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Historic 1952-53 Aerial Images of Bellflower, California

Here I offer up some aerial photographs taken by the US Department of Agriculture of Bellflower, California. Depending on the location, they were taken in either 1952 or 1953. Be warned that unless you are one of the maybe three readers of this website from Bellflower this will likely be a grand and glorious waste of your time. Of course, that is what the Internet IS for, n’est-ce pas?

Umm…So like, why?? WTF are these doing here? Good question. Well….OK question.

Several of my various stupid projects required obtaining historic aerial images of assorted locations. So for some time I’ve used an excellent website called Historic Aerials by NETR online. They make it easy to search for and purchase historic aerial photographs and topo maps of many parts of the US. They aren’t necessarily cheap, but hey, they are obtainable.

Although I’m sure the city would prefer it not be known, I happened to spend my deformative years in Bellflower. The place provided many avenues of adventure and exploration for an obnoxious kid like myself. In high school I even developed an interest in the history of the town and managed to find a couple of obscure books on the city (Kids, this was in the dark time before the Internet where you had to go to places called “libraries” and look at scribblings on pieces of dead trees). Bellflower was a decent place to grow up in and to be from, but I definitely prefer its very distant view in the rear view mirror of my life.

So….not long ago I got curious and decided to see what images NETR had available in regards to Bellflower. Turns out they had some good quality aerial photographs circa 1952 and 1953, just ever-so-slightly before I ended up in town. It was interesting seeing how well they matched with my distant childhood memories. I thought it might be an interesting project to assemble a composite aerial of most of the city (although it didn’t actually become a city until 1957) and post it online for whoever might want it, finding their way here via the All Seeing Google. I am, after all, a giver.

Some syllables of technogeekery…..I obtained the original images as scanned tif files. The imagery westerly of Woodruff Avenue was taken in 1952 and the imagery easterly of Woodruff Avenue was taken in 1953 (I don’t have the exact dates). That split the city in two. I then had to acquire each East-West half of the city as two individual North-South pieces. Thus I ended up with the city divided into four quadrants of images. I cropped and joined the four quadrants, editing as tifs (which is pretty lossless), and annotated the major streets. I exported the final product as a tif, png and a jpg then compared them. To my surprise there wasn’t a huge quality difference between the file types. I think it’s due to the quality limitations of the original images and their scanning. Anyway, since the jpgs are such smaller files than the tifs, I’m posting the jpgs. But just know that you’re missing very little. The only fooling I did with the images was a slight adjustment to improve the contrast range. I’m far from adept at this sort of thing but it seemed to turn out reasonably well. Or so the voices in my head tell me.

The boundaries of the overall Bellflower image are Rosecrans Avenue on the North, Lakewood Boulevard on the West, the San Gabriel River on the East and Ashworth Street at the South. If you wish to download the image by right clicking on it (and you are welcome to do so) it’s just over 2 megabytes in size.

Bellflower, California - Circa 1952/53

Bellflower, California – Circa 1952/53

Random, possibly interesting things I’ve noted from my examination of the images, your mileage may vary:
• A lot of ruralocity and agriculture still going on in the northerly portions of the city. Rosecrans is built to its full width between Clark and Bellflower Boulevard but doesn’t seem to quite connect to either. And there appear to be a number of dairies still remaining on the south side of Maplewood Street.
• May Thompson School and Washington Junior High have newly arrived.
• No Ernie Pyle school yet.
• The future Bellflower Golf Course is still an agricultural field.
• Bellflower Boulevard looks pretty much like it always has.
• I’m not completely sure, but it appears the old Bellflower Library on Flower Street is there.

And then there’s this: Bellflower High School and Bellflower Airport

The 1953 image below is a portion of the original I’ve extracted and enhanced a bit. The west half shows the very newly built Bellflower High School campus with its massive gymnasium. It must have looked like a helluva sight in this semi-rural area. And look at all the cars in the student parking lot! It’s 1953…..Our lying parents claimed they walked to school in the snow. Clearly not.

Bellflower High School and Bellflower Airport, 1953

Bellflower High School and Bellflower Airport, 1953

And what do you want to have right across the street from a new high school? How ’bout an airport? Yes, Bellflower once had an airport. Its two parallel north-south runways are between the high school on the left and the San Gabriel River on the right. There are quite a few planes parked at the southerly end of the airport. ‘Twas a happening place!

The airport was there beginning around 1946 and closed probably less than a year after this 1953 image. Why? Neighbors complaining about noise, of course. Some things never change. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I’d want to be living in any of the squeaky new homes on the south side of Fairton Street at the north end of those runways. The idea of looking out my kitchen window and seeing an airplane coming right at me would get a bit old.

To read more about the Bellflower Airport, have a look at its writeup on the “Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields” website. Hours of fun to be found there.

For those of you using Google Earth, below are 4 links to kmz files that cover all quadrants of Bellflower and then some. If you download each of the links on to your computer, you should be able to open the kmz files directly in Google Earth. Doing this puts each 1952/53 image exactly where it should be in Google Earth, laid on top of today’s imagery without you having to do anything (I like stuff where I don’t have to do anything). The downside is that the png files contained within the kmz files have been downsampled a bit and aren’t quite as high a resolution as the original historic images. Don’t blame me for this as Google Earth seems hellbent on doing this and I can’t seem to find a way to stop it.

NW quadrant of Bellflower
NE quadrant of Bellflower
SE quadrant of Bellflower
SW quadrant of Bellflower

And here’s something cool you can do with Google Earth. In the left hand sidebar window, find the name of the image overlay you are currently looking at. Right click on it and a pop-up menu will appear. At the bottom of this menu is “Properties”. Click on it and another pop-up will appear. On this you’ll see a Transparency Slider which lets you change the transparency of the historic image from fully clear to completely opaque. This allows you to easily compare the differences between 1952/53 Bellflower and present day and is endlessly amusing. Well, OK, maybe 45 seconds of amusement. End of today’s Google Earth lesson.

BTW, the four Google Earth image overlays do extend quite a bit beyond the boundaries of the composite aerial I created. They also include the westerly part of Dairy Valley (I always liked that name better than “Cerritos”) and the northerly portion of Lakewood.

So, I hope this ends up being useful to someone, or at least amusing. Its creation was a fun exercise.

Addendum as of 12/27/2017

In my many travels within the Interwebz, I managed to come across an even older aerial pic of Bellflower, taken May 28, 1938. Quite a bit more rural than the 1953 pic, but it was before the post-war boom. Other than the downtown core along Bellflower Boulevard, it’s a mostly agricultural community. Judging from all the similar white spots in the fields, it must have been some sort of harvest time, but I’m at a loss to figure out exactly what the white things are. As usual, I added street names to make it less confusing.

Bellflower, California as of May 24, 1938 (Courtesy of the UC Santa Barbara Library)