Tongva woman performing a "Blessing of the
Land" Ceremony

Before people came to the Gardena area, the Willows Wetland then comprised many hundreds of square miles of marshland eventually known as the Dominguez Channel. Rainwater drained through the Dominguez Channel out to the ocean past Wilmington and San Pedro. The Willows and Harbor Lake were once connected.

The original peoples of this region were known as the Gabrielino Indians, named after the Mission San Gabriel, but many preferred to be called by their own name, Tongva. They used the Willows Wetland for sustenance and would ply its waterways in canoes made from tulle, trading along the way with other tribes going as far as to the sea. Their territory included the Catalina islands.

The Gabrielino-Tongva of the Dominguez Watershed area was of the Uto-Aztecan linguistic group. All land in California became vested in the King of Spain in 1769. The Spanish in 1799 gave 820 acres of wetland to Juan Jose Dominguez and he passed it to his heirs in 1822. When Mexico obtained title to California from Spain in 1822, the Sausal Redondo and Rancho San Pedro were formed in the area. Sausal Redondo consisted of approximately 22,460 acres and included the present-day cities of El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Inglewood, Lawndale, Manhattan Beach, Playa del Rey, Redondo Beach, and Torrance. Its owner, Don Antonio Avila, used the land for grazing cattle. In 1860, Sir Robert Burnett of Scotland purchased Sausal Redondo from Avila's heirs. He expanded the sheep and cattle raising operations and planted thousands of eucalyptus, pepper, and fruit trees. Following the severe droughts of 1875 and 1876, Daniel Freeman, who purchased the land from Burnett, used the ranch for dry farming. By 1880, the area was producing a million bushels of barley a year.

In the 1920s and 1930s, housing development began in Gardena. During the 1920s a large portion of the slough was drained and filled in order to extend Vermont Avenue in Gardena. When the housing on the streets of Catalina, Berendo and New Hampshire Avenues began in the 1940s, workers dredging and working in the area found many artifacts left behind by the Gabrielinos. The Museum of Natural History was called to come examine these finds, but by the time they arrived, all these objects had been pilfered.

In the mid-1970s, the City of Gardena had planned to fill in The Willows and had many ideas for its use, including a convention center. Local residents fought to stop the destruction of the wetland and to preserve its value as a green oasis, an historical vestige of the past, a migratory stop for ducks and other migrants, a permanent home for resident bird species, a safe haven for the frogs and other amphibians who live there, and a vital mechanism that cleans street water runoff before it reaches the Dominguez Channel and eventually, the Pacific Ocean.

The Willows, one of the areas that remains of the Dominguez Slough, was recommended for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in the Gardena Historical Resources Survey (Tachibana 1981). The City, however, has not initiated the formal nomination process and the site has not been evaluated by the State Historic Preservation Officer.

Today, the Dominguez Watershed is comprised of approximately 110 square miles of land in the southern portion of Los Angeles County; 96% of its total area is developed and the overall watershed land use is predominantly transportation. Rather than being defined by the natural topography of its drainage area, the Dominguez watershed boundary is defined by a complex network of storm drains and smaller flood control channels. The Dominguez Channel extends from the Los Angeles International Airport to the Los Angeles Harbor and drains large if not all portions of the cities of Inglewood, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Gardena, Lawndale, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson and Los Angeles. The remaining land areas within the watershed drain to several debris basins and lakes or directly to the Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbors.

Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve, Inc. is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the area and welcomes your participation. You will find the Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve an enchanted oasis in a busy metropolis worthy of preservation.

Randal Baldwin has created a DVD of the History of the Willows. You can view a clip of it here and purchase the DVD at the City of Gardena Recreation Dept. reception desk in the Nakaoka Community Center.