Sylmar, Los Angeles facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
View of Sylmar, facing north
Sylmar, as delineated by the Los Angeles Times
Sylmar is a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, California. Historically, known for its profusion of olive orchards, Sylmar can trace its past to the 18th century and the founding of the San Fernando Mission. In 1890, olive production was begun in a systematic manner. The Sylmar climate was also considered healthy, and so a sanitarium was established, the first in a series of hospitals in the neighborhood. There are fourteen public and eight private schools within Sylmar.
The population of the Sylmar area was roughly 3,500 in 1940, 10,000 in 1950, 31,000 in 1962, 40,000 in 1972, 41,922 in 1980 and 53,392 in 1986. By 2000, a "wave of immigrants and working poor" had enveloped Sylmar, Pacoima, Arleta and Sun Valley, resulting in a housing shortage for lower-income people. The 2000 U.S. census counted 69,499 residents in the 12.46-square-mile Sylmar neighborhood—or 5,579 people per square mile, among the lowest population densities for the city. In 2008, the city estimated that the population had increased to 79,614. In 2009, the Sylmar Chamber of Commerce estimated that the population was approximately 90,000 residents.
In 1980 Sylmar was predominantly white, the ethnic breakdown being 58% white and 36% Latino. Twenty years later, in 2000, the neighborhood was considered "moderately diverse" ethnically within Los Angeles, with a relatively high percentage of Latinos. The breakdown in 2000 was Latinos, 69.8%; whites, 20.7%; blacks, 4.1%; Asians, 3.4%, and others, 2.0%. Mexico (71.7%) and El Salvador (8.4%) were the most common places of birth for the 36.7% of the residents who were born abroad—an average figure for Los Angeles. In 2000 the median age for residents was 28, considered young for city and county neighborhoods.
In 2000, renters occupied 29.2% of the housing stock, and house- or apartment-owners held 70.8%. The average household size of 3.6 people was considered high for Los Angeles. The percentage of married women (55.5%) was among the county's highest. There were 3,607 veterans, or 7.7% of the population, average for the city of Los Angeles and the county.
A study by four graduate students from the University of Southern California in 2005 stated that:
Sylmar in the 1970s and 1980s was a rural, predominantly white, non-Hispanic community, whose residents focused on creating a place centered around equestrian activities. Today, the dramatic influx of residents has serious consequences for a community that has too little housing stock, too few employment opportunities, overburdened public facilities and decaying public infrastructure systems.
The median yearly household income in 2008 dollars was $65,783, considered average for the city.
San Fernando became a city in 1874, leading to the naming of the unincorporated land surrounding San Fernando as Morningside. In 1893 the area was named Sylmar (supposed to mean "sea of trees").
Around 2000, some local residents proposed a plan to rename the northwest portion of the district as Rancho Cascades.
Sylmar has been nicknamed "The Top of Los Angeles."
The foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains at the north slope of the San Fernando Valley were seen as "an unattractive and apparently worthless waste" before 2,000 acres of them were transformed in the late 1890s by the Los Angeles Olive Growers Association. One observer recalled that the land had been "a mass of ill-looking chapparal and chemisal" before it was planted with olives.
In 1893, a group of Illinois businessmen purchased from the trustees of the Maclay ranch either 1,000 or 2,000 acres (the sources differ) east of the railroad tracks on San Fernando Road just south of Roxford Street and in 1894 began planting olives trees on up to 1,700 acres. Experts were brought from France to supervise the work. Calling themselves the Los Angeles Olive Growers Association (in 1898 C.O. (Paul) Milltimore was the president and George L. Arnold the secretary), they built a packing plant and sold olives under the Tyler Olives label, later changing to the Sylmar Packing label. Sylmar’s olives became noted throughout the state for sweetness and purity. Chinese pickers were hired to harvest the crops, and up to 800 U.S. gallons (3,000 L) of olive oil a day were produced. The pickling plant was located on the corner of Roxford Street and San Fernando Road. By March 1898 about 200,000 trees had been planted, and by 1906 the property had become the largest olive grove in the world.
One source stated in 1981 that it was the "Fusano family" who built a headquarters building for the olive association on Roxford and San Fernando in 1902 and that the first packing plant was built in 1909. The trees began bearing fruit in 1912. The first groves were planted with Mission, Nevadillo Blanco and Manzanillo olives. Some Sevillano and Ascolano varieties were planted for extra-large fruit.
During the picking season in the early 1900s, an extra force of 300 Japanese was employed and housed in a village of tents. In 1927 the packing plant, which had been built in 1910, employed some five hundred workers during its busiest season, November through January. The oil was pressed from the fruit, allowed to separate from the fruit's water content, then drawn into 12,000-gallon concrete tanks lined with glass and set deep into the ground to avoid a change in temperature. Over time, the plant expanded its activities, bringing in figs, pimientos and watermelon rind from the San Joaquin Valley for processing.
In 1904 the Sylmar brand olive oil won first place at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St, Louis, Missouri, in 1906 at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, Portland, Oregon, and in 1915 at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
In 1922, the controlling interest in the Los Angeles Olive Growers' Association, which had been held by the estate of F.D. Butterfield (Charlotte M. Butterfied, the heir), was bought by Charles C. Moore of San Francisco, and its name was changed to Sylmar Packing Corporation. The management remained with Frank Simonds, who was president of the association. At that time there were 140,000 trees on the property.
Some of the olive trees were still growing in Sylmar decades after they were planted. In 1963 twenty-five mature olive trees were removed from the site of the Sylmar Juvenile Hall, then under construction (below), to be planted at Busch Gardens, an entertainment center in Van Nuys.
Disasters and mishaps
At 6:01 a.m. on February 9, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake hit the Sylmar area on a thrust fault located below the neighborhood. Known as the San Fernando earthquake or the Sylmar earthquake, it caused 58 deaths and more than $500 million in damage. Three people died at the Olive View Medical Center, including two patients on life-support systems that failed when auxiliary generators did not start. The third was an ambulance driver who was crushed by a falling wall. A hospital building sank a foot into the ground. About 600 patients were evacuated, 200 of them into a parking lot. A Boys Market was jolted off its fouindation and collapsed. The Sylmar juvenile hall was severely damaged. One of its buildings sank "almost to the ceiling."
Two weeks later, normalcy had returned to many in the San Fernando Valley, but in Sylmar, according to The New York Times,
The community looks like a battlefield. Dozens of houses are twisted beyond repair. Families camp out in tents or trailers on front lawns, afraid to return even to those houses not condemned. . . . All homes have been without water for drinking, cooking and flushing toilets, although some service has been restored in the last few days. There is no gas, no heat. Telephones are still out. Housewives must travel out of the community to find grocery stores that are still open. On top of that, Sylmar feels that it has been forgotten. . . .
Portable toilets were placed on street corners. Water was distributed to residents via taps attached to huge tank cars of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. Many residents moved away from Sylmar, either from fear of more earthquakes or because their homes were destroyed. People bathed in the Pacoima Wash. Streets were buckled like washboards, with fissures as much as a foot wide. On February 21, 1971, a rally of 1,500 people was held at a Little League baseball field to demand help from the government. Some government assistance and loans were indeed given to aid residents and to help rebuild.
Four months after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, a methane gas explosion in a water tunnel being drilled beneath Sylmar killed 17 workers on June 24. It was the worst tunnel disaster in California history, and it resulted in the state adopting the toughest mining and tunnel regulations in the nation and the establishment of its occupational safety division, commonly known as Cal/OSHA. The incident resulted in a 54-week criminal trial against the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company — the longest municipal court trial in U.S. history. The result was some of the highest municipal fines and greatest civil damage awards of that era. Nineteen Los Angeles firefighters were awarded the Medal of Valor for their work that day, a record for a single incident. A worker named Ralph Brisset, 33, was the only survivor.
The 22-foot-diameter, 5-mile-long, $19.3 million tunnel was being constructed as part of the California Water Project, which carries water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the San Joaquin Valley to Southern California.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake caused a large amount of damage in Sylmar.
2000 midair collision
Two light airplanes collided over the Newhall Pass on February 7, 2000, and fell to earth in or near the Cascades Golf Club in Sylmar. Pilots Charles Oliver and Tom Quist and their passengers, Jean Bustos and Kevin Kaff, were killed.
The Sayre Fire, also known as the Sylmar Fire, was a November 2008 wildfire that resulted in the loss of 489 residences in or near Sylmar, the "worst loss of homes due to fire" in Los Angeles's history. The fire was first reported at 10:29 p.m. on November 14, 2008. It was not contained until November 20, 2008, and by then it had burned 11,262 acres (46 km2) and destroyed more than 600 structures: 480 mobile homes, nine single-family homes, 104 outbuildings and 10 commercial buildings. Five firefighters and one civilian suffered minor injuries.
Topography and climate
Sylmar is generally flat with steep hills of the San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast.
The Valley shares the Los Angeles Basin's dry, sunny weather, with only 17 inches (430 mm) annual precipitation on average. Snow in the San Fernando Valley is extremely rare, though the neighboring Angeles National Forest is capped with snow every winter.
Although Sylmar is only 20 miles (32 km) from the Pacific Ocean, the Valley can be considerably hotter than the Los Angeles Basin during the summer months and cooler during the winter months. The average high temperature in summer is 95 °F (35 °C), dropping down to 68 °F (20 °C). In winter, the average high is 66 °F (19 °C) and average low is 40 °F (4 °C).
Sylmar touches the unincorporated Tujunga Canyons on the north, Lopez and Kagel canyons on the east, the city of San Fernando on the southeast, Mission Hills on the south, and Granada Hills on the southwest and west.
The plan of the Olive Growers association in 1898 was to divide the area into 40-acre blocks bounded by "broad drives," and within them five-acre blocks would be laid out, "each one of which is upon a street." About a hundred trees would be planted on each acre. Half of these lands were placed on the market in 1897-98 at $350 an acre, with a minimum purchase of five acres. The terms were $350 in cash and $350 a year until paid for. The Olive Growers group would take care of the groves and, "When the premises are turned over to the purchaser at the end of four years, it is an established, profit-yielding property, without incumbrance." There is no record as to the results of this plan.
In 1922 the Taft Realty Company of Hollywood purchased 300 acres from Ben F. Porter and divided them into tracts containing one to fifteen acres each, which it planned to make into a townsite called Sylmar. Part of the acreage contained orange and lemon trees, and the rest had been used by the Ryan Wholesale and Produce Company for garden and truck farming. The land lay directly across the San Fernando Boulevard from the Sylmar olive grove and packing plant. A later advertisement stated the name of the subdivision as "Sylmar Acres," with "city lots" selling for $450 to $550.
The property of the Sylmar Packing Corporation, with frontage of more than 4.5 miles on Foothill Boulevard, was offered for sale in October 1938. At that time it was planted in olives, lemons, oranges and figs. A forty-acre section was to be set aside for a new townsite called Olive View and the rest subdivided into five- and ten-acre farm lots, with many streets already paved and public utilities installed. In the same month, manufacturer and landowner John R. Stetson announced his 200-acre property adjoining the Sylmar ranch would also be divided and offered for sale.
A May 1962 proposal by the city Planning Department for an increase in density was met with disapproval by residents at a community meeting. The city's master plan for the area called for much of the agricultural land to be converted to suburban uses, plus zoning that would permit more apartments. There would also be expansion of industrial districts and more shopping centers. The plan proposed that the 4,500 acres then zoned for agriculture be reduced to 2,000, or 17% of the area. City officials said that Sylmar had been the slowest of all San Fernando Valley communities to develop its [multiple dwelling areas, with permits issued for only 35 units in 1961 and 70 units in 1962.
Sylmar's major growth came after the 1963 completion of the interchange between the Golden State and San Diego freeways and the 1981 completion of the 210 and 118 freeways, both of which made the community easier to reach.
In 1971 city planners presented a land-use document that would preserve Sylmar's image as one of "houses, horses and orchards" and would roll back the then-existing projection from 90,000 residents by 1990 to 53,500. The population actually reached 53,392 in 1986.
A proposal in 1980 to build an 80-unit low-income housing project near Sylmar High School at 13080-90 Dronfield Avenue was rejected by the Los Angeles City Housing Commission after eight thousand signatures were gathered against the plan and protesters filled a hearing in the high school auditorium.
In 1984 Sylmar was still largely rural, but there was an area of industrial development in its southeastern portion. In 1986, when its population was given 53,392, it still had some of the last large tracts of undeveloped land in the city, and the opening of the Foothill Freeway had placed it within a 45-minute drive of Downtown Los Angeles. Despite the population increase and a rise in the number of people living in condos and apartments, it was still one of the least-crowded areas of the city. Between 1980 and 1990 it was the fastest-growing area in the San Fernando Valley: Its population increased by 30.7% during those ten years in which the Valley itself grew by only 12.2%.
Reopening of the Olive View Medical Center in 1986 was seen as an impetus to population and business growth, as well as a threat to the horse-owning community. Practically every corner on Foothill Boulevard had been purchased for development, and a 109-room hotel was planned at Roxford Street, a block from the hospital. "We are bound to be concerned any time you start brining sick people, mentally ill people, indigent people into our community," said one community activist. "We welcome the hospital, but that doesn't mean we are going to sit back and let the influx of people change our life style."
By 2006 Sylmar's open spaces were being rapidly subdivided. Resident Bart Reed noted that Sylmar was the last place in Los Angeles "where a builder can find a single-family home on half an acre. They can tear them down and build 52 homes" in their place. Longtime residents were concerned that the expansion would threaten their equestrian lifestyle in a community that still retained a largely rural atmosphere with corrals on large lots and horse trails that wound into the nearby San Gabriel Mountains.
Sylmar is home to the Nethercutt Collection, a museum best known for its collection of classic automobiles. The Nethercutt also houses collections of mechanical musical instruments, including orchestrions, player pianos and music boxes, and antique furniture.
- An ornamental spillway called the Cascades marks the terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct system, which brings water 338 miles (544 km) from the Owens Valley to the Van Norman Reservoir in Granada Hills. The spillway is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 742 and California Historical Landmark No. 653. It is also on the List of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.
- The San Fernando Pioneer Memorial Cemetery at 14400 Foothill Boulevard is the oldest nonsectarian cemetery in the San Fernando Valley, with the first burial recorded in 1892. It was listed as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1993. As San Fernando Cemetery, it is a California Historical Landmark.
Parks and recreation
The City of Los Angeles Sylmar Recreation Center, which also functions as a Los Angeles Police Department stop-in center, includes auditoriums, a lighted baseball diamond, lighted outdoor basketball courts, a children's play area, a community room, an indoor gymnasium without weights, picnic tables, an unlighted soccer field, and lighted tennis courts. The city also operates the Stetson Ranch Park.
Los Angeles County operates the 79-acre (32 ha) El Cariso Community Regional Park, which was dedicated to a group of firefighters who died in the Loop Fire in 1966. The park has a lighted ball diamond, a basketball court, tennis courts, children's play areas, a community building, horseshoe pits, an indoor kitchen, picnic areas for large groups, picnic tables and shelters, and a swimming pool.
In addition the county operates the 96.5-acre (39.1 ha) Veterans Memorial Park in an area adjacent to and outside of the Los Angeles City limits. The site of the park was the site of a veterans hospital that was built in the 1940s. The park, which was dedicated in 1979, has barbecue braziers, group camping areas, a community building, a disc golf course, picnic areas, a picnic pavilion, and toilets.
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