Situated 12 miles southeast of the Los Angeles Civic Center, Downey is only five miles from Orange County, and about 10 miles from the beautiful Pacific coastline. Conveniently located near several major freeways, the city is an ideal base from which to take advantage of the business resources and hundreds of cultural and recreational activities in Southern California. The city has a population of 110,600 in an area of 12.5 square miles.

Downey was founded in 1873 and named after the former governor, Irish-American John Gately Downey. The following year, the Southern-Pacific railroad made a stop en route from Los Angeles to San Diego. During the 1880's, the Los Angeles County fair was held in Downey. It was a center for agriculture and orange groves; today most homes have a back yard citrus tree.

 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.

By the end of World War I, America had become fascinated with the idea of "flying machines." A favorable year-round climate attracted aircraft enthusiasts, daredevil pilots, innovators, and spectators to Downey. By 1929, the city had become a hub of the airplane industry. Emsco Aircraft, Vultee, Consolidated, North American Aviation, NASA, Rockwell, and Boeing at various times provided an aerospace employment base that produced aircraft, missiles, and space shuttles from World War 2 through the post-war space exploration years. By the early 1960s, Downey was the industrial center of America's lunar mission and produced most of the Apollo spacecraft.

During the 1950s, Downey saw the proliferation of fast-food restaurants. Glen Bell opened his first Taco Bell in Downey, and the third franchise in the McDonald's chain was built in 1953. It is now the oldest remaining restaurant in the worldwide chain of 20,000, and the last one with its original red-and-white striped tile exterior. After opening, it immediately became the standard for fast food franchises across the country. The building and its 60 foot high neon sign with "Speedee the Chef" are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Employees wear 50's style uniforms of paper hats, white shirts and bolo ties. Today, the restaurant serves the original menu of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries and old fashioned milkshakes, and features walkup windows and outdoor seating. In the 1990s an addition was installed housing a museum, gift shop, restrooms, and more outdoor seating. It is located on the corner of Lakewood Boulevard and Florence Avenue.

In 1963, the Carpenter family moved to Downey, where Richard and Karen attended Downey High School. They helped form an instrumental trio in 1965, which won a battle of the bands at the Hollywood Bowl. Richard and Karen signed a contract with A&M Records in 1969. Their first single, "Ticket to Ride," was a modest hit, but their next release, "Close to You," was a number one best seller, with over one million copies sold. During the next several years, the Carpenters achieved fame with a string of top 40 hits and sold-out concerts around the world. They were three-time Grammy winners and made numerous television appearances.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, Downey's former 160-acre aerospace site has been undergoing redevelopment for a mixed-use hub called Downey Landing. It includes a retail center, a medical building, a park, a Columbia Memorial Science Learning Center, and a television and movie production facility. Evolution, Clockstoppers, Spiderman, Austin Powers, Catch Me If You Can, Terminator III, Daredevil, and several commercials have recently filmed at Downey Studios.

Today, retail centers in Downey include the downtown area, Stonewood Mall, and the Downey Landing. The city also has a Civic Theater, History Center, and Museum of Art, a multiplex movie theater, and numerous city parks. Dining options include the ubiquitous Mexican and American fare, as well as Cuban, Japanese, Peruvian, and Thai offerings.  (Myra Clark)