Places we’ve called home: Downey CA (1951-1958, Anna)

We recently started a project to write about places we’ve lived during our lifetimes. We expect that the project might take a year or more to complete.

This is a “migration” and “Christmas” story with a happy ending. The first part of the story happened on Christmas Eve, 1951, which is now 70 years ago. These events and places are still very near and dear to my heart.

7637 Noren St, Downey, California, 1955
7637 Noren St, Downey, California, 1955

The house in the photo above, taken in 1955, was my home from about 1952 through 1958, when I graduated from high school and entered UCLA.

However, the story of my “Downey” years actually begins in 1951, when I migrated with my parents from Michigan to Southern California.

My mom and I with some of our friends and fellow migrants
My mom and I with some of our friends and fellow migrants. The woman and boy on the right drove with us on our second trip to California, in the summer of 1952.

During my years of doing genealogy I’ve become convinced that most migrations consist of factors that are both pushing and pulling the people involved.

That’s how it was with us. Although we had a lovely home on the St. Clair River in Marysville, Michigan, and a large group of beloved friends and family members, there were also a number of tragedies and difficulties during the last couple of our years in Michigan.

These were the major “push” factors:

  • There were numerous labor issues involving my dad’s union, him and his coworkers, and their employer, the Mueller Brass Company.
  • My maternal grandfather got cancer and died.
  • My parents were joyfully expecting their second child, my little brother, Teddy, but he died at birth.
  • My half-brother Bill and his family sold their house, which was located next-door to ours, and moved closer to Detroit. My dad didn’t approve of the sale, move, and change of employment, and the father-son relationship had turned tense.
  • Neither my mother nor my dad had, since their marriage, been fully accepted into their spouse’s extended family, and they were feeling pinched and rejected.

And then there were the most important “pull” factors:

  • An offer of full employment at top wages in sunny California in the booming post-World War II, Cold War economy
  • Encouragement from a group of friends and former co-workers to accept the employment offer
  • A strong desire to eliminate, or at least lessen, the tensions “back home” by starting a new life somewhere else

In the summer of 1951, my parents bought a second car and my dad drove, by himself (on old Route 66) to the Los Angeles area. He roomed with Dutch friends in Santa Monica. My mom and I stayed behind while he tried out the new job and location.

My dad's Dutch friend and the house in Santa Monica where he stayed during 1951
My dad’s Dutch friend and the house in Santa Monica where he stayed during 1951

Late in 1951, after my parents decided that the move was a go, my mom, Aunt Betty (my dad’s older sister), and I started out, also driving, but on a more southerly route. It was already December and getting cold and stormy all along the way. We were determined to make it to Santa Monica, where my dad had rented a small apartment, by Christmas.

We drove up to the apartment, which was located on 14th Street, on Christmas Eve, into the arms of my beloved dad, who was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk outside, worried that we had gotten lost on the last few miles of our journey. Of course, there were no cell phones or “Find My Friends” apps in those days to help us connect!

It turned out to be a magical place for all of us. Aunt Betty loved the warm weather, my parentsĀ  loved the ocean and walked down by Pacific Palisades almost every day, and I had a new, challenging school experience with lots of support from new friends.

In the spring of 1952, my mom, Aunt Betty, and I drove back to Michigan, and my mom put our house up for sale and started packing. On the way back to California in the summer our travel companions were the wife and son (pictured above) of another of my dad’s coworkers.

When we arrived back in Santa Monica on that second trip, we stayed for a few weeks in the Red Apple Motel. We were there for the 7.3 Kern County earthquake on July 21, 1952. I slept through it, but it made a big impression on the adults.

My parentsĀ had promised me a dog, and we adopted Frosty from the Humane Society. I also went to Girl Scout camp in the Malibu hills with some of my 6th-grade friends from Santa Monica.

Then we rented a house on Florence Avenue, In Downey, which is southeast of Los Angeles, while my parents looked for a house to buy.

Anna with puppy Frosty in the back yard on Florence Ave
Anna with puppy Frosty in the back yard on Florence Ave

At the end of the summer, just before I started the 7th grade at North Junior High School, we bought our house on Noren Street.

Moving from Florence Ave to Noren St
Moving from Florence Ave to Noren St

The migration took about a year from start to finish. Although we all missed our family and friends in Michigan, the change was generally positive for all of us. And, of course, over the years we had lots of company in our new sunny Paradise, including some who came and stayed!

Front porch of Noren St
Front porch of Noren St