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City Smart | Community Profile: Pico Rivera

November 15, 1996|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

Divided for years by disparate lifestyles, Pico and Rivera had nothing in common except proximity and citrus groves.

Before the 1958 civic merger of the verdant farmlands of Pico--named for Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California--and Rivera--named for its location between the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel rivers--the only physical dividing line between these culturally diverse enclaves was Mines Avenue, commonly referred to by residents as the "Mason-Dixon line."

Both cities had their origins in the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s as displaced farmers came in search of the Eden-like California promoted by land developers. Many of these "Okies" settled in Pico, north of Mines Avenue, where the citrus industry was booming. More affluent people tended to settle in Rivera.

Pico and Rivera were still small settlements after World War II when developers began buying up the orange, walnut and avocado groves and building 2,500-square-foot houses that sold for $8,000. Both towns still maintained their own business districts: Rivera's centered on Slauson Boulevard and Pico's on Whittier Boulevard, a section of the long trail known as El Camino Real blazed by Spanish missionaries.

Ford Motor Co.'s arrival in 1957 spurred a new round of growth, and the next year, the two towns incorporated as one.

As Ford prospered, inner-city residents moved into the new town of Pico Rivera in pursuit of the American dream. A job on the assembly line was a ticket into the blue-collar suburb. Second- and third-generation Latinos began moving in, foreshadowing the growth of the Latino population throughout the city. Today, 83% of the residents are Latino.

With thousands of new workers streaming into town, restaurants, liquor stores and other businesses sprang up along Washington Boulevard, while the city's core on Whittier Boulevard was viewed as if it were an aging movie star in need of a face-lift.

Ford was still the largest employer in town, with 1,600 jobs, when it decided to close its plant in 1980. In 1982, business picked up when Northrop Grumman Corp., riding a wave of new defense spending, moved into the old Ford plant to make B-2 Stealth bomber components. The taxes the plant paid fueled a redevelopment effort, transforming dreary Whittier Boulevard into a string of new shopping centers and strip malls.

But with recent defense budget cuts, Northrop, the city's economic heart, will soon be leaving. The company plans to turn over 200 acres of its property to the city in 1999.

The city that exemplifies life after the exodus of manufacturers is already looking at several options for the 200 acres. On is an ambitious, multimillion-dollar Las Americas Cultural Center, a theme park that would include re-creations of pre-Columbian civilization, a research-compatible aquarium and a rain forest simulation. An industrial park and a mega-mall are also being considered.

SIMPLE TIMES: The city had an amusement park once--during the Depression, workers of Pico and Rivera spent their weekend leisure time at Streamland Park. Children were entertained by pony and train rides, while others fished for trout in a nearby stream. The park existed into the 1960s. In 1980, Streamland's 37-acre dry riverbed was replaced by 227 new homes.

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By the Numbers

CITY BUSINESS

Date incorporated: January 29, 1958

Square miles: 8.4

Number of city parks: 7

City employees: 116 full time, 200 part time

1995-96 operating budget: 15 million

ETHNIC MAKEUP

Latino: 83%

White: 13%

Asian: 3%

Black: 1%

PEOPLE

Population: 59,177

Households: 16,003

Average hopusehold size: 4

Median age: 29

MONEY AND WORK

Median household income: $34,383

Median household income/LA County: $34,965

Median home value: $163,800

Employed (16 and older): 27,379

Percentage of women employed: 53%

Percentage of men employed: 74%

Self-employed: 1,164

Car-poolers: 4,879

FAMILIES

Married couple families with children: 38%

Married couple families with no children: 24%

Other types of families: 22%

Nonfamily households: 17%

RETAIL STORES

Total stores: 386

Total employees: 5,389

Annual sales: $399 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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