Del Rey History

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What is Del Rey?

To most Angelinos’, Del Rey is an enigma.  Bordered by its more well known neighbors, the Westside community of Del Rey is surrounded by Culver City to the east, Mar Vista on the north, Marina del Rey and Venice on the west, and the former Howard Hughes airfield (as well as the emerging community of Playa Vista) to the south.   But the name Del Rey pre-dates its more famous neighbors. 

MapEarly 19th Century Hand Draw Map of Rancho La Ballona

In the early 1800’s, 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 the time the United States Board of Land Commissioners issued the final patent, Rancho La Ballona consisted of nearly 14,000 acres of land.  However, by 1868, the division of the great ranch had begun as Rancho La Ballona had been partitioned into 23 separate parcels of land.

Rancho La Ballona was characterized by two great creeks; Ballona Creek running from the east to west and creating a great lagoon and Centinela Creek running from the northern hills to Ballona Creek.  The Rancho included grazing lands; irrigation lands and lands in the Bay.  During the great flood of 1862, 50” of rain fell during the winter (who says it never rains in sunny Southern California) and the entire valley from present day Washington Boulevard to the bluffs, and much of the Los Angeles Basin, was under water for six months.

As the 19th century came to a close, La Ballona was considered a “swamp” and the only activity occurred at the mouth of Ballona Creek where the squatter Will Tell opened a sea shore retreat that would “furnish sportsmen with board and lodging for man and beast.”

But in 1887, Moye Wicks and the Ballona Harbor and Improvement Company were organized to lay out Port Ballona.  The town of Port Ballona was developed and on August 21, 1887, the railroad was finished and the first train brought 300 prominent Angelinos to Port Ballona.  But by 1889, the funds for Port Ballona had been exhausted and the tide had taken most of the wharf, making Port Ballona just dream.

1902 Del Rey Map
1902 Map of La Ballona

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 started work on their “King’s Playground” and tattooed its name, “Del Rey” on the surrounding area.  The Del Rey name was born and Port Ballona was renamed Playa Del Rey.  In 1903, Department of City Planning maps identified Del Rey as one of nine divisions of the West Los Angeles Planning Commission.  Venice was conceived in 1904, Culver City in 1913 and Marina del Rey was dedicated in 1962.

1930 Del Rey
1930 Del Rey

In the early decades of the 20th century, Del Rey was an agricultural community, dotted by dairy farms and fields of produce.  Fred Machado, a direct descendant of La Ballona founder Agustin Machado, recalled growing up on the family ranch house near present day Centinela and Jefferson.  Fred pictured the sides of Ballona Creek lined with trees and tules, home to ducks and small fish.  He recalled the frequent flooding (causing the house to be “built so high” you could walk under it) and the subsequent use of the rich silt deposits for farming.  He particularly remembered the flooding of the creek on New Year’s Day 1934.  The flooding was so high that from that day on, it was impossible to grow castor beans and the wild doves and rabbits never returned.   In 1935, the Ballona Creek was straightened and made permanent by the Army Corps of Engineers when they paved the sides and with Los Angeles’ continual growth and the arrival of Hughes Aircraft in Ballona Valley in the 1940s, Del Rey would be dramatically changed with the steady urbanization of the area.

1961 Del Rey Aerial
1961 Del Rey Aerial

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.  

Ballona Creek remains one of Del Rey’s most distinctive physical features and the well-used bicycle path running alongside the creek provides local residents with easy access to the beach.  Del Reyans have a second bike path they can and do enjoy – the Culver City Median path.   Starting at McConnell Blvd. in the heart of Del Rey, the path heads east into neighboring Culver City, ending at Overland Blvd.  The Median path, which also includes a pedestrian walkway, provides the neighborhood with badly needed and greatly appreciated green space.  

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 is a classic example of the identity crisis that residents and business of Del Rey face.  The gathering place of many families of Japanesse hertitage, it began in January of 1960 at the corner of Culver and Centinela.  In 1963, it moved to its current home on Braddock Avenue, in the heart of Del Rey.  But it has a Venice name and a Culver City address.

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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