Title: WHAT'S HOT: Tale of how Carpenter's Farm became a city
Author: Tim Grobaty
DOWNEY THROUGH THE YEARS: Before it was Downey it was called Carpenter's Farm, named for its owner Lemuel Carpenter - no relation to Downey's most famous Carpenters, Karen and Richard. Nor was Lemuel a farmer - he was unpigeonholeable, unless there's a pigeonhole gaping enough to handle farmer, vineyard owner, gold miner and soap-company boss.
You've heard of Downey Soap? That wasn't what Carpenter's soap was called. Using the same brilliant talent for nomenclature that he drew upon in the naming of Carpenter's Farm, he named the soap factory, the Soap Factory.
He wasn't any good at any of it. You haven't heard of Carpenter Merlot, you haven't heard of the great Carpenter's gold rush, you haven't heard of Carpenter soap.
Carpenter lost everything, all turned to vinegar, fool's gold and no-soap, and the old farm was snapped up by John Gately Downey, California's seventh governor, who bought the land that would bear his name, and much of the surrounding area, at a sheriff's sale auction in 1859 for $60,000. Carpenter wound up dead by his own hand, and the rest, as they say, is told in lovely photographs and detailed captions in "Downey," the latest release in Arcadia Publishing's always-excellent series of civic histories, "Images of America."
Compiled and written by Downey native and nine-term Aerospace Legacy Foundation president Larry Latimer, "Downey" is a remarkable look at an often overlooked town. It's like finding out that the old lady who lives across the street that you only see turning on her sprinklers used to be an Andalusian flamenco guitarist who once won an Indian motorcycle by wrestling Amelia Earhart in Honolulu.
OK, we're overselling it, but "Downey" hits a lot of hot spots. Latimer, being the aviation history expert, is a perfect fit for a big part of his city's legacy in this book. Vultee Field and Vultee Aircraft (later the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp., or Convair) turned out 15 percent of all military aircraft in the nation during World War II - more than 13,500 craft. During the Cold War, Downey's North American Aviation plant built Navaho missiles for a decade, then Air Force air-to-ground missiles before blasting into the future by winning space industry contracts to build, among other components, command and service modules used in the Apollo missions.
There are plenty of stories - and a mountain of photos - of the city's other pioneers and visionaries, much on the early businesses in town, the notable homes and churches and schools and a little bit on the city's contributions to the culinary world - most of that history is of the speedy variety. There's the early McDonald's Hamburgers joint on Lakewood Boulevard, the eternally on-the-eve-of- destruction Johnie's Broiler drive-in restaurant, and the first Taco Bell, built by Marine Glen Bell in 1962. An interesting side note: Bell's wife, Martha, came up with the name Der Wienerschnitzel for the Bell's friend John Gallardi, who opened the first link in that chain in Wilmington in 1961. Turned out she was better at naming things than old man Carpenter.
"Downey" hits stores on March 8. The 128-page book sells for $21.99, and 15 selected scenes from the book will be available as a set for $7.99.
You can buy them in person, direct from Latimer when he appears at 7 p.m. March 18 at the Downey Library, 11121 Brookshire Ave.