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Jared Sidney Torrance
Fredrick Law Olmsted
Irving Gill
Map of Torrance 1912
Red Car Torrance
Gill Bridge
Torrance Window Glass Company
Freight Train
Hendrie Rubber Company
Torrance Ice Company
Sam Levy
Kern Court
Torrance Hospital
Carson Street Oil Wells
Torrance High School
Harry McManus Volunteer Fire Co. 1912

Torrance Park

Historic Old Torrance

Torrance History

Excerpt from Old Torrance Olmsted Districts by Bonnie Mae Barnard & Save Historic Old Torrance)

(Text and images may not be used without the ex permission of Bonnie Mae Barnard)

Today, as it was long ago, a portion of the story of the land we call Torrance, California is revealed in the names of its streets. Many street names are literally imprinted in the cement curb of the street. The original northerly boundary of the Business District, Dominguez Way carries the first significant name: Dominguez. For the land we call Torrance, California was a part of an eighteenth Century Spanish land grant (1784) to Mr. Juan Jose Dominguez. The original land grant included much more than the area that would eventually become known as Torrance.

It was thirteen years after Mr. Dominguez’ death that the land grant was reconfirmed, and officially passed to a nephew, Cristobal Dominguez whose name does not appear in our streets. Instead, a street in the original city of Torrance bears the name of his son, Manuel, the next executor of the estate. Manuel Dominguez married Maria Engracia Cota (1827) and her name is immortalized in two of our streets: Engracia and Cota Avenues in the heart of the original city.

Upon the death of Mr. Manuel Dominguez the land passed to his wife, Maria Engracia Cota de Dominguez. However within a short six months, she died leaving the land to the couple’s six surviving daughters: Ana Josefa, Guadalupe, Maria Dolores, Maria Victoria, Maria Susana, Maria Jesus de los reyes. Although Guadalupe’s name still is visible in the cement of the street corner, the street name was changed to Post Avenue in honor of Judge George Post. He was the founder of Torrance National Bank, the first bank in the town.

It was the death of one of the sisters in 1907 that paved the way for the city of Torrance to exist. Ana Josefa Dominguez de Guyer died leaving her share of the estate equally to her five sisters. The Dominguez sisters in turn decided to form a corporation representing the Guyer estate (1910). The Corporation, “The Dominguez Estate Company” soon held half of the original Dominguez Land grant as a result of additional land deeded or sold to the Company by the sisters. However, three of the married Dominguez daughters: Victoria, Dolores, and Susana each formed a separate company to manage her estate. These were the Carson Estate Company, the Watson Land Company, and the Del Amo Estate Company. Each of those company names found their way into the names of our streets: Carson Street, Del Amo Boulevard and Plaza Del Amo, as well as Watson Street. Soon after the formation of the Dominguez Estate Company sales of the land began.

Many of those who were instrumental in the purchase of the land that would become the original city of Torrance, California are also immortalized in our streets. A major street in the city, Redondo Boulevard, became Torrance Boulevard after Mr. Jared Sidney Torrance, president of the Dominguez Land Company and the man for whom the city would be named.

Merris Hellman, Joseph F. Sartori, John S. Cravens and Dr. W. Jarvis Barlow, and Mr. Torrance, representing J. H. Adams & Company, were each stockholders of the Dominguez Land Company which purchased 2,792 acres at the cost of $350 per acre from the Dominguez Estate Company and 730 acres from the Del Amo Estate Company for the creation of the would-be town. In addition to Mr. Torrance, two of those stock holders were immortalized in our street names: Joseph F. Sartori in Sartori Avenue and John S. Cravens in Cravens Avenue.

The city of Torrance was the brainchild of Mr. Jared Sidney Torrance. Mr. Torrance, a resident of Pasadena, California was an extremely successful businessman. The city that he envisioned for this ideally located town-to-be would not just be a single company town, but a town that offered its residents a variety of occupational and housing choices. The town would have several major industrial factories that would provide ample employment. It would have a variety of home designs from which the employed man could choose. It would provide pleasant surroundings both at work and at home, thereby providing the employers with contented employees, and the employees with a real community. Another major aspect of Mr. Torrance’s vision included home ownership. He believed that the working man who was happy at work and who owned his own home, would stay and contribute to the community. His vision was a city in which people were happy to work, to live and to play. This community in addition to industry, business and residential would include a library, schools, a hospital and opportunities for cultural experiences. Perhaps Mr. Torrance’s vision is best stated by Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. as he reiterated his understanding of said vision in a letter to Mr. Torrance.

This company [Dominguez Land Company] intends to make its profit through creating and marketing a first class line of goods in the way of industrial sites, dwelling places for those engaged in the industries, and various incidentals through furnishing these goods of a quality that will make them worth more to the buyers and occupants, per dollar of cost, than any that can elsewhere be obtained . . . with a sufficiency of capital available it is a good business enterprise and will clearly work out to the great advantage of the resulting community (Story of Torrance).

To bring his vision into a workable plan would require big names and big bucks. Five years after the city was founded (1912), as Mr. Torrance presented a glowing report on the city, he told the Torrance Chamber of Commerce, “We employed the most eminent landscape architect. The complete plans cost $10,000” (February 16, 1917). That distinguished landscape architect and city designer was Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.

So significant was this selection that the Los Angeles Times displayed a picture of the prominent Mr. Olmsted and proclaimed, “Huge Fee for Laying out Industrial City: Landscape Architect of International Reputation Here to Draw Plans for Great Dominguez Project . ..” (Dec. 22, 1911). The Los Angeles Examiner announced, “No meager, insufficient talent is to be employed in the project for a model industrial village on the Dominguez Ranch “ (Dec. 10, 1911). This famous landscape architect and city planner was the progeny of Frederick Law Olmsted the famed 19th Century architect and designer of New York’s Central Park; the park system of Buffalo, New York; San Francisco Public Grounds; Mount Royal Park, Montreal, Canada; the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Washington, D.C.; and the National Zoological Park, in Washington, D.C. The father passed to son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. the philosophy of cooperation with nature to produce a calming, soothing force to be enjoyed by all who view one’s design.

Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. carried the ideals of his mentor and father to new heights. He became the most accomplished and respected landscape architect and city planner in the country! His prestigious accomplishments include creating planning reports for growth and expansion. The suburbia of such major cities as Newport, Rhode Island; Detroit, Michigan; Utica, New York; Boulder, Colorado; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; and Rochester, New York is the result of the genius of Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. He served two terms as President of the American Society of Landscape Architects. He was a major author of the McMillan Plan, the comprehensive blueprint for transforming the vast nucleus of Washington, D.C. and for guiding the prospective development of the nation’s capital; he was appointed by President Taft to the then newly-formed Fine Arts Commission which provided supervising authority in aesthetic, architectural, and planning matters in the nation’s capital city. He taught architectural students at Harvard. He created the Harvard curriculum for landscape architects and city planners, and in 1909 was selected as the President of the first National Conference on City Planning and the Problems of Congestion in Washington, D.C. Frederick Law Olmsted is the city planner chosen by Mr. Jared Sidney Torrance to bring his ideas into a reality in what would become known as Torrance, California.

Olmsted’s Design is as easily distinguishable today as it was almost one hundred years ago when the city began. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s trademark, the inclusion of nature, is evident on the street named El Prado which translates to “The Meadow.” It is a serene parkway with open space and trees and a spectacular view from Torrance High School, its highest point. From this vista on a clear day one can view Mount San Antonio, commonly referred to Mt. Baldy. The beautiful expanse of El Prado was designed to join the Residential Districts and the Business District by a vista of nature.

Districts, another trademark of Frederick Law Olmsted Jr.’s design, are evident in the original city of Torrance. An Industrial District; an Unclassified District for growth; A Business District; A Residential District; each District was designed with the utmost thought given to make the working and living environment pleasant to the inhabitants. While all of the city would have the advantage of the wonderful California climate, Olmsted positioned the Industrial District to take full advantage of the faithful Pacific Ocean breeze that greets the city each afternoon. It, he planned, would send the smoke and pollutants away from the residents of the city of Torrance. The Business District was designed to be within walking distance of the eastern end of the spectacular tree-lined parkway of El Prado. The beautiful El Prado was designed to be the center of the Residential District.

Streets designated and designed by function, which allow a view of the road not taken, as well as a break from a monotonous linear view, are also characteristic of Mr. Olmsted’s designs and are easily still seen in Old Torrance. Olmsted accomplished this with curved streets and a “Round About” at the pinnacle of El Prado, where Torrance High School is now located. Sadly the Round About was removed. Nevertheless, the streets of Old Torrance definitely reflect the Olmsted Design.

The second big name brought in to bring Mr. Torrance’s vision and Mr. Olmsted’s plan into fruition was the Modernist architect, Irving J. Gill, the would-be-city’s Resident Architect. The bulk of Mr. Gill’s work is in Southern California. Although La Jolla, California can boast about having the largest collection of structures in California designed by Mr. Gill, Torrance appears to have the second largest collection. As resident architect, Mr. Gill designed: the bridge whose graceful arches are a thing of function and beauty and mark the eastern entrance to Old Torrance; the impressive and compellingly designed Depot which was utilized by the Pacific Electric Railway; the Tract Office of the Thomas D. Campbell office, which would become the Torrance National Bank; the Murray and the Roi Tan Hotels, the Brighton Hotel, and office buildings with sophisticatedly simple lines, and ten small, Modernistic concrete homes. The bridge’s arches are now accented with lush foliage as Mr. Gill planned, and continue to add that powerful, majestic sense to the eastern gateway of the city.

Old Torrance as it is called today, was the entire town of Torrance. It became everything that Mr. Torrance envisioned. Not as quickly as he had hoped, but thanks to a truly novel and visionary man, Mr. Jared Sidney Torrance, the creativity and expertise of a great city planner, Mr. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., and a great resident architect, Mr. Irving J. Gill, the vision was to become a reality. The original city, now affectionately called, "Old Torrance" still boasts the design and the early architecture both for the pleasure of its residents and for those who come to Torrance to view its charm. It became and still is a great place to live, to stroll, to work and to play.

 

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