Construction of the Century Freeway meant the elimination of 7,000 houses and businesses and the displacement of about 20,000 people.
To compensate for this upheaval, a federal judge ordered that 3,700 of the housing units--apartments, condominiums and single-family homes--be replaced in what may be the largest housing replenishment program ever attempted in the United States.
The replacement housing was to be built within a "primary zone" six miles north and south of the 17.3-mile freeway route--a vast area that stretches from Whittier on the east to El Segundo and Manhattan Beach on the west, from Culver City, Vernon and Montebello on the north to Torrance, Lakewood, Buena Park and Cypress on the south.
As the freeway project approaches the halfway point, between 1,000 and 1,100 housing units have been completed in 25 different locations at a cost of about $170 million. They range in size from a group of six town houses in Norwalk to a 100-unit apartment complex in Hawthorne.
Those displaced by the freeway get first crack at the new housing, followed by people on local housing authority waiting lists and then by the general public. In early October, the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which runs the housing program, reported that 373 displacees and 316 non-displacees were living in Century Freeway housing units.
Since right-of-way acquisition began in the late 1960s and the first Century Freeway housing units did not become available until 1983, most displacees took lump-sum payments from Caltrans and moved to new apartments or houses. Even when Century Freeway housing became a viable option, most displacees still chose to take the cash payments and move elsewhere.
One reason displacees are reluctant to buy Century Freeway replacement condominiums is a requirement that for 20 years they can only be sold to the state, not on the open market.
Rentals and sale prices vary widely because they depend on income. Rentals range from $43 to $700 per month, according to housing agency officials, while condominiums and rehabilitated single-family homes have sold for as little as $10,000 and for as much as $84,113.
Some Century Freeway buyers and renters are happy with their new accommodations, others are not.
Here are some of their stories:
- Kristine Tinnermon, 38, moved into a two-bedroom apartment in the 26-unit Fonthill Villas apartment complex in Hawthorne in June, 1986, because the apartments "looked real nice" and the $469 monthly rental was just about what she had been paying to rent a three-bedroom house in a less desirable neighborhood in Inglewood.
In August, 1987, a fire triggered the sprinklers in Tinnermon's apartment and they stayed on for three hours, drenching her carpets, drapes and furniture. No repairs have been made, although Tinnermon has appealed to the apartment house manager, the company that manages the units and the Century Freeway Housing Program.
In September, Tinnermon stopped paying rent, informing Cadre Associates, the management firm, in a letter that she would not pay "until my apartment is repaired and fit for human occupance again." She received no reply and said no attempt has been made to collect her rent.
"When I moved in here, I thought I was lucky," Tinnermon said. "The apartment was nice and it was centrally located to my job and to El Camino College, where my daughter goes to school. What a mistake I made!"
- Alice Zenger, 72, is a widow, an Anglo who also lives at the Fonthill Villas apartments and spends much of her time fighting with her black neighbors who, she says, play loud music, hold all-night parties and bang on her walls in the wee hours of the morning.
When Zenger complained to her next-door neighbor about noise, the woman "swore at me--such profanity I never heard! So I smacked her good. Then she shoved me against the (third-floor) balcony and I smacked her again. The cops came but they just told us to be nice."
House Was Razed
Zenger's small house in Lennox was razed to make way for the Century Freeway and she now pays only $67 a month for this neat, clean, one-bedroom apartment. She keeps a long steel bar by the front door to fend off attacks by her neighbors who, she says, are trying to force her to move.
"Why should I leave?" Zenger asked. "I thought this was supposed to be for (freeway) displacees. I can't afford anything else. I'm not going anywhere."
- Carol and Michael Banks, who bought a two-bedroom town house in Norwalk for slightly more than $22,000, tell a happier story.
The apartment they were renting in Paramount was in the freeway's path, so they were given $500 moving money and, later, a chance to buy this pleasant, two-story condominium. The monthly mortgage payment is about the same as the Paramount rental had been and there is more room for the Bankses and their two children.