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Dominguez Heritage Project: What’s In a Name
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Caption BulletThe campus community celebrates the Dominguez Heritage Project in the Loker Student Union; caption below

Dominguez Heritage Project: What’s In a Name

The Dominguez Heritage Project, an installation of historic photographs and other documents from the University Archives and Special Collections at California State University, Dominguez Hills, was “unveiled” yesterday, April 30, at the university. The unveiling and a reception were held at the site of the expansive wall display, in the lobby of the Dominguez Ballroom in the Loker Student Union on campus.

As part of the weeklong festivities leading up to the Inauguration of Dr. Mildred García, the seventh president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, guests at the unveiling, including representatives from the university, the Carson Companies and the Watson Land Companies, were able to revisit an earlier time, when the Dominguez Hills region played host to important events in early Los Angeles history.

The Loker Student Union (LSU) reopened in 2007 after a two-year expansion project and, since then, the Dominguez Ballroom has been the scene of many events and celebrations, providing a hospitable venue for the campus and community.

“When we began discussing the new [student] union and talking about all of the things it would allow us to do, one that was important to us was that its walls tell a story - the story of the history of the area, the community, and the campus,” says Kim Clark, executive director, LSU. “We realized that our students don't understand why the campus is called ‘Dominguez Hills’ - there is no city called that or even regional reference to that name unless you are aware of the history of the land on which the campus was built.”

“This exhibition is probably the most visible, if not the most comprehensive overview of the Dominguez history,” says Greg Williams, director of Archives and Special Collections. “This is the only California State University named for a family. This exhibition will enhance our students’ appreciation of the area’s history and as with all exhibitions, [encourage] students to ask questions, write papers and at least, conduct a few Google searches. That history is richly multicultural, complex and something for everyone associated with Dominguez Hills to be proud of.”

At the unveiling, García welcomed the assembled audience, underscoring the university’s gratitude to the Carson Companies and Watson Land Company for “helping us maintain our roots.” The Dominguez Heritage Project was made
possible by funding from the two companies and the unveiling celebration was sponsored by the CSUDH Emeritus Faculty Association.

“We tell our students they must maintain their cultural heritage while they become the promising American citizens of this country,” says García. “This too, will help them see Dominguez Hills’ heritage and how they are helping, starting on this foundation, to catapult into the future to make sure Dominguez Hills continues to be the strong university it is today.”

Judson Grenier, emeritus professor of history and founding chair of the Dominguez Hills history department, is currently working on a book about George Carson, an Anglo American who married into the Dominguez family and the namesake of the city of Carson. He describes the cultural resonance of the Dominguez Heritage Project for the university’s diverse student body.

“This is one way in which the heritage enriches the future, as our [inauguration] theme suggests,” he says. “The blending of cultures in this area that occurred after the Mexican War is characteristic of California ever since, and characteristic of our student population and our university today. Also relevant is the Spanish legacy. This institution is after all, Dominguez Hills, we bear the family name. Many of our students are of Mexican descent, some of them from families of recent arrival. But they’re not newcomers since they have a historical connection with the people in [these] photos.”

Cal State Dominguez Hills is named for the the descendants of Juan Jose Dominguez, a Spanish soldier who served with the Gaspar de Portolà expedition to San Diego and later to San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel with Father Junipero Serra. Upon his retirement, Dominguez received a grant of 75,000 acres stretching from present-day Compton to the Palos Verdes Peninsula from the governor of the Spanish province of California in 1784. Called the “Rancho San Pedro,” it was the first California land grant, and the first to win a patent of ownership from President James Buchanan in 1858, for Dominguez’ great-nephew Manuel, who inherited the land in 1822.

A bilingual native of Spain, Manuel Dominguez enjoyed a successful career raising cattle and serving in a variety of elected and appointed offices in Los Angeles, including serving on the Los Angeles City Council, as mayor of Los Angeles, and as a representative from Los Angeles to the Mexican provincial legislature in Monterey, which was the capital of the state of California in 1849. That year, he signed the state constitution, a document that was originally written in both English and Spanish.

Dominguez married Engracia Cota and they had 10 children who reached maturity. However, two sons died in their early 20s and two daughters did not survive to adulthood. Three of their six remaining daughters married men who would figure prominently in early Los Angeles history. Dolores Dominguez wed a lawyer-gunfighter named James Watson, who served three terms in the California legislature. His heirs formed the Watson Land Company, which still operates as a family-owned business in the South Bay region. Her sister Victoria married George Carson, a New York-born veteran of the Mexican War and owner of a hardware and livery business in Los Angeles. Carson managed the Dominguez Rancho and served as county public administrator for 12 years. His descendants formed the Carson Estate Company, which later, combined with other enterprises, became The Carson Companies. Susana married Dr. Gregorio del Amo, a prominent Los Angeles physician who was born in Spain. Del Amo represented his native country as a consul in California and formed the Del Amo Estate Company, which managed land in the Torrance area and was instrumental in creating the Del Amo Shopping Center.

Over the years, sections of the Rancho San Pedro passed from Dominguez family ownership, and in the hands of developers, became the South Bay region, with cities including Wilmington, Redondo Beach, Torrance and Carson. In 1910, an area east of the present-day Cal State Dominguez Hills campus, was in the international spotlight as the site of the Los Angeles International Airmeet, an 11-day event that introduced the fledgling aviation industry to Southern California.

In spring of 1965, companies representing the family’s interests and a group of community leaders including Gil Smith, who later became mayor of Carson and William Huston, who was married to Susana Dolores Watson, the great- great granddaughter of Dolores Dominguez Watson, proposed a tract on Dominguez Hill to the state Department of Finance and the State College Board of Trustees as the site for a new state college that would serve the growing local community. Later that year, the trustees approved purchase of the 346-acre tract for more than $10 million. The new college, which was named California State College Dominguez Hills, was up and running when the surrounding area was incorporated as the city of Carson in 1968.

Robert Huston, the great-great-great grandson of Manuel Dominguez and chairman of the board, Watson Land Company, expressed his family’s pride in their association with the university.

“On behalf of Watson Land Company and our friends and relatives at the Carson Companies, we are honored to have our family’s history presented in this manner at California State University, Dominguez Hills,” he says. “Over the years, both the Watson and Carson companies have strived to improve their companies and built upon their assets. Similarly, Cal State University Dominguez Hills has improved the lives of thousands of students by helping educate them not only with books and lectures but in striving to be the best they can be.”

For more information on the Rancho San Pedro and the Dominguez family, visit http://www.dominguezrancho.org/history/.

For a look at the CSU Dominguez Hills Archives and Special Collections, visit http://archives.csudh.edu/.

- Joanie Harmon with Judson Grenier

Photo above: President Mildred García (fourth from right) celebrates the history of the university's namesakes with the Dominguez Heritage Project.

Pictured L-R: Alison Bruesehoff, executive director, Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum; Tom Huston, vice president, Leasing and Real Estate Asset Management, Watson Land Company; Robert Huston, chairman of the board, Watson Land Company; William Huston; Jim Flynn, president, The Carson Companies; Judson Grenier, emeritus professor of history; and Bruce Choate, president and CEO, Watson Land Company. Photo by Joanie Harmon

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Last updated Wednesday, April 30, 2008, 12:30 p.m., by Joanie Harmon