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
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
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
“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