The Baldwin Hills Estates was originally part of the 4,481.5-acre Rancho La Cienega (also known as Paso de La Tijera) that was granted to Vicente Sanchez in 1843. The name Cienega derives from the Spanish word cienaga, which means swamp or marsh land. Paso de La Tijera is the Spanish name that translates into Pass of the Scissors. This name was used to describe the trail that cut along the nearby hills, which resembled a pair of open scissors. "Rancho La Cienega Paso de La Tijera" is the lengthy name given to a series of adjoining adobe structures located on the eastern side of Baldwin Hills. It is uncertain when and by whom they were constructed. According to John Kielbalsa in Historic Adobes of Los Angeles County', the structure located today at 3725 Don Felipe Drive is the oldest surviving building in the city of Los Angeles. Kielbalsa suggests it may have been built between 1790 and 1795. In contrast, the Avila adobe on Olvera Street was built circa 1818, almost 30 years after the construction of the adobes on Don Felipe Drive, but the Olvera Street adobe retains the honor of the oldest residence in Los Angeles.
During the 1920s the La Tijera Adobe underwent several renovations. It became the club house of the Sunset Fields Golf Course. The Sunset Golf Association leased the estate around the adobe from the Baldwin heirs. After World War II the area was subdivided, becoming a residential neighborhood and replacing the greens and fairways. Later the adobe was converted into a woman's club.
In 1948 the May Company Department Store was completed below the hill east of the adobe. The following year the Broadway Crenshaw Shopping Center was built next to the May Company. The former rural environment around the ancient adobe was finally eliminated. Today one can see a busy shopping complex and mammoth sky scrapers that tower over the former site of a sleepy little cow town of adobe structures known as Los Angeles.
On February 16, 1984, the Native Daughters of the Golden West Parlor 247 placed a small rectangular plaque on the exterior wall of the adobe, next to what was probably the front door. On March 26, 1990, the adobe was declared Los Angeles Historical Cultural Landmark 487.
The Baldwin Hills adobe is a historic treasure that is virtually hidden. Still standing today, the structure is currently occupied and there is no formal effort to preserve it.
Vicente Sanchez died in 1850 and left Rancho La Tijera to his son Tomas and two daughters, Dolores and Maria. In 1874, Tomas Sanchez divided the ranch into four quarters and sold it to a group of four businessmen. Subsequently, the ranch was acquired by Elias J. "Lucky" Baldwin (1828-1909) in 1875. During the late nineteenth century, Baldwin, a flamboyant San Francisco hotelier and stock market gambler, was one of Los Angeles' wealthiest and most prominent landowners and financiers. The family's namesake is found in different parts of Southern California today, including the Baldwin Hills area in Los Angeles. Other places include the incorporated city of Baldwin Park, which was founded and named for Lucky Baldwin himself, and the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, which was named for Baldwin's daughter Anita Baldwin Stocker (also, after whom Stocker Avenue was later named).
Rancho La Tijera was the most valuable possession in Baldwin's estate. After Lucky's death, the Baldwin heirs sold large parts of Rancho La Tijera. The Los Angeles Investment Company later subdivided the acreage. In 1917 oil was found in the area and the Inglewood oil field was born. From 1917 to 1960 fossil fuel was continuously pumped.
Baldwin Hills Estates Development
The development of the Baldwin Hills Estates began during the early 1950's. The primary parties included Home Savings and Loan Association Corporation, Baldwin Hills Sales Company, Title Insurance, and Trust Company. Baldwin M. Baldwin, Dextra Baldwin Derx, Raymond J. Knisley, designated trustees for the trust of Anita M. Baldwin, also played a key role in the development. In 1946 Thomas Brother Guides listed no streets or landmarks in the immediate area of land between La Brea and Stocker Avenues By as early as 1949, however, some development of streets and residences appears on the map including Hillcrest Drive, which links older residential streets to the BHE. The Estates are characterized by winding streets beginning with the Spanish word "Don" (translated "sir" in English). This, according to BHE residents, is evidence of the Mexican influence that inspired the developers.
By the early 1960's nearly all of the streets and neighborhoods in the Estates had been designed and built featuring underground utilities.
Several years after the initial tract development began in 1950, the Home Savings and Loan Corporation commissioned the Baldwin Hills Community Preservation Committee (BHCPC) to oversee the Declaration of Restrictions (otherwise known as restrictive covenants). There are now 11 separate tracts which make up the Baldwin Hills community. The covenants included stipulations that required private property improvements to be subject to design reviews by an architectural committee. There were also restrictions involving the exclusion of minority occupants in the Estates. After the state legislature passed the Fair Housing Bill outlawing racial restrictive covenants, this minority exclusion was eliminated.
Several years later, a rival group of residents began to meet in opposition to the BHCPC. This was the beginning of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Association (BHEHA).
During the following decades the abolition of the original covenant that outlawed minorities helped to precipitate changes in the demographic composition of the homogeneous residential community. One of the results that came as a result of this decision was the social phenomenon of "white flight", which led to the transformation of the community from being strictly white to a community that is presently primarily African American.
Throughout the years, the BHEHA has placed an important emphasis on preserving its close-knit community even during times of crisis. Several pivotal events have adversely impacted the community over the years but all have also served to strengthen it.
In 1963, the Baldwin Hills Dam sprang a leak and burst. Within 77 minutes, the water blanketed the hillsides and lowlands between Rodeo Road and La Cienega Boulevard, drowning five people, destroying hundreds of houses and apartments, and causing $12 million worth of damage and a water shortage for 500,000 people. Fortunately, the BHE was protected from the damage as a result of its natural topography. The cause of this catastrophe was traced in part to oil drilling that had undermined the dam structure.
In 1985 the BHE suffered its greatest community loss when 58 homes were destroyed in the infamous Baldwin Hills fire. Unfortunately, three people lost their lives and millions of dollars were lost in damages. At this time there is a plaque in memory of those who lost their lives at the intersection of Don Carlos Drive and Don Diego Drive.