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City Smart | Community Profile: Cudahy

July 12, 1996|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

Oh, Cudahy, delightful spot,

With weather neither cold or hot,

Where scenic mountains are in view,

And ocean breezes fan us too.

Here golden sunsets close the day

On those who live in Cudahy.

--From "Cudahy," by Hugh M. Smith, 1940

Those are nice sentiments, but Cudahy is not only the most densely populated city west of the Mississippi, it is the nation's second-poorest suburb in per capita income.

On top of that, it is the second-smallest municipality in Los Angeles County. But Cudahy's leaders are eternally optimistic. The city's original motto, "The Only Way Is Up," was recently replaced by: "Businesses and Community United."

It wasn't always so. Cudahy was once a town of wide lawns and big gardens, a place where, into the 1950s, people rode horses on errands and owned goats to keep their big yards trim.

Cudahy (pronounced CUD-uh-hay) is tucked between the Los Angeles River and the railroad tracks, on the Long Beach Freeway and roughly equidistant from the booming Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

In 1893, a Chicago meatpacker named Michael Cudahy paid top dollar for 2,777 acres--$105.15 an acre--and began growing corn, sugar beets, alfalfa and potatoes.

In 1908, Cudahy subdivided the property into tracts of nearly one acre and sold them starting at $359. During the decades thereafter, small truck farms and big houses sprouted up. Simpler times inspired simple rhymes.

And thrifty orchards here abound,

Which ripen fruit the whole year round . . .

Where the old folks laugh and children play,

For life is great in Cudahy.

That was the case until the post-World War II housing crunch, when builders looked for wide open space and saw Cudahy.

The big homes on 105-by-395-foot lots gave way to apartment buildings and motels. Later, trailer parks grew up between businesses along Atlantic Avenue, Cudahy's commercial heart.

That, and other cities nibbling away its edges, prompted Cudahy to incorporate in 1960. In the 15 or 20 years afterward, though, the economics of development became irresistible. Today, there are 4,500 apartment or duplex units in the city's 1.07 square miles.

And the population has filled the new spaces. The growth in numbers was paralleled by a demographic change: From 1970 to 1980, the Latino population mushroomed from 26.7% to almost 90%.

In 1993, the crowded city--nearly 23,000 people living in one square mile--restricted new apartments, homes and duplexes to nine units per acre.

The city also is trying to attract more businesses. It now gets most of its money from sales tax, a Kmart shopping center, utility taxes and motor vehicle registration fees.

This poverty-stricken town has pumped what little it has into its park programs, a sports complex and a senior citizens center. In the 1980s, the city repaved its main thoroughfare, put down brick-laced sidewalks and buried utility wires. Atlantic Avenue will be spruced up with a landscaped median.

City officials believe developers will soon come back to change Cudahy, as they changed it once before--this time to take advantage of its prime shipping location and low-cost commercial land.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

By The Numbers

City Business

Incorporated: Nov. 10, 1960

Area in square miles: 1

Number of parks: 3

Ciy employees: 19 full time, 18 part time

1995-96 budget: $4 million

*

People

Population: 22,817

Households: 5,265

Average household size: 4

Median age: 23

*

Ethnic Breakdown

Asian: 1%

Black: 1%

Latino: 89%

White: 8%

Other: 1%

*

Money and Work Median household income: $22,279

Median household income / L.A. County: $34,965

Median home value: $160,800

Employed workers (16 and older): 9,406

Percentage of women employed: 47%

Percentage of men employed: 79%

Self-employed: 456

Car- poolers: 2,206

*

Retail Stores

Number of stores: 92

Number of employees: 714

Annual sales: $78 million

*

Families:

Married couples with children: 46%

Married couples with no children: 11%

Non-family households: 13%

Other types of families: 30%

Source: Claritas Inc. Household expenses are averages for 1994. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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