and second and third generation Mexican-Americans.
Downey has the second highest percentage of Cubans and Cuban Americans in the Western United States at 1.96% of the population.
There is also a Puerto Rican community in Downey, about 2.5% of the city population as of 2016.
In the California State Legislature, Downey is in the 32nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Tony Mendoza, and in the 58th Assembly District, represented by Democrat Cristina Garcia.
In the United States House of Representatives, Downey is in California's 40th congressional district, represented by Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health operates the Whittier Health Center in Whittier, serving Downey.
The United States Postal Service operates the Downey Post Office at 8111 Firestone Boulevard, the North Downey Post Office at 10409 Lakewood Boulevard, and the South Downey Post Office at 7911 Imperial Highway.
According to the City's 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the top employers in the city are:
The 1953 McDonald's restaurant at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. (at Florence Ave.) (at 33.9471°N 118.1182°W / 33.9471; -118.1182) was the third McDonald's built and is the oldest surviving McDonald's. The Oldest McDonald's restaurant was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 1994 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald, prior to the involvement of Ray Kroc in the company, and it still has the two original 30-foot (9.1 m) "Golden arches" and a 60-foot (18 m) animated neon "Speedee" sign.
With low sales, the lack of a drive-up window and indoor seating, and with severe damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the restaurant was forced to close. However, with both the public and preservationists demanding the restaurant be saved, McDonald's spent two years restoring the restaurant and reopened it. Customers today can visit the original restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.
6/23/17 - The restaurant is currently being altered to include a provision for a drive-thru.
Johnie's Broiler (originally Harvey's Broiler) was a drive-in restaurant and coffee shop, which has been in movies and sitcoms as well as TV commercials and music videos. Completed in 1958, it is an example of Googie architecture. Johnie's was well known to Southern California locals, many of which drove miles to cruise through its massive lot. In the mid-1960s, renowned author Tom Wolfe immortalized the cruising, car and fashion scene that surrounded Harvey's Broiler at the time; The article, "The Hair Boys," appears in a bestselling 1968 collection of his articles titled, The Pump House Gang. He made drawings of the denizens of Harvey's that appear in a later book, The Purple Decades. The Broiler was a regular commercial and movie location for films such as Heat, What's Love Got to Do with It, Unstrung Heroes, Reality Bites, Can't Hardly Wait, Jawbreaker, as well as a television episode of The X-Files and Mad Men. Lily Tomlin played a waitress who worked at Johnie's in Short Cuts. The last film shot at Johnie's was The Country Bears.
The restaurant was closed in 2001, and a used car dealership leased the property. In January 2007, the lessees of Johnie's started to illegally tear it down. The destruction of the building was halted, with extreme damage to the building, though the sign is intact. Tenants made significant alterations to the dining room without permits, and the City of Downey had to issue several stop work orders and citations.
In April 2008, Jim Louder, owner of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Torrance, California, entered into a long-term lease agreement with the owner of Johnie's Broiler. The restaurant was rebuilt as a Bob's Broiler and incorporated the surviving architectural elements of the old structure into the new restaurant. Bob's Big Boy Broiler is now open for business.
Glen Bell opened the first Taco Bell restaurant on March 21, 1962, in Downey. The 400 sq. ft. building, at 7112 Firestone Boulevard, is largely unchanged from its original appearance featuring Moorish arches, but it is no longer a Taco Bell. On November 19, 2015, the building was relocated 45 miles south, to 1 Glenn Bell Way at the Irvine Business Center, Taco Bell Corporation's Irvine, CA headquarters. Here it will remain on permanent display.
On September 23, 2014, Dunkin' Donuts opened a restaurant on Firestone Boulevard in Downey. This location was only the second Dunkin' Donuts to open in the Los Angeles area, and was the first Dunkin' in all of Southern California to include a drive-thru window.
The Downtown Downey Farmers' Market was approved by the Downey City Council in 2008. It has rapidly blossomed into a community main attraction, with the standard fruit and vegetable stands and a growing number of food booths. It is open every Saturday from 9 AM to 1 PM on Second Street between New St. and La Reina. The market is intended to be a community gathering place, an opportunity to purchase California-grown products, homemade tamales and a vehicle to improve and finance Downtown Downey.
In 2001 the City of Downey granted "Iglesia de Cristo Ministerios Llamada Final" the rights to purchase the Boeing North American Fitness Center. The new buildings completed in 2008 are the headquarters for the ministry, housing its distribution center for it music, publications, and apparel, along with the offices of "Alabanzas Llamada Final", a record label. The facilities also are the home to Llamada Final TV, Radio Zion and Zion TV. This facility will also be home to a K-12 grade private school and daycare center. The plan includes three connected buildings with a combined floor space of 106,104 square feet (9,857.4 m2), including a 26,568-square-foot (2,468.2 m2) sanctuary/multi purpose room with up to 3,000 non-fixed seats, offices for 50 staff members and classrooms for 250 children attending Sunday School or day care at the religious center.
In the early 1960s it was widely reported that the Downey City Library had banned all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan" books because Tarzan wasn't married to Jane when they conceived Boy. This rumor was widely believed. Evidence for the staying power of this rumor is in articles in the Los Angeles Times that were published in the 1970s.
In May 8, 1970, the popular Los Angeles Times columnist Jack Smith wrote "Downey Sends L.A. Back to the Bush League," in which he stated, "Wasn't it Downey, a few years ago, that tried to get the Tarzan books out of the town library on the grounds that Tarzan and Jane were living together but weren't married? Yes, it was Downey." Ray Loynd's September 8, 1971 Los Angeles Times article, "Stage Review: Downey Guild Offers 'Evening of Theater'" (see p. H9) called Downey "a community that is capable of banning Tarzan from the public library."
The rumor about Tarzan was, however, a wild exaggeration of what actually happened. According to "Zane Grey Also Safe: Tarzan's Marital Status No Issue as Downey School Ban Is Denied," an article from the Los Angeles Times that appeared on pages B1 and B11 on December 28, 1961, a rumor spread that one of the Downey elementary schools had removed Edgar Rice Burroughs and Zane Grey books from its library because "1—There was no indication that Tarzan and his mate, Jane, were ever married before they took up housekeeping in the treetops," and "2—Grey was known to put such expletives as 'damn!' and 'hell' in the mouths of his western cowhands." In a later article, ("Downey Furor Result: Schools Take Over Control of Libraries. Los Angeles Times, January 6, 1962, p. B1) the Times explained that the Superintendent of the Downey Unified School District heard this rumor and investigated the situation to find out what happened. He discovered that there was no "ban." What had happened was that in one elementary school, a parent had put two Zane Grey books "out of site in a desk drawer." No Tarzan books were involved. The Zane Grey books were subsequently put back on the shelves.
While reports of robberies, aggravated assaults and petty thefts in Downey dropped in 2008, auto thefts reached a 10-year high. In 2008, 1,231 vehicles were reported stolen in Downey. Other crimes recorded by the FBI Crime Index for the year 2008 include 252 robberies, 172 aggravated assaults, 24 rapes, 711 burglaries and 2,038 acts of larceny/thefts.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Downey saw an increase in gang activity. Today there is still gang activity going in the south area of Downey. In response, Downey formed GOOD (Gangs Out Of Downey), a community-based organization that helps encourage young people between the ages of 10-20 to stay away from gangs. GOOD is also responsible for organizing many community events and programs such as various sports, after school care, scholarship programs for at-risk students looking to attend college, and counseling for both young people and their parents. GOOD has kept a close partnership with the Downey Police Department.
The city can be conveniently reached by any of four freeways: Interstate 105 with its Metro rail line passes through the southern part of the city, Interstate 5 passes through the northern part, Interstate 605 passes along the eastern side, and Interstate 710 passes just west of the city.
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) provides bus services to the city, and is served by the Lakewood Boulevard station of the Green Line (Los Angeles Metro). The city also operates a local bus service called DowneyLINK.
Most of Downey is within the Downey Unified School District. Downey's two main public high schools are named for Governor John G. Downey and Governor and US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Downey has three public high schools: Downey, Warren, and Columbus. Other public schools include:
Small sections are within the Montebello Unified School District.
Private schools include:Calvary Chapel Christian School: pre-K–12
St. Pius X-Matthias Academy: 9–12
Our Lady of Perpetual Help School: pre-K–8
Saint Raymond's Catholic School: pre-K–8
Saint Mark's Episcopal School: pre-K–8
The Downey City Library serves the city. The first library in Downey was established in 1901 by a women's social club that was founded in 1898. The County of Los Angeles Public Library opened a branch in Downey in September 1915. The county branch moved several times; its final location was in the County Civic Center. In 1958 the Downey City Council voted to establish its own library and withdraw from the county system. The city library services were originally provided out of the back of a bookstore. The city library opened in the former cafeteria of the former Downey Elementary School, then being used as the city hall and police station, on July 1, 1958. A permanent library building was built on December 7, 1959. It had almost 16,000 square feet (1,500 m2) and it was built for $186,200, costing $11.97 per square foot. It was dedicated on December 17 and opened on December 18. In February 1984 an addition of almost 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) was completed and dedicated.
In addition the headquarters of the County of Los Angeles Public Library are located in Downey.
Downey is sister cities with Guadalajara, Mexico, San Quintín, Baja California, Mexico; Ensenada, Mexico; Fresnillo, Mexico, and Alajuela, Costa Rica.Dave Alvin, musician, founder of Downey-based rockabilly band The Blasters with brother Phil
Bob Bennett, contemporary Christian musician, singer-songwriter, recording artist, was born in Downey
Paul Bigsby, father of the modern electric solid-body guitar, built in 1948, and creator of the Bigsby vibrato
Chris Blair, vocalist from South Bay-based Metal Core band As Blood Runs Black, with guitarist and long time friend Ernie Flores
William Bonin, serial killer; was Downey resident during his crime spree
The Carpenters (singer-musicians Karen and Richard) moved to Downey in 1963, originally to an apartment complex called the Shoji on 12020 Downey Ave, later moving to a house that still stands on Newville Avenue which can be seen on the cover of their album, Now & Then; after the duo's success, they built two apartment buildings still located on 5th St.
Miranda Cosgrove, actress and singer, star of iCarly
Rosario DeSimone (1873-1946), Downey-based crime boss
Walt Faulkner, Indy car driver, first rookie to win pole position at Indianapolis 500
Ed Fiori, professional golfer
Donavon Frankenreiter, surfer and musician
Kevin Gross, former Major League Baseball pitcher for Los Angeles Dodgers and Anaheim Angels
Dan Henderson, mixed martial artist
James Hetfield, Metallica frontman
Leon Hooten, former baseball player for Oakland Athletics
Robert Illes, Emmy-winning TV writer and producer
Allison Iraheta, musician, American Idol Season 8 contestant
Evan Longoria, an All-Star third baseman for Tampa Bay Rays, was born in Downey
Ira J. McDonald, Los Angeles City Council member, 1941–43, Downey civic leader
Ron McGovney, original Metallica bassist, spent school years in Downey
Bob Meusel, baseball star for New York Yankees who played with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, lived and died in Downey
Tom Nieto, professional baseball player
George Pajon, Jr., Grammy Award-winning recording and performing artist
Lena Park, South Korean singer
Wayne Rainey, former American Grand Prix motorcycle racer, was born in Downey
Kimmy Robertson, actress best known for her role as Lucy Moran in Twin Peaks
Rich Rodriguez, Major League Baseball pitcher 1990-2003
Paul Ruffner, pro basketball player
Kenneth Shelley, figure skater, U.S. champion and Olympian, was born in Downey
Dennis Sproul, NFL player
JoJo Starbuck, figure skater, U.S. champion and Olympian, grew up in Downey
Aimee Teegarden, actress (Friday Night Lights) and fashion model
Alanna Ubach, actress
Joan Weston, queen of Roller Derby, grew up in Downey
"Weird Al" Yankovic, musician and parody artist, was born in Downey