George Redfox, photography teacher at Downey’s Warren High School, is accustomed to preserving moments in time with the click of a camera. But his love of local history led him to take a deeper exploration into the city’s physical structures, and create the Downey Conservancy in 2010.
“It’s exciting to walk in old houses and buildings, and think about what happened in those rooms,” said Redfox. “We recognized a few years ago that many people do not know the history behind Downey’s early structures, so we wanted to start capturing that story and educating residents.”
The community-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting and supporting the preservation of the culturally and historically significant resources of the City of Downey with a special focus on its “built” structures.
Downey’s birth dates back to the late 1800’s with early Spanish settlers, and later grew into a farming community. After World War II, it took shape as a suburban neighborhood with middle-class families, many of whom worked at Rockwell International to support the aircraft and space industries.
Redfox notes Downey is quite famous for its historical fast-food presence.
In 1953, the third McDonald’s restaurant was built in Downey, and today is the oldest original McDonald’s in the country. The Johnie’s Broiler drive-in restaurant and coffee shop, which has been featured in movies and sitcoms, was built in 1958. And in 1962, the very first Taco Bell started serving the popular fast-food Mexican fare. The original Taco Bell structure was later used by a different taco company, but closed in December 2014.
Outside the restaurant scene, the Conservancy is also in the final stages of securing the city’s Molly Pitcher Estates a spot on the California Register of Historic Places. An estimated 42 Ranch-style homes, built in the 1950s, ushered in the predominance of front-facing garages with the rise of the automobile.
The Conservancy wants to ensure these early homes, designed by legendary designer Otto Hansen, are recognized for their architectural contribution, and protected for future generations.
“If all passes, the property values in that area will likely see a 20 to 40 percent increase,” said Redfox. “And we’ll make sure the original look of these homes remain intact for years to come.”
While the Conservancy is still young, Redfox notes the community is increasingly becoming aware of its presence and joining the group’s Facebook community, and also the Conservancy itself. Membership is free, but donations are encouraged.
“It’s refreshing to see our community care so deeply about preservation,” said LA County Supervisor Don Knabe. “While Los Angeles and its many surrounding cities are young compared to many parts of the country, we have some remarkable landmarks and structures. I’m thankful we have citizens documenting these pieces of history and ensuring many generations can enjoy the structures in the years ahead.”
To learn more about the Downey Conservancy, visit thedowneyconservancy.org.