Known as the Hub City because of its location in nearly the exact geographical center of Los Angeles County, the City of Compton is one of the oldest cities in the county and the eighth to incorporate. The territory was settled in 1867 by a band of 30 pioneering families, who were led to the area by Griffith Dickenson Compton. These families had wagon-trained south from Stockton, California in search of ways to earn a living other than in the rapidly depleting gold fields.
Cold, heavy rains greeted the settlers soon after their arrival, and a devastating flood threatened to wipe out the community before it even got started. The rising waters forced the Compton party to take to high ground. Confronted with such powerful forces of nature, many in the Compton party considered trying to find a more suitable location to set down roots. In the end, however, the families decided to stay, and they immediately began to purchase blocks of land in the Temple and Gibson Tract. The 4,600 acres of land that they purchased from F.P.F. Temple and F.W. Gibson for five dollars an acre had originally been the northeast portion of the territory known as Rancho San Pedro, which was granted to Juan Jose Dominguez by the Spanish Crown.
Compton’s early settlers faced severe hardship as they tilled the earth to scratch out a meager existence. The weather was cold and wet, and fuel was scarce. Gathering firewood required a three day-trip to the mountains near Pasadena. Also, in the early years there were only two general stores in the area: one in the pueblo of Los Angeles, the other in Wilmington. Both were miles away and required a lengthy trek either by foot or horseback.
Despite hardships, by the end of 1868 the settlers began to look to the future. They built a schoolhouse, which also served as a church and a center for civic gatherings. The settlement became known as Compton in 1869. Originally named Gibsonville, after one of the tract owners, it was later called Comptonville. However, to avoid confusion with the Comptonville located in Yuba County, the name was shortened to Compton.
By 1887, the settlers felt the need for improved local government. They held a series of town meetings to discuss the possibility of incorporation. In January 1888, they forwarded a petition supporting the incorporation of Compton to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who in turn forwarded the petition to the State Legislature.
The petition named Thomas R. Dowles, William H. Carpenter, James J. Harsman, George H. Palmer and Randolph Sherer as members of the first City Council.The area to be incorporated included all the land one mile east and west of Wilmington Avenue (now Willowbrook Avenue), and from Greenleaf on the south to a quarter mile north of Rosecrans.
The City of Compton was officially incorporated on May 11, 1888. The new city, with a population of 500 people, held its first City Council meeting on May 14, 1888 in the home of William H. Carpenter.
Voters approved adoption of a new municipal charter, which provided for the city manager form of government.
Citizens celebrated opening of the Compton Airport.
Compton Junior College was established.
City administration moved to a new City Hall located at 600 N. Alameda Street.
On March 10, 1933, a devastating earthquake took lives, toppled schools and caused major damage to the main business district.
The city began to shed the effects of the Great Depression of 1929, and the population increased.
Like Americans everywhere, the Compton residents participated in civilian and military efforts during World War II.
The first African American families moved to the area. Centennial High School was built to accommodate a growing student population.
Voters elected Douglas Dollarhide, the City’s first African American mayor. Two African Americans and one Mexican American were elected to the school board.
Under the direction of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the City transformed over 1500 acres of unused and underutilized land into Walnut Industrial Park. This industrial and commercial complex houses some of the largest national and international corporations, including 3-M, Datsun, Ralphs and Xerox.
With routing of the Blue Line through the City, Compton constructed the MLK Jr. Transit Center. The center serves as a central resting point for bus transit carriers, with emphasis on interfacing with the Long Beach/Los Angeles Metro Blue Line System, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Greyhound Bus Lines and the Compton Renaissance Transit.
Other construction projects of this time period included construction of a new City Hall at 205 South Willowbrook Avenue, construction of the Crystal Park Hotel and Casino (formerly Ramada Hotel and Convention Center), rebuilding of the downtown district, and construction of several hundred single-family homes, town homes and condominiums.
Compton greeted the 21st century as a multiracial, multicultural community of nearly 100,000 residents. The 2000 census recorded 56.8% of the population as Hispanic or Latino; 40.3 percent, Black or African American; 1.1%, Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 0.7% Native American or Alaskan Native, and the balance Asian, White or other race.
Compton’s easy accessibility to and from five freeways and the affordability of its housing (median home price was $407,000 in December 2006) has drawn additional residents and sparked the interest of developers. In the first few years of the century, developers constructed over 100 new homes and built a new Rite Aide, Wells Fargo Bank, two Starbucks, and a number of retail/commercial centers. The burgeoning student population required the Compton Unified School District to construct William F. Jefferson Elementary School, the first new school in the district in 35 years.
In February 2007, construction began on the Gateway Towne Center, a 51-acre mixed-use commercial/residential project on Alameda Boulevard that will include a Target, Staples, 24-Hour Fitness, Marshalls, Home Depot, and Chili’s, among others. The center is expected to open in October 2007. Construction has also begun on 136 condominium units in a gated, mixed use complex on Tamarind Avenue.