Like most communities in the San Fernando Valley, Pacoima’s roots are in agriculture.
At the end of the mission era, when Mexico took control of what had been Spanish land holdings, the land on which Pacoima would be founded became part of the accurately, if not quite melodiously, named Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando.
As the land boom of the late 1800s gathered steam, the old mission was carved up by real estate speculators who began founding towns close to the railroads that served to open up the interior valleys of California to settlement.
One such speculator was Jouett Allen, a Southerner and lawyer who bought 1,000 acres of land between two of the washes that funnel the runoff from the Santa Susana Mountains into the Los Angeles River.
He kept 500 of those acres for his own use; in 1887 the other 500 became the site of a town he founded along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. He called this new settlement Pacoima, which he contended was the Gabrielino phrase for “rushing waters” — an appellation that would prove to be grimly prophetic.
Allen envisioned a wealthy enclave of gentlemen farmers, so he set $2,000 minimums for the cost of new houses, built concrete sidewalks and curbs (the first in the Valley) and installed a rudimentary water system in an effort to attract them to his fledgling town.
Unfortunately for Allen, the boom went bust, and much of the town was swept away by raging floodwaters in 1891.
Pacoima remained relatively semirural for the next 50 years or so. As one of the only neighborhoods in the Valley without racially discriminatory housing covenants, it became home to Angelenos who could not live elsewhere in the city. First Japanese immigrants, then newcomers from Mexico, and, after World War II, African Americans, made their way to Pacoima.
The African American experience in Pacoima is a particularly resonant, and now almost forgotten, chapter in the history of the Valley. In the 1960s, 90% of the Valley’s black population lived in Pacoima, forbidden to buy or rent elsewhere.
Although efforts were made to create homeownership opportunities in Pacoima through such developments as the Joe Louis Homes, it wasn’t until the abolishment of racial covenants in the late 1960s that African American Angelenos began to move to other parts of the Valley.