The history of the town of Pacoima is traced back more than 1500 years when the people indigenous to the area began establishing villages. These proud natives known as Tataviams, meaning “People facing the Sun,” had territorial governing reign over this area, which they called “Pacoinga Village.”
Tataviam tribal life, which dates back to 450 AD, contained a strong sense of community. Men led the tribe but women had political and ceremonial ranks. There was a prevailing harmony that worked well within the tribal system for more than a thousand years until the European invasion.
The brutal colonization of the California territory by Spain, had a disasterous impact on the Tataviam tribe. In 1769, a Catholic priest named Junipero Serra was commissioned to build missions up and down the coast. These Missions were primarily designed to convert Native Americans to Christianity and abandon their own beliefs, while the Spanish military built presidios to wage war and made a consorted effort to eliminate the Indian race.
The story of Rogerio Rocha is perhaps the most tragic documented account of the 1800’s in the San Fernando Valley. Rocha was a tribal captain of the Tataviam tribe who lived at the San Fernando mission during the mission era. He was a skilled locksmith who acquired land in San Fernando, via a land grant from Pio Pico, the last California governor under Mexican rule.
In 1874, a former U.S. Senator named Charles Maclay purchased 56,000 acres in the San Fernando Valley, along with cousins Benjamin and George Porter. He also established the city of San Fernando.
Rogerio Rocha lived a peaceful life until former senator Charles Maclay forcibly removed him and his 80 year old wife on one cold winter night. They were dropped off on the outskirts of the city with only their belongings during a horrific storm. His wife, who was ill at the time, managed to eventually find shelter at the San Fernando Mission but succumbed to pneumonia. Rocha ended up an old homeless wanderer until his death in 1906. Maclay's quest for valuable water rights appears to have been his motivation for the Rocha atrocity.
In 1887, Jouette Allen (aka Jewett Allin) purchased 1000 acres and named the town Pacoima. In anticipation of traffic from the Southern Pacific railroad and a frenetic real estate boom, Pacoima was one of the many new cities that was founded by speculative investors.
The land was developed as an exclusive community that would attract the highest class of settlers. However, after the great flood of 1891 Pacoima became an agricultural community.
The name is a rendition of “Pacoinga Village” as it was called for many years by the Tataviam tribe. Translation of the word is “la entrada” or “the entrance”. Traditional history reported the meaning to be “rushing waters” however that was a romanticized meaning of the word, which was incorrect.
Because of California's long tenure under Mexico's rule, many people of Mexican descent had been living in the Pacoima area for a number of years. However, In the early 1900s, Mexico was experiencing a major conflict between its government and the working class. The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and led many to flee the violence and head to the United States. This ended in 1920 however, another set of circumstances in 1926-1929 brought more migrants when the Mexican government and the Catholic church bumped heads.
The “Cristero War” led to another significant Mexican migration into California. Many Mexicans began making the arduous journey, mostly by covered wagon and some decided to settle in Pacoima. This was due to racial covenants that limited where they could live and the abundance of agricultural jobs in the area.
In the 1920’s many Japanese also migrated to Pacoima and began successfully cultivating the land. Pacoima quickly became known as the only place people of color could purchase land in the San Fernando Valley and was on its way to becoming the most diverse town in the city of Los Angeles
In 1938, horrific flooding devastated Pacoima and the San Fernando Valley. Homer and Marie Hansen owned a sizable ranch in Pacoima. This land was acquired via imminent domain to construct Hansen Dam, which was built in 1940.
December 7, 1941 was the bombing of Pearl Harbor and began a horrific time for the Japanese in the San Fernando Valley. They were sent to concentration camps where they endured racism and untold horrors during the World War II saga. After the war, the Japanese-American citizens of Pacoima founded the San Fernando Valley Japanese-American community center.
The war era brought hundreds of families to the east side of the San Fernando Valley. With Lockheed jobs and the opening of General Motors in 1947, housing became a high priority in the Valley.
In 1951, land developers decided to lure African Americans to Pacoima by naming a new housing tract after a famous African American world heavy weight boxer Joe Louis. This housing tract brought in Black buyers by the droves and was the beginning of a Black middle-class community unlike any other in the country.
1957 saw a horrific plane crash that killed 8 children at Pacoima junior High. It also saw the rise of the towns most celebrated icon Ritchie Valens, who was a Mexican American that reached the national stage at a time when people of color were frowned upon.
The sixties and seventies saw the community come together. While the San Fernando Valley focused on practicing discriminatory practices in housing and jobs and labeled the community as poverty stricken and crime ridden, Pacoima’s youth sought out higher education.
In 1968, they took over the administration building at San Fernando Valley State College (now known as Cal State University Northridge) demanding to be heard about the racial injustices at the school. The end result was Pan African Studies and Chicano studies departments at colleges and universities throughout the state and possibly the country.
Pacoima emerged as an economic juggernaut having the highest number of manufacturing businesses in Los Angeles County. The demographics changed as the Valley began to change the restrictive real estate practices of the past. Many different Latino’s from South American countries have migrated to Pacoima adding to the multi ethnic mixture that makes Pacoima unique. The Tataviam tribe members still reside in Pacoima as do a multitude of other nationalities.