Burbank History

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Burbank is a city built by People, Pride, and Progress. These three ingredients turned a tiny, rural town into the thriving community it is today.

In the beginning, the land occupied by the present City of Burbank was part of two large Spanish land grants. The first was the vast Rancho San Rafael, granted to Don Jose Maria Verdugo by the Spanish government in 1798. Nearby, Rancho La Providencia was created following Mexico's successful bid for independence from Spain in 1821. The real history of the City, though, began when a New Hampshire dentist headed west with the thousands of other Americans seeking new opportunities.

Dr. David Burbank was active in Los Angeles real estate when he purchased portions of both ranchos in 1867. He combined them into a large ranch where he raised sheep, built a ranch house (on what was later Warner Bros. backlot) and occasionally sold off small plots of land. Realizing that bringing in the railroad would increase the value of his ranch, Dr. Burbank sold the Southern Pacific Railroad a stretch of right-of-way for one dollar. The first train passed through Burbank on April 5, 1874. During the rate war between the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads, low fares brought people streaming into California and Dr. Burbank once more seized the opportunity. In 1886, he sold his property to a group of land speculators for $250,000 and the Providencia Land, Water and Development Company was formed.

The speculators subdivided the property into a business district, small farms and residential lots. They opened the tract for sale on May 1, 1887, and the town of Burbank was born. The population of the town was 500 when the voters approved incorporation in 1911.

The following years brought marked progress in Burbank's development. In 1917, civic leaders Ralph O. Church and Maurice Spazier convinced Walt Moreland to relocate his truck company to Burbank by offering him a free site to build. The Moreland Truck Company became Burbank's first major industry. For years afterward, the Moreland trucks traveled the highways of the world bearing the label "Made in Burbank." The 1920's saw a period of growth with the population increasing from 2,913 in 1920 to 16,622 in 1930.

Burbank's continued growth was tied to aviation and entertainment. Both industries came to Burbank because of its location and the available space.

Aviation in the mid-1920's was still in its infancy when the Lockheed Aircraft Company purchased a piece of Burbank farmland, near a place called "Turkey's Crossing," and built a plant for the production of its planes. By the time the United States entered World War II, Lockheed had some 94,000 employees producing 19,000 planes. The wartime effort of the aviation industry had pushed Burbank's population to 53,899 in 1943.

The motion picture business also moved to Burbank in the 1920's. First National Pictures bought up a 78-acre site on Olive Avenue near Dark Canyon. The company was soon taken over by another young company founded by four brothers by the name of Warner. On October 23, 1927, motion picture history was made when Warner Bros. released the first all-talking movie, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson. Other companies soon followed. Columbia Pictures purchased property in Burbank as a ranch facility, using it primarily for outdoor filming. Walt Disney's company, which had outgrown its Hollywood quarters, bought 51 acres in Burbank. Disney's million-dollar studio was completed in 1939 on Buena Vista Street. 

A post World War II real estate boom left few undeveloped areas in the community. The National Broadcasting Company moved its network television headquarters to its new location at Olive and Alameda avenues. By 1962, NBC's multi-million dollar, state-of the-art complex was completed. As well, on June 28, 1978, the airport was purchased from Lockheed through a Tri-city authority. The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, re-named in 2003 to Bob Hope Airport to commemorate the entertainer's great contributions to Burbank, is the largest privately owned municipal airport in the United States.

In 1989, the Golden Mall, was re-opened and traffic again flowed down San Fernando Boulevard after 20 years as an outdoor pedestrian mall. The downtown area was revitalized with a wide variety of restaurants and multi-screen movie theaters. Additionally, when Lockheed announced in 1990 that it would be closing its Burbank operations, the City began efforts to see that the 325 acres were recycled into new development projects.

The City Council also began cablecasting their meetings on public television in 1987. The use of public access cable television has expanded citizen participation with government and catapulted Burbank into the 21st Century. 

As Burbank entered the 21st Century, the face of the city continued to evolve. The Golden State Area started to change dramatically with Lockheed's announcement in 1990 that it was closing all of its Burbank operations. This opened up 103 acres for potential redevelopment as Lockheed's once busy factories were closed and demolished. After several years of negotiations and environmental cleanup, the B-1 site on Empire Avenue and Victory Place was developed by the Zelman Company into the Burbank Empire Center, a major shopping center complete with Costco, Target, Lowe's and other major stores.

The 2000's also saw changes to City offices and facilities. The site of the original City Hall, and later the Police Services building across from City Hall, was redeveloped into an office building marking the first time since at least 1916 that the property was not used as a government building. The Municipal Services building behind City Hall was demolished in 2001 after suffering damage in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Several City departments were relocated into existing buildings across from City Hall and portable trailers until the new Community Services building opened in 2008. 

Burbank continues to provide a high quality of life for its residents while promoting community engagement, as seen with projects like the Chandler Bike-way, Stough Canyon Nature Center, Robert R. Ovrom Park and a new and expanded state-of-the-art Buena Vista Branch Library. In 2005, Connect with Your Community was established with the mission to create opportunities, projects and partnerships (between residents, non-profits, City employees, etc.) that strengthen the local non-profit and community service agenda. Accordingly, in 2008 and 2010, the City of Burbank was named one of the nation's 100 Best Communities for Young People for its efforts to provide experiential and multi-faceted learning opportunities for its youth.

Expanding upon its community engagement and transparency efforts, while incorporating emerging technology, the City created and continues to pro-actively implement a comprehensive communications program utilizing various forms of media, including a revamped website launched in 2009. Residents, business owners and visitors can browse the City's website and access up to date information on City and community events, City Council meetings, take advantage of City programs and services, and so on. Additionally, communications with employees, residents and businesses are improved through an electronic newsletter and monthly newsletter mailed with each utility bill. 

Presently, Burbank maintains its long standing relationship with Warner Bros. and Disney and is now home to hundreds of media and related support companies such as ABC, Cartoon-Network Studios, Nickelodeon Animation, Yahoo!, Clear Channel, and other post production, film processing, special effects, equipment rental and related businesses. As such, Burbank is happily referred to as the "Media Capital of the World."

Finally, 2011 marked Burbank's Centennial year. The City honored its important birthday with "100 & More Ways to Celebrate Burbank," which included 100 community events for residents and visitors alike with the following mission: Create civic pride, foster and highlight community partnerships, honor the past, celebrate the present, and anticipate the future. In accordance with that mission, on July 8, 2011, the community proudly commemorated the 100th anniversary of its incorporation date with a monumental "Party of the Century" in Downtown Burbank. The celebration was such an exemplary community event that the City was recognized by the California Downtown Association with an Excellence Award in the category of Special Events & Promotions.

Throughout its 100 year history, Burbank has embodied a forward-thinking city that provides a high quality of life and strong sense of community to its residents. In keeping with this tradition, the City will continue to combine 21st century technology with the same small town feel that will make Burbank an ideal place to live, work and play for years to come.

For more Burbank History, visit the Heritage Commission's page.

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