Zaferia: Out of the mists of Long Beach's past

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

03/27/2012

http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_20269970/zaferia-out-mists-long-beachs-past

LONG BEACH - Residents of Long Beach may come across the term "Zaferia district" in their travels through town. Whether the term appears on a mural at a local business, on banners that have gone up on light posts in the East Long Beach area, or in history books, it remains a mystery to most.

The East Anaheim Street Business Alliance is trying to bring the old name for the area that straddles Anaheim Street from about Temple to Loma avenues out of mothballs.

The group also hopes that in doing so it can help erase some of the more negative views of an area that has struggled with crime and poverty.

"We're just trying to generate interest in the area," said Jan Ward of the East Anaheim Business Association. "We're just trying to change the stigma and show there's a lot of history and get people to come up and not be afraid of it."

With the help of local historian Maureen Neeley, the almost forgotten history of the district, rechristened East Long Beach in 1920 when it officially joined Long Beach, is being brought back.

On Tuesday, Neeley spoke to East Anaheim business owners at their monthly meeting about her findings.

Neeley said the business and residential community that exists today is unique to Long Beach and continues to maintain its own identity separate from downtown.

Once a sleepy hamlet of farm and ranch hands who worked the surrounding fields of mustard and sugar beets, the Zaferia/East Long Beach area was forever transformed by several men and events that would alter not only the area, but also Long Beach as a whole.

In the early 1900s, Henry Huntington ran a spur off his Red Car electric rail line from Los Angeles to Long Beach through the farmlands north and east of the city. One of the main stops was Zaferia Station, where a parking lot of a McDonald's and Ralphs supermarket now sits.

From that station travelers could either go south down Redondo Avenue then west to downtown, or continue southeast to Seal Beach and other Orange County beach cities.

Several years later, an enterprising developer named Joseph Ray began selling acre lots for $100, and a small business and residential community was born.

In 1909, the area got a fire station, in 1910, a post office and in 1913, its own newspaper.

It was also the home of the original Virginia Country Club, at the site of the current Recreation Park.

With its own water source, the rail line and the energetic Ray, Zaferia enjoyed its status as the bold country cousin to the more uptight Long Beach. Among Zaferia's advantages? Alcohol. Long Beach was dry.

Zaferia was officially subsumed by Long Beach on Labor Day 1920. The Zaferia signs were taken down at the depot and library, but the community went on.

The oil boom in nearby Signal Hill led to explosive growth in East Long Beach and the city as a whole.

Since then the area has forged its identity both on its own and as a part of Long Beach.

While the city continued to expand eastward and now many see "East Long Beach" as comprising the more affluent areas near Cal State Long Beach, those who live in the old Zaferia area see their area as the real East Long Beach.

The 1933 earthquake and 1992 race riots shook the neighborhood. After a period of decline, the Anaheim corridor is trying to rebuild itself as a vibrant business stretch and recently earned the Cambodia Town designation through part of Zaferia.

One mystery endures, however. Where did that name come from? Neeley says the answer to that is still lost in history somewhere.

It may have been named after R.H. Zaferia, a resident of Long Beach and school board member, although with no apparent connection to the district. Or the Zaferia Pass in Andalucia, Spain. Or it could just come from an old obscure Spanish word meaning small village or farmhouse, although dictionaries don't recognize the word.

Maybe some mysteries are meant to remain.

More information is available online at www.zaferia.com.