LA River history

Speaker's Note

Communities have lived along the LA River for thousands of years. The river was integral to the way of life for indigenous tribes, who hunted and gathered on the banks.

Back then, the LA River flowed freely into wetlands and swamps. Wildlife, including black bears and antelope, roamed the area.

Today, Southeast LA is unrecognizable from the landscape three centuries ago or even 50 years ago. Luckily, there are a few vestiges of the past and the people who came before us. In this edition of the R-Guide, I’m sharing a few stories about our local history and the remaining landmarks in our community today.

Hay Tree

Hay Tree Connects Paramount to Agricultural Past

The 137-year-old Hay Tree is Paramount’s only reminder of the city’s agricultural past. From 1930 to 1960, Paramount was known as the “Hay Capitol” of the world, producing, “enough hay to build the Washington Monument,” according to a once-popular saying. 

Planted in 1883, the Hay Tree predates the city of Paramount. It was planted in the town of Hynes, which was later combined with the neighboring town of Clearwater to become Paramount. Back then, the LA area was largely rural, and dairy was a booming industry. There were more than 25,000 cows in the two towns and a slew of hay farms to feed the cattle. 

So large and influential was the Hynes-Clearwater market that each morning, representatives from the hay lots would gather beneath the Hay Tree to compare prices and negotiate a median price for hay. This price was printed in major newspapers as the standard for the world. 

 “Paramount truly was the hay center of America and the world,” said Bob Feenstra, the former Executive Director of the California Milk Producers Council, and a farmer who ran one of the city’s last diaries. 

From a glance at Paramount today, you would never know it was an agricultural hub of Southern California. Paramount Mayor Tom Hansen, who has lived in the city since 1949, said, “Change and growth here were inevitable, and having a sense of the past completes an understanding of the present.”

The only reminder of Paramount’s agricultural past is the Hay Tree. It’s large, shady canopy was once a favorite gathering spot for farmers, merchants, and truckers to trade, eat, and play cards.

In 2004, the Paramount Hay Tree was designated as a state historical landmark. Next time you’re in the area, you can visit the Hay Tree on Paramount Boulevard to learn more about our local history.


LA's Indigenous Roots

LA's Indigenous Roots

Long before it was a concrete metropolis, the LA basin was a grassland, thriving with vegetation and wildlife. The area was called “Tovaangar” by the native people, the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe. Their villages once covered the vast plains of both LA and Orange counties.

The many villages, each with distinct cultures and languages, traded and intermarried. The village of Povuu'nga, in present-day Long Beach, was a sacred site known as the “place of emergence,” where the Gabrielino-Tongva people believed their world began.

The village of Yaanga, one of the largest Gabrielino-Tongva villages, once thrived along the LA River near present-day downtown LA. Like Yaanga, many villages were located by the river and its estuaries, where the tribes fished, hunted, and gathered acorns from the bountiful oak trees along the river. Some of these villages were located by the river where it runs through our community.

After the arrival of the Spanish in the late 18th century, Gabrielino-Tongva life and culture was irrevocably changed. Many indigenous people were forced to build missions, where they were enslaved and prevented from practicing their culture and religion. Their ancestral lands were stolen, and they were treated as second-class citizens, not gaining citizenship or the right to vote until 1924.

Despite this heinous period of history, the Gabrielino-Tongva language and culture still lives through the several thousands of Gabrielino-Tongva people currently living in California. Their heritage is also reflected in several city names in LA County such as Topanga and Cahuenga, both derived from Gabrielino-Tongva words.

The rich history of indigenous tribes before colonization is often overlooked in history books, but their stories are a vital part of California’s history. If you want to learn more about the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe, you can visit for information about historical sites, museums, and events around LA.

A Historic Treasure in Lynwood

A Historic Treasure in Lynwood

We often think about history in the abstract. This can make the past feel far removed from our lives. Yet seeing pieces of history with our own eyes can remind us how connected we are to the past.

In Southeast LA, the Lynwood Union Gallery serves as the bridge between the city’s past and present. Founded by the Lynwood Union, a local grassroots arts organization, the Lynwood Union Gallery is the first and only art and history gallery in Lynwood.

The Gallery building itself is a preservation of history. Based in the Historic Lynwood depot, the Gallery is one of the few remaining Pacific Electric Railway depots in California.

The Pacific Electric Railway Company, nicknamed the Red Cars, was the largest electric railway system in the world in the 1920s. The Lynwood station housed Red Cars for the railway that once connected LA and Santa Ana.

Visitors, including students on field trips, learn about Lynwood’s important role in California’s railroad history. Rowland Becerra, the Gallery’s president and founder, described the impact that experiencing history has on kids. “When we tell the stories, we can see their eyes light up,” he said.

The Lynwood Union Gallery also teaches visitors about more recent LA history, including an exhibit on the LA Riots. "We have to remember where we came from, in order to know where we are going," said Becerra, “We have new generations growing up not knowing about the 1992 LA Riots, and why they happened, let alone how they affected Lynwood.”

The Gallery also hosts community events and features work from local artists, including photographers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers.

For more information on the Lynwood Union Gallery, visit them on Facebook and Instagram.


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