Gardena, once the berry-growing capital of southern California, is today called the “Freeway City” because it is bordered by the Artesia, Harbor, and San Diego freeways to its south, east, and west, respectively. Its modern-day urban designation is a far cry from Gardena’s early reputation as a “garden spot,” a lush oasis of greenery fed by the waters of the Dominguez Slough. Long before it was officially incorporated in 1930 by combining the rural communities of Moneta and Strawberry Park, Gardena was known first by Gabrielino Indians and later Spanish and American settlers as a long green stretch of land amidst coastal sage scrub.
The community originally evolved from part of the roughly 43,000-acre Spanish land grant, the Rancho San Pedro, given to Juan Jose Dominguez around 1800. The site was later named the Rosecrans Rancho after Union Army Major General William Starke Rosecrans, who bought 16,000 acres following the Civil War. This land would later be bordered on the north by Florence Avenue, on the south by Redondo Beach Boulevard, on the east by Central Avenue, and on the west by Arlington Avenue. After the property changed hands several times, early Gardena was laid out with Figueroa and 161st streets at its center, the idea being that the Los Angeles and Redondo Railway would pass next to it when extended south between those two communities. When the route instead came in along Vermont Avenue, the community moved to accommodate the change.
Farming became Gardena’s main industry early in the twentieth century, though berries, especially strawberries, were its claim to fame. The community became known as “Berryland,” and was renowned for its Strawberry Day Festival and parade every May. The berry industry dwindled with World War I, when land was used first for other crops and then later for development.