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AROUND THE SOUTH BAY

At 86, history buff gets an early start every day on Inglewood's past

September 11, 1986|MICHELE L. NORRIS

Gladys Waddingham jokingly refers to the first two weeks of September as boot camp.

Like accountants at tax time, she and other members of the Historical Society of Centinela Valley ) work 10- to 12-hour days getting ready for the annual barbecue and fiesta at the 152-year-old Centinela Adobe, built by the Spanish farmers who first settled what is now Inglewood.

Why get so exited about a barbecue?

"It's our biggest chance to attract new members," Waddingham explained.

"It's the same thing every year. Besides the food and dance, we try to present interesting exhibits so some of the people who attend the party will want to know more about the city's past."

The historical society expects more than 200 people to attend the 12th annual barbecue this Sunday.

However, they will be lucky if the event produces a dozen new members, said Waddingham, a charter member of the society who is in charge of public relations.

Still, the society will be happy with whatever new blood it attracts, said Waddingham, who is 86. Members say the historical society has had an increasingly difficult time attracting active members--meaning those who work on exhibits and research--since many of Inglewood's longtime residents have died or moved away.

"The families that are replacing those folks just don't have the same ties to the community," Waddingham said. "Their roots are somewhere else so it is really a challenge to get them interested in Inglewood's past."

Waddingham, a short, feisty woman with cotton-ball hair and bright blue eyes, has become obsessed with overcoming that apathy. She rises at 4 a.m. each day to work on a book about the Inglewood pioneers for whom the city's schools are named--the latest in her series of books about the city's history.

A retired Spanish teacher with no children, used to work side-by-side with her husband, Francis, piecing together the city's history and collecting artifacts from old homes and businesses. Since his death in 1983, she says she tries to work hard enough for both of them.

She spends her afternoons at the historical society's office next to the Centinela Adobe, putting together new exhibits or organizing records. The adobe, which is Inglewood's oldest residence, was built by Ignacio Machado in 1834. Since then, farmers, ranchers, a Scottish lord and Inglewood's founding father, Daniel Freeman, have lived in the long brick building. Waddingham can recite the owner's names and histories as easily as her address and phone number.

When she is not at home or at the office, she is usually tooling around town in her sprawling white Cadillac, lobbying for support from city and school officials.

"It is remarkable that she can do all she does at her age," said Murray Nixon, the historical society's president. "This is her life."

When Waddingham moved to Inglewood in 1922, the town was a two-block stretch of livery stables, banks and small stores surrounded by bean and barley fields.

During her 45 years teaching at what is now Inglewood High School, Waddingham saw the city's population swell from 6,000 to more than 85,000. She attended City Council meetings in three different city halls, and she watched sports arenas, race tracks and hospitals spring up on former chicken farms.

Somewhere along the way--she is not exactly sure when--Waddingham realized that her memories included a large part of Inglewood's history. She feared that history might be lost if she didn't get it down on paper.

"I am not going to live forever and I hate to think that Inglewood's rich history might be forgotten in the future," she said.

"It really amazes me when someone who lives in this city says they don't know who Daniel Freeman was. After all, Freeman was the father of Inglewood."

Freeman and his wife moved from Canada to the Centinela Adobe, which was then surrounded by a 25,000-acre ranch, in 1866. While a severe drought was forcing other ranchers in the area out of business, Freeman amassed a fortune by farming barley, olives, lemons, limes and almonds, which didn't require much water.

Freeman named his expansive land holding Inglewood, after his birthplace in Ontario. He eventually sold much of his land to the Centinela-Inglewood Land Co., which shaped a township around the California Central Railroad depot.

As the city developed it became the site of several industries, including brick yards, chicken farms and millinery factories. In 1923, the city's vast chinchilla ranches earned it the title of "Chinchilla Capital of the World."

Since the early 1960s, Inglewood has changed from a predominantly white community to a city with a minority population of 80%.

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