L.A. County Was Once the Dairy Capital of America — Then Came Urbanization

Closed Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, Lincoln Heights
Closed Alta-Dena Drive Thru Dairy, Lincoln Heights

Dairies like Broguiere's, the Huell Howser favorite that now faces an uncertain future, are a dying breed in Los Angeles County. But it wasn't always this way. Following the recent uproar over the potential closure of Broguiere's in Montebello, we decided to take a deep dive into this rich history. 

Records show women were making butter and cheese at the San Gabriel Mission as early as 1776. By the 1930s and ’40s, dairies had flourished in outlying areas including the South Bay, the San Gabriel Valley and the San Fernando Valley, which boasted 75 dairies in 1935, including the huge Adohr Farms Dairy at Ventura and Lindley in Tarzana.

But after World War II, urbanization and rapid housing development began to push out dairies, as residents didn’t exactly care for the byproduct of cows and resultant flies. This led to a huge concentration of dairies in the southeast portion of the county. The cities of Downey, Norwalk, Bellflower, Paramount, Artesia and Cerritos earned the nickname “L.A.’s Milk Shed,” with hundreds of dairies and 100,000 cows. Faced with encroaching development, dairymen formed and incorporated their own city — known as Dairy Valley — which passed zoning laws that were beneficial to dairying.

At the time of its 1956 incorporation, Dairy Valley was home to 3,500 people, 118 dairies and 80,000 cowsIn 1967, by the time the area had become suburban, it was renamed Cerritos. By 1974, Cerritos was home to 21 dairies with 7,000 cows; by 1980, the last large dairy had closed, the Los Angeles Times reported that year. 

Of the southeast cities, Artesia was the hub. The commercial district of what we now know as “Little India” along Pioneer Boulevard was home to businesses catering to the dairying community, most of which were run by Dutch immigrants. Dutch was spoken in the area, with Dutch churches and schools built nearby. Among the businesses on Pioneer was Artesia Bakery, which sold Dutch cookies, pastries and candies until 2006. Bellflower was home to Holland American Market, which gave transplants a taste of home with Dutch foods and products from 1943 through 2014 (Holland International Market replaced it months later).

In 1954, L.A. County had 104,914 cows at a staggering 991 dairies, far more than the total for the second highest U.S. county, Marathon County, Wisconsin, the Los Angeles Times reported. Further urbanization in the 1960s led more and more dairies to pull up stakes and move out of the county, but there were still plenty of dairies and herds scattered outside of the southeast area.

By this time, the San Fernando Valley still had  14 dairies, the largest being the Jessup Dairy at Laurel Canyon and Branford in Pacoima; it had 850 cows, according to a 1967 article in the Los Angeles Times. By 1976, that number had dwindled to 13,500 cows in 25 herds. Alta-Dena Dairy, which started in Monrovia and then moved to the City of Industry, finally moved the rest of its herd out of the county by 1979. 

That number had dropped down to just four by 1992: Norwalk Dairy on Rosecrans Avenue in Santa Fe Springs, founded in 1939 with 300 cows on 10 acres; Valley View Farms on Valley View Avenue in La Mirada, founded in 1952, with 1,000 cows on 25 acres; Paul’s Dairy on Paramount Boulevard in Long Beach, founded in 1941 with 250 cows on 8 acres; and the High Desert Dairy, near Lancaster, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. There also was the inmate-manned dairy at the Peter Pitchess Honor Rancho in Castaic, which provided milk to the county jails. It closed in 1992.

Then, one by one, they fell. Paul’s sold off its herd in May 1993, Valley View moved its herd to Idaho in 1995. Norwalk Dairy, which Jonathan Gold praised for its chocolate milk, sold all but one cow in 2009, closed in 2013 and went up for sale last year.

The last dairy herd in the county is at the dairy near Lancaster. Some dairies, like Broguiere's, get milk from herds in neighboring counties and process it on-site, though even milk processing plants are rare in the county. With suburbia continuing to encroach on San Bernardino and Riverside counties, dairies are moving away from those areas as well.


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