By Linda de Vries
Love Classical Choral Music? Think Chorale Bel Canto.
Seldom or never listen to Classical Choral Music? Think again.
On October 26, think the City of Downey.
Think Downey is too far to drive for just a concert? Think again.
“Destination . . . Chorale Bel Canto” posts several times in advance of each of our concerts, offering ideas for a different day trip to the city in which we’re singing, with a Chorale Bel Canto concert at the center of your experience. These trips appeal to a wide variety of interests and share fascinating, sometimes intricate, connections between the city and the music.
On October 26, 2014, Chorale Bel Canto is in Downey singing H.M.S. Pinafore with Opera A La Carte. Staged and costumed principals present Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic comic opera with Chorale Bel as the chorus of sailors and young ladies, accompanied by the Opera A La Carte orchestra.
For your day trip on this date, explore the Native Americans of this area before the concert.
The Tongva (also referred to as Awigna) are a Native American people who inhabited the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern Channel Islands at the time of the establishment of the Spanish missions in the 18th century. The Franciscan fathers called them Gabrieleño, Fernandeño, and Nicoleño.
The archeological evidence shows that the Tongva have been in southern California for about 8,000 years. Their remote ancestors are thought to have been either Shoshoni-speaking people who migrated southwest from Nevada or people who originated in the Sonoran Desert and moved north. The Tongva speak varieties of Takic, a Uto-Aztecan language that established itself about 2,000 years ago.
When the first Europeans arrived in the Los Angeles area in 1542, the Tongva, along with the neighboring Chumash, were the most powerful indigenous people to inhabit southern California, numbering somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in villages and built conical houses made of reeds, tule, and willows, called ki. They ate ducks, geese, rabbits, berries, seeds, nuts, and black honey made by burrowing bees. They built canoes, caulked with tar from the La Brea Tar Pits, canoes that could hold up to 12 people and that allowed them to trade widely.
Mrs. James Rosemeyre (née Narcisa Higuera),
photographed here in 1905, one of the last fluent Tongva speakers.
It was not until the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was founded on September 8, 1771 that assimilation of the native population really began. The Tongva were quickly Christianized, although they did at times resist Spanish rule, such as in the 1785 rebellion led by the female chief Toypurina.
They were, however, forced to assimilate when, in 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain and mission land became ranchos. Then when California became a state, treaties were signed with the United States government granting over eight million acres to the Tongva, but the treaties were never ratified. By 1900 their language was almost extinct, so that only partial records of Tongva culture survive and only a reconstructed language is spoken.
Since 2006, four groups have claimed to represent the Tongva Nation, the split being the result of the question of establishing a gambling casino: the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe (the “hyphen group”), the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe (the “slash group”), the Gabrieleño/Tongva Tribal Council, and the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians. The latter group disavows the name Tongva and refers to themselves as Kizh, a name that goes back to 1846, when the term was used to designate the language and their word for “house.”
There are several sites in southern California that the Tongva consider sacred ground: The Kuruvungna Springs on the site of a former village, now the campus of University High School in West Los Angeles; Puyungna, believed to be the birthplace of the Tongva prophet Chingishnish and the place of creation, the site of a former village that contains an active spring, now the grounds of California State University, Long Beach, a portion of which is on the National Register of Historic Places; Sheldon Reservoir in Pasadena; Los Encinos State Historical Park in Encino.
The Tongva heritage is seen in place names such as Pacoima, Tujunga, Topanga, Rancho Cucamonga, Azusa, and Cahuenga, and in Tongva Peak in the Verdugo Mountains in Glendale and the Gabrielino Trail in the Angeles National Forest.Loyola Marymount University has an extensive collection of archival materials related to the Tongva, as well as a garden museum dedicated to their history. Today, though, you can get to know more about the Tongva on your way to the concert in Downey.
Morning. Begin your day at Heritage Park in nearby Santa Fe Springs, located at 12100 Mora Drive, 562-946-6476. The Park is open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. It is closed on major holidays.
The Tongva settlements nearest Downey appear to have been just north and northeast of today’s City, although it is difficult to locate them precisely. Present-day Los Nietos seems to have been the location of the Naxaaw’nga and Sehat villages, while the Chokiishuga and Huutnga villages may have been in the area north of Downey between the San Gabriel River and the Rio Hondo.
Here in Heritage Park you can experience what life might have been like in those villages in an exhibit sheltered among the trees on the Park’s west side. Wandering the path next to the stream in the Tongva Exhibit will take you back in time.
There are many other features to delight you in Heritage Park. You are greeted at the entrance by a Railroad Exhibit featuring “No. 870,” a vintage Acheson, Topeka and Santa Fe steam locomotive, complete with a refrigerated boxcar and caboose. The Railroad Exhibit, open daily from 12:00-4:00 p.m., reminds visitors that Santa Fe Springs developed because of two railroad lines. The town of Fulton Wells was so thrilled to have a railroad built through in the 1870s that it changed its name to Santa Fe Springs! The exhibit also includes two meeting rooms, a picnic area, and a rose garden.
Heritage Park also features a Carriage Barn, once used to house horses and carriages. It is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 12:00-4:00 p.m. Built in 1880 by a gent from Missouri named Eli Hawkins, the Barn was reconstructed in 1987 based on an old photograph. Titled “When the Air was Pure and Money Grew on Trees,” the exhibit shows how life was lived shortly before and after the turn of the 20th century. It is divided into sections that illustrate transportation (Horse and Buggy Days), education (Little Lake School Days), farming (A Living from the Land), homemaking (Keeping a Home), and recreation and technology (Inventing a Better Life). It also includes the Santa Fe Springs Mercantile, a four-passenger surrey, a timeline, and an interactive display for your little ones.
You can also see a restored Tankhouse and Windmill that once provided power to the property. It was constructed in Carpenter Gothic style to match the Carriage Barn. It has a marvelous view from the top.
Next to the Carriage Barn are the ruins of the Mexican Adobe built by Patricio Ontiveros, where you can see the home’s foundation and trash pit. This rancho was the original property on which Heritage Park now stands.
The Park also contains Hawkins’ Plant Conservatory and a Bird Aviary added around 1916 by the estate’s last private owner, Margaret Slusher.
Lunch. Heritage Park has a café, but it is open only Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but you might want to picnic here. Or, you might want to make your way to one of the mid-century retro eateries in Downey and take a look at today’s concert town.
The 1953 “Speedee” McDonald’s restaurant that stands at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. (at Florence Ave.) was the third McDonald’s built and is the oldest surviving building of the chain. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald prior to Ray Kroc joining the company. It maintains its original 30-foot “golden arches” and a 60-foot animated neon “Speedee” sign.
Lacking a drive-up window and indoor seating and following severe damage in the Northridge earthquake, it was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 1994 list of the 11 most Endangered Historic Places. Owing to the public’s demand to save the restaurant, however, McDonald’s spent two years restoring its Googie-style architecture. Today, you can visit this historic restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.
Johnie's Broiler (originally Harvey's Broiler) was a drive-in restaurant and coffee shop built in 1958 in the Googie style of architecture. In 1968, renowned writer Tom Wolfe published his collection of articles titled The Pump House Gang, containing the article “The Hair Boys,” which immortalized the cruising, car, and fashion scene surrounding Harvey’s Broiler. Wolfe’s drawings of the habitués of the Broiler appear in his later book, The Purple Decades. The restaurant can also be seen in many movies and TV episodes, as well as music videos starring Bob Dylan and Madonna.
Following its 50s heyday, the Broiler fell on hard times. Closed in 2001, it became a used car lot. In 2007 the lessees began illegal demotion that the City was able to stop, but not before significant damage was done.
In April 2008, Jim Louder, owner of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Torrance, California, entered into a long-term lease agreement with the owner of Johnie's Broiler, rebuilding it as Bob’s Big Boy Broiler and incorporating its surviving architectural elements. It is located at
7447 Firestone Blvd., 562-928-2627.
Afternoon. You might possibly want to head over to Downey and spend some time at another park, the Meredith H. Perkins Skate Park at Independence Park, 12334 Bellflower Blvd., in Downey. Skating is available all year round, with helmets, knee and elbow pads required at all times. The park is over Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Or, you might want to take a brief driving tour of some of the sites in Downey. You may drive by the first Taco Bell restaurant, opened by Glen Bell in Downey on March 21, 1962 at 7112 Firestone Blvd. The building retains its original look, but is no longer a Taco Bell.
Next, drive by Downey High School at 11040 Brookshire Ave. Many celebrities were born in Downey and attended Downey High. One such is James Hetfield of the thrash metal band Metallica. Hetfield was inducted into the Downey High School Hall of Fame in 2011. Many other musical figures attended Warren High School at 8141 De Palma Street.
Continuing your driving tour, your can view the former homes of The Carpenters. The family of Karen and Richard Carpenter, who became famous as a singing duo, moved to Downey from Connecticut in 1963. Their first lodging was in an apartment complex at 12020 Downey Avenue, first #22 and then #23. Karen and Richard bought a house for the family with their earnings, a house at 9828 Newville Avenue, pictured on their album, Now and Then. Then in 1973 Richard bought a house for his family at 8341 Lubec Street. Lastly, Richard and his family lived in a house at 9386 Raviller Drive.
Paul A. Bigsby, the father of the modern electric solid-body guitar (1948) and creator of the Bigsby vibrato built his guitars at 8114 Phlox Street.
Numerous other musicians hail from Downey:
- Weird Al Yankovic, musician and satirist, was born in Downey and raised in nearby Lynwood
- Eddie Cochran, the rockabilly musician, lived in Downey
- Donovan Frankenreiter was born in Downey, as was Allison Iraheta, American Idol season eight contestant
- Dave Alvin and his brother Phil founded the Downey-based rockabilly band the Blasters and recorded on the Downey label, as did the Chantays and Barry White
- Mary Ford moved to Downey to live with her brothers and sisters following her divorce from Les Paul
4:00. Head to the Downey Civic Theatre at 8435 Firestone Blvd. and listen to Chorale Bel Canto in H.M.S. Pinafore.
Dinner. In keeping with the British nautical theme, you might want to head back to Santa Fe Springs and dine at Maggie’s Pub, 11900 Telegraph Rd., 562-944-5399. In keeping with the Victorian setting of Pinafore, you might choose the Victoria and Albert Special at the Pub. Still in the realm of the sea, you might remain in Downey and eat at Pacific Fish Grill at 8262 Firestone Blvd., 562-869-9911.