On land that was originally part of the San Fernando Mission, Reseda originated in 1912 as the town of Marian. It was named after Marian Otis Chandler, the daughter of the Los Angeles Times publisher, Harrison Gray Otis and wife of Harry Chandler. The name Reseda refers to the fragrant plant Reseda odorata (English name is mignonette) commonly found in gardens of the time and native to many areas with a Mediterranean climate.
Although the town's name of Marian remained, the geographic name "Reseda" was first used for a siding on a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which ran between the cities of Burbank and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley. In the 1920s, the name Reseda was transferred from the Southern Pacific Railroad to the Western Division of the Pacific Electric Railway "Red Cars Line", which had expedited development after the building of the Los Angeles Aqueduct. Later, it was used as the name of a stop on the Pacific Electric interurban railway running along Sherman Way.
In 1921, when a Fourth Class Post Office was established, the town's name needed to be changed so as to avoid a conflict with Mariana. Ninety-two local residents convened and agreed to rename the town Reseda.
The central business district began in 1915 at the intersection of Reseda Boulevard and Sherman Way, with the construction of a hardware store. Soon a blacksmith shop and an auto repair garage were built nearby. Within a short time, these were followed by a grocery store and a drug store. There were no sidewalks or pavement yet, most were beginning to be added during the 1918 to early 1920s time period. On the southwest corner of Sherman Way a wooden building housed the Volunteer Fire Department until 1922, when the present brick building was erected as the Reseda Bank. The wooden building, housing the Fire Department, was then moved to the southeast side of Sherman Way, where it remained until 1933. In May of 1929, the city's namesake roadway, Reseda Avenue, was renamed Reseda Boulevard by a Los Angeles City ordinance. Parts of the original 1920s and 1930s residential neighborhood remain and are found to the southwest of Sherman Way and Reseda Boulevard.
Reseda grew slowly. The stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression further slowed expansion. During the late 1920s and 1930s, the area became widely known for its production of lettuce, lima beans, sugar beets, and walnuts; in the late 1930s, Reseda was a foremost producer of lettuce in the United States. The Southern Pacific Railroad trains came up the middle of Sherman Way to pick up freight cars of lettuce on a daily basis during the lettuce harvest season. Around that time, manufacturing roof tile, canning poultry products, and processing walnuts began to emerge as viable businesses as well.
The population of early suburban Reseda was 1,805 in 1930 and rose to approximately 2,300 by 1940.
Development into a post-war suburb
Reseda remained primarily an agricultural community until the mid-1940's, when it grew dramatically. The mid- to later-1940's saw a large increase in the numbers of single family dwellings in Reseda, the loss of numerous acres of agriculture, and the addition of First Class Postal Service.
Reseda was one of the first suburbs in the San Fernando Valley. The large ranches were subdivided, and the area was developed by realtors just as the veterans of World War II were returning home. The familiar orange groves were successively plowed under in favor of housing. At the time, most of the jobs were in the Los Angeles Basin and to the south, over the Santa Monica mountains.
By 1950, Reseda had over 16,000 residents and in the early 1950s, a population explosion took place, making Reseda one of the most popular and populated of all Valley communities. Because of this, Reseda's merchants provided bus service to transport shoppers throughout the busy downtown Reseda areas.
In the early 1950s, the Valley's population reached 400,000. The average new Valley home, in 1949, cost $9,000. By 1955, that same house could be resold for nearly $15,000. Even at that price, though, a household income was about $6,000 a year, making Valley incomes higher than the national average. By 1960, the average market value of a Valley home reached $18,850. [Restrictive covenant]]s excluded "non-Whites" from ownership until the passage of the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act (part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act).
During the 1970s, the above-average residential real estate values and income patterns compared to the rest of the country began to reverse. Land and housing costs shot upward, while most incomes only crept. By the beginning of the 1980s, the average price of a home in the Valley reached $110,000. According to a 2004 study by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, it has tripled that of the early 1980s.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake struck at 4:31 A.M. on January 17 and measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. It remains the only large earthquake to originate directly under a major U.S. city in modern times as well as the most damaging earthquake to strike the U.S. since the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Its epicenter was located between Arminta Street and Ingomar Street, just east of Reseda Boulevard.
This was the second time in 23 years the area had been affected by a strong earthquake. On February 9, 1971, the San Fernando earthquake (also known as the Sylmar earthquake) of February 9, 1971 had a magnitude of 6.6.