In Compton, Richland Farms challenges urban stereotypes

COMPTON – In the heart of Compton, Taveon Harlston has his choice of horses.

Today, he picks Clyde, a snow-white Tennessee Walker. Next to the stables, fruit trees,  horse carriages and an improvised arena awaits in this suburban backyard that.

“People always think ‘Hey, you’re from Compton, you’re probably a bad boy.’ When I tell people I’m a cowboy, they say ‘You’re pretty crazy. You’re not a cowboy,’” Harlston says.

Dressed in a plaid shirt and Wrangler jeans accented by a large gold buckle, the 15-year-old looks every inch the cowboy.

“Most kids don’t get to experience many of the things I do,” he says. “Most kids haven’t been out of Compton. But I’ve been up to Palos Verdes, Norco, and different places with (mentor) Miss Paige. It must have been a dream I’ve been living.”

An Orange tree in the front yard of Richland Farms home.

Most residents of Compton’s Richland Farms — where Harlston rides — feel they are living a dream, having found a place where they can enjoy the country life surrounded by all the trappings of the city. But it’s a dream they say they are fighting to keep alive.

More horses than cars roam Bennett, Caldwell, Tichenor and Raymond streets. It’s one of the last surviving residential agricultural zones in Los Angeles but it is changing. With that change, the residents say their way of life is threatened.

“In the last, say, 10 years, the city has come in and created havoc,” said Harlston’s mentor, Corrine Paige.

From the neighborhood’s earliest days, Richland Farms residents have fought to preserve their singular lifestyle. But demographic shifts, with their subsequent social and cultural upheaval, forced change. From cockfighting, to illegal dairy operations, to high water costs and tax rates, to confusion over fluid zoning laws, the tension between Richland Farms residents and the city remains a constant theme. Both sides profess to have the same goal: keep Richland Farms as is. However, each side has a different way of accomplishing this goal.

As the city pushes forward with “Birthing a New Compton,” many Richland Farms residents hope to simply recapture the old days.

Known as the jewel of Compton to local residents, Richland Farms remains one of Los Angeles’ hidden treasures to outsiders.

It is as unassuming as it is unique, an unremarkable neighborhood at first glance. But take a second drive through the neighborhood and clues begin to emerge: a harem of hens in a front yard, a Spanish-tiled roof on a sprawling ranch house, and, quite suddenly, a group of riders come around the corner, tipping their hats as they pass.

Behind the houses, the Farms really come alive. Spacious backyards typically stretch a half acre or more, and residents house large animals, such as horses, along with other livestock. The rules are a little different at Richland Farms, making up four square miles between Alondra and Greenleaf boulevards from north to south and Oleander and Wilmington avenues from east to west.

Richland Farms’ history is intrinsically linked to Compton’s own.

In 1888, Griffith Compton donated his land to Los Angeles County for incorporation as the City of Compton, but not before requiring that a special parcel remain zoned for agricultural use.

Many of the sprawling ranch homes that line Richland Farms have remained in the same family for generations. However, the neighborhood, like Compton itself, has undergone several changes throughout the years. Whether the neighborhood can weather coming changes and survive remains to be seen.

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