Since 1913 when they came to Hawthorne and started a flower farm, the Satow family has watched Moneta Gardens change. In the decades before World War II, the Satows gazed across acres and acres of Japanese truck farms, and their neighbors were the Rapela orchid farm and the Bodger Seed Co.
When the war came and workers flocking to round-the-clock defense plants needed places to live, the Satows watched as the fields of Moneta began sprouting houses in place of crops.
And during the 1960s, when a series of annexations plucked Moneta from the county and brought it within Hawthorne city limits, they watched as apartment buildings began going up on the large parcels.
"The chickens and pigs went out and the apartment boys came in," said 66-year-old Henry Satow, who, along with his four brothers, continues to run the family nursery at El Segundo Boulevard and Kornblum Avenue.
The apartment and condominium trend has yet to exhaust itself and today, Moneta Gardens--a 30-block chunk of southeastern Hawthorne bounded by Prairie Avenue, El Segundo and Crenshaw boulevards and Rosecrans Avenue--has the greatest concentration of residential building in the city.
795 New Units
During 1984, the city processed plans for 795 new units in the area, although not all of them have been built. By contrast, there were plans for fewer than 200 units in the rest of Hawthorne.
The changing face of Moneta Gardens has left it a mishmash of land uses and visual images.
One block may contain a crumbling frame house with litter on the lawn, a brand-new apartment building, an aging trailer park, and a row of neatly kept, 1950s-era stucco homes. Rambling nurseries continue to dot the area, and driving on narrow streets--laid out for an earlier era--is sometimes a matter of snaking through traffic in lanes hemmed-in by parked cars.
A 1977 study of Moneta Gardens by a consultant said the neighborhood had "the classic characteristics" of land-use conflict: "noise, congestion, deteriorating structures, poorly maintained premises, nondescript image, lower levels of public improvements and a 'feeling' of neglect . . . . "
While officials say development since 1977 has improved the situation--notably through the replacement of old, dilapidated structures with many new buildings--city Planning Director Jim Marquez said clashing land uses continue to spell trouble in Moneta Gardens.
"The densities of the area create traffic and noise, and because of a lack of buffers, low-profile quadruplexes are totally overshadowed by three-story, 50-unit apartment houses," he said, adding that park land is inadequate and clusters of single-family homes have become isolated on cul-de-sac streets.
And the current face of Moneta Gardens is receiving decidedly mixed reviews in Hawthorne.
"The activity is a positive thing for the city," Marquez said. "New development there has stemmed deterioration and has made private redevelopment possible in that area. Small, old developments that have deteriorated have been sold for land value to developers, who have built rental housing for which there is a tremendously high demand."
But some Moneta Gardens residents, including a few who have never lived anywhere else, say development has saturated streets with cars and has brought in a transient population that they blame for a rise in crime--particularly residential burglaries. They also claim that speculative buying has caused rents to spiral.
School Officials Alarmed
"I want to look on the positive side, but I can't find much to be positive about because it's not a family area anymore," said Ken Robinson, who said 135th Street where he lives has become "the busiest street in Hawthorne." People speed and drop litter, beer and wine bottles, he said.
Another one of the Satow brothers, 62-year-old Tabo Satow, said he isn't happy about the last 10 years of building in Moneta Gardens. "It's just making it more congested," he said, "filling up the schools and increasing burglaries."
The Hawthorne School District, which has three schools in Moneta Gardens serving about 1,600 children in kindergarten through eighth grade, also is alarmed about continuing building.
Supt. Edward Hayduk said the schools have room for 200 more children but after that "we do have a problem. . . . It is beginning to cause us a great deal of anxiety."
Hayduk said continued growth in Moneta Gardens could led to double sessions and year-round schools. He said the district is contemplating asking the city to impose a fee of between $1,500 to $2,000 per unit on developers--something he admits "won't be well received." The money would be used for temporary classrooms.
"The city supports the building, but my concern is who supports education?" Hayduk said.