In the 1800’s, Downey was one of many towns to spring up along the thousands of miles of trails to the west. The city derived its name from John Gately Downey, an Irish immigrant who had come to California during the Gold Rush, and succeeded to Governor of California. He helped build the economic foundation of Southern California, effecting a transition from open cattle range to an agricultural district of small farms.
In November 1859, Downey and his former drugstore partner, James McFarland, bought the 17,602 acre Rancho Santa Gertrudes for a mere $60,000. In 1873, a 96-acre parcel of the plot became the central district of a community called “Downey City,” an area with a favorable climate, fertile soil and abundant water sources.
In April of 1874, the people of Downey City heard the first whistle of a Southern Pacific train lumbering into town. The extension of the Southern Pacific Railroad through Downey played a pivotal role in bringing people throughout the country to the city to reap the potential business and agricultural benefits of the land. Plots of land were sold at a quick pace, and a bustling business center was created at the northwest corner of Crawford and Front Streets (Downey Avenue and Firestone Boulevard).
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many Downey pioneers had achieved success in business and politics within the city and the surrounding Los Angeles County. The downtown Downey area contained a Sunkist packing plant, a department store, banks, restaurants and mercantile shops. Downey remained largely agrarian until the development of the local aircraft industry during the post-World War II years, with light industry and tract homes replacing orange groves. The city was one of the first suburban “planned communities” with quality homes, schools and retail centers.
Today, Downey is an ideal home base from which to take advantage of the business resources and cultural activities offered in Southern California. Of the 750-plus retail stores, approximately 100 are located in the central business district: 90 are in Stonewood Shopping Center and the remainder are distributed throughout more than 35 neighborhood centers.
As a full-service city, Downey has its own police and fire departments. Outstanding recreational and library programs provide social activities for all ages. Almost 100 acres have been devoted to 11 city parks. Local schools, city programs and protective services have set standards insuring an exceptional quality of life for Downey residents of today and tomorrow.