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CITY SMART | Community Profile: Commerce

September 06, 1996|MAKI BECKER

It has a name evoking visions of giant manufacturing plants and fast freeways zigzagging through the landscape, but this city is also dotted with clusters of tightknit suburban neighborhoods.

Perhaps best recognized for the Citadel, the mega-mall of factory outlet stores visible from the Santa Ana Freeway, the city of Commerce is home to 1,800 businesses, including a casino, and 12,141 residents, all sharing 6.6 square miles of land.

But Commerce was not always a mecca of industrial warehouses.

Originally controlled by Indians, the land was claimed by Spanish missionaries in 1771 as part of the San Gabriel Mission's region. The land was later obtained by a Spaniard, then by a settler from New England and finally by the Bandini family.

In the early part of this century, large industrial plants started cropping up. Chrysler, B.F. Goodrich, Uniroyal Rubber and Sampson Tire were some of the biggest.

In 1959, a coalition of residents and business owners banded together to fight off annexation by neighboring cities, which would have resulted in higher property taxes. After a series of petition drives, public hearings and an election, Commerce was incorporated on Jan. 28, 1960, becoming the 67th city in Los Angeles County.

But starting in the 1970s, the old factories were closed one by one and replaced by lighter manufacturing and industry, such as distribution warehouses for products from groceries to clothing. As auto manufacturing jobs disappeared, the demographics of Commerce changed, from predominantly Anglo to mostly Latino.

The Citadel is housed in what was once the Uniroyal tire plant. The factory closed in 1978 after about 50 years of tire manufacturing, and remained boarded up until developers revamped the 35-acre facility.

It was transformed in November 1990 into a mammoth mall of factory outlet stores, such as Geoffrey Beene, Gap and United Colors of Benetton. Its 1,700-foot front wall, decorated with relief statues of kings and griffins, is a landmark for freeway commuters. Built in 1929, the Assyrian-style architecture was inspired by the Palace of Sargon in the ancient city of Khorsabad.

Though the city is known known for commerce, residents say that what they like is the small-town atmosphere and perks such as free bus rides.

"We have a fantastic parks [system]," said Val Bassett, 75, who has lived in the same house in Commerce for nearly half a century. All activities for youngsters at the parks are free, she said, even uniforms for sports teams.

James Groves, 76, another longtime resident, said his favorite thing about Commerce is the tax rate. "Many times, it's the lowest in the county," he likes to point out.

Commerce Tidbit

A LOCAL LANDMARK: Stevens' Steak and Seafood House, on Stevens Place, is a local landmark and often the site of Democratic candidates' fund-raisers. Owner Jim Filipan calls it the "the Cheers of Commerce." The restaurant was heavily damaged by a fire last year but was reopened in December after about $1 million in renovations.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

By the Numbers

CITY BUSINESS

Date incorporated: Jan. 28, 1960

Area in square miles: 6.6

Number of parks: 4

Number of city employees: 155 fulltime; 220 part time

1995-96 operating budget: $31 million

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ETHNIC MAKEUP

Latino: 90.7%

White: 6.8%

Asian: 1.0%

Black: .7%

Am. Indian: .5%

Other: .4%

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PEOPLE

Population: 12,141

Households: 3,251

Average hopusehold size: 4

Median age: 28

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MONEY AND WORK

Median household income: $27,415

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

Median home value: $150,600

Employed workers (16 and older): 5,244

Women in labor force: 45%

Men in labor force: 76%

Self-employed: 162

Car-poolers: 849

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FAMILIES

Married couple families with children: 38%

Married couple families with no children: 18%

Other types of families: 23%

Nonfamily households: 21%

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1989 HOUSEHOLD INCOME:

$0 to $14,999: 31%

$15,000 to $24,999: 13%

$25,000 to $49,999: 37%

$50,000 to $74,999: 13%

$75,000 to $99,999: 5%

$100,000 or more: 2%

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COMMERCE RETAIL STORES

Total stores: 297

Total employees: 5,444

Annual sales: $549 million

Source: Claritas Inc. retail figures are for 1995. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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