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Vestige of Area's Past : Cerritos Egg Plant Falls to Progress

May 04, 1986|STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writer

CERRITOS — This city turned 30 recently, but Phil Krum wasn't around for the big day. He was vacationing in Hawaii, which is symbolic of just how much things have changed in Cerritos since incorporation on April 24, 1956.

Since the early years of the Depression, Krum's family, like so many who settled on this flat alluvial plain southeast of Los Angeles, has been tied to farming--chickens to be exact. At one point, Krum and his two brothers owned one of the largest egg plants in Southern California, a wholesale operation that manufactured and sold feed to chicken farmers. They also processed the farmers' eggs--cleaning, grading and then delivering some 3.6 million a week to area markets.

Pile of Broken Concrete

But today the Krums' processing plant along the railroad tracks just off South Street is a pile of broken concrete. The egg business is no more, as bulldozers clear the site to make way for a small retail shopping center. It was Phil Krum's idea to develop his property, a matter of keeping in step with the times, he said.

The region's chicken farmers had long since moved east and south, edged out by encroaching development. And the egg business in general was going corporate, leaving little room--or profits--for independents like Krum. Choosing to switch rather than struggle, Krum, 62, decided to level the plant, build a mini-mall and become a landlord, spending more time golfing and windsurfing than counting eggs. On Jan. 1, the plant closed, and with it one of Cerritos' last links

with its agrarian roots.

"It was time. . . . things change and you move on," reasoned Krum, looking fit and tan just back from a week in the Hawaiian sun. "It's a matter of economics."

That has always been the story in Cerritos, one of the most financially successful cities of its size in California.

Land simply became too valuable for cows and chickens. Even the city's founders, the dairymen who banded together to protect their life style by forming Dairy Valley, were unable to prevent the inevitable. By the late 1960s, more than the city's name had changed. So had the direction of Cerritos, as housing tracts, schools and lush parks replaced the dairy and poultry farms which today are no more.

Krum was able to hold out longer than most. In fact, his business, Yesterlaid Farms, continued to thrive into the mid-1970s because of the family's reputation and the location of the processing plant next to the Southern Pacific tracks. Henneries from as far away as Riverside shipped their eggs to Krum. Placed on a conveyor belt, the eggs were washed, dried, inspected and then graded before delivery to Southern California grocers. The plant handled about 300,000 dozen in a busy week.

"I'd say we had enough to make a few breakfasts," said Krum, the slight turn of a smile showing on his bearded face.

3rd-Generation Egg Man

Krum is a third-generation egg man. His grandfather was a professor of poultry at Cornell University, as was his father, Olin C. Krum, who left teaching and moved West in 1933 to open a feed store in Artesia. In the late '40s, Krum's father paid about $10,000 for about 1 1/2 acres of land just east of Pioneer Boulevard. Several years later, Krum and his brothers began manufacturing chicken feed on the site before expanding the plant to include egg processing.

Today, the plant site is worth far more than chicken feed. The land, Krum estimated, is worth about $800,000. But sometimes he wishes he could turn back the clock.

"Progress is good, but every once in a while I'll be driving along and suddenly think about how it used to be," Krum said. "Maybe I'll see an old building, or street sign that will shake a memory or two loose. Boy, what I'd give to go back just for an hour or two."

Krum was 9 years old when his family arrived in Artesia, at the time a bustling service center for the area's 450 dairies and chicken farms. Going to school, he said, was an international experience. Most of his schoolmates were Dutch and Portuguese, but there were also Mexicans and Japanese. "We didn't have uniforms when we played soccer," Krum said, "so we divided up teams based on nationalities."

Although the plant is closed, Krum won't be far from the action. He still helps run the family's feed-production operation in north San Diego County, and he plans to keep selling flats of eggs to walk-in customers at his Artesia office across from the old processing plant. The 30-egg flats sell for $1.70.

"Not a bad price," he said. "But not like the old days. In the '30s, you could get a dozen for 20 cents. I guess things do change."

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