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The Del Rey Community

Until recently, many Angelinos had never heard of Del Rey, confusing it with Marina Del Rey, or assuming it was part of Culver City or Mar Vista.  But in fact, the name Del Rey pre-dates all these neighborhoods.

In the early 1800s, Augustin and Ygnacio Machado and Felipe and Tomas Talamantes were given full charge of Rancho La Ballona, the land that makes up much of present day Del Rey and Culver City.  By 1868, the division of the great ranch had begun as Rancho La Ballona had been partitioned into 23 separate parcels of land.

The grazing lands of Rancho La Ballona were irrigated by Ballona Creek which ended its course in a great lagoon — the now protected Ballona Wetlands. During the great flood of 1862, 50” of rain fell during the winter, and the area from present day Washington Boulevard to the Westchester Bluffs was under water for six months.

Even after the flood waters retreated, La Ballona was considered a “swamp” with little potential.  But in 1887, the Ballona Harbor and Improvement Company was organized to lay out Port Ballona.  A mere two years later the funds for Port Ballona had been exhausted, and tides had swept away most of the wharf, making Port Ballona an unfulfilled dream.

1902-ballona-map

 

Moses Sherman and Eli Clark, who built the Los Angeles Pacific Electric Trolley line, purchase 1,000 acres of land around the Ballona lagoon, including Port Ballona.  In 1902, under the name of the Beach Land Company, Sherman and Clark christened the surrounding area as “Del Rey”; Port Ballona was renamed Playa Del Rey.  In 1903, city maps pegged Del Rey as one of nine divisions of the West Los Angeles Planning Commission.  This predates Venice (conceived in 1904), Culver City (1913) and Marina del Rey (1962).

By the early decades of the 20th century, Del Rey was an agricultural community, dotted by dairy farms and fields of produce.  The winter flooding that occurred whenever Ballona Creek spilled over its banks caused some of the farmers to build their homes on stilts, but the flooding also brought silt that made the farms especially productive.

Things came to a head on New Year’s Day 1934 when another huge flood ravaged the area.  In 1935, Ballona Creek was straightened and paved by the Army Corps of Engineers.  As a result of Los Angeles’ continual growth and the arrival of Hughes Aircraft in Ballona Valley in the 1940s, Del Rey’s agricultural past gave way to urbanization.

Today, Del Rey is a largely residential community, dominated by single-story homes built during the post-war boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Located a mere two miles from the beach, Del Rey is generally regarded as the most affordable neighborhood on Los Angeles’ Westside.   Alone among Westside communities, Del Rey has a Hispanic plurality.   It is also one of the most ethnically diverse, containing East Indian, Fijian and Hawaiian communities within its borders.

Del Rey is home to Mar Vista Gardens.  Operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, the Gardens, with its 600 apartments, is the westernmost community in the HACLA system.  Its largely Hispanic population is served by the Mar Vista Family Center, the Westside Children’s Center and St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church, which holds community swap meets and fairs on a regular basic.

A vibrant Japanese-American community also contributes to Del Rey’s multi-ethnic mix.  After World War II, the Venice Japanese Community Center (located squarely in Del Rey in spite of its name) served as a relocation center for Japanese Americans returning from the internment camps.  Today, the Center offers more than 30 clubs and classes ranging from traditional Japanese arts such as ikebana (flower arrangement) to contemporary, youth-oriented activities such as basketball.

Although no longer the wild stream that irrigated the region for millennia, Ballona Creek remains one of Del Rey’s most distinctive physical features and its well-used bicycle path provides locals with easy access to the beach.

While the name Del Rey predates the development of Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey, until recently relatively few locals used the term to identify their neighborhood.   The U.S. Postal Service contributes to the problem.  As far as the post office is concerned, more than one third of our residents – those with a 90230 zip code — live in Culver City and must list that municipality as their address to receive mail.

The Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple — with Venice in its name and a Culver City mailing address — is a classic example of the identity crisis that plagues Del Rey.

There is, however, a burgeoning sense of community identity within Del Rey.  Close to the beach, close to LAX (but not too close), ethnically varied and relatively affordable, Del Rey may be the most interesting neighborhood most Angelinos have never heard of.

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