This satellite image, looking toward the west, shows the Antelope Valley area in relation to Los Angeles with the San Gabriel Mountains separating them.
Populated by different cultures for an estimated 11,000 years, the Antelope Valley was a trade route for Native Americans traveling from Arizona and New Mexico to California's coast.
Palmenthal (the first settlement of Palmdale), 1886 to 1913
"Palmenthal", the first European settlement within the limits of Palmdale, was established as a village on April 20, 1886, by westward Lutheran travelers from the American Midwest, mostly of German and Swiss descent. According to area folklore, the travelers had been told they would know they were close to the ocean when they saw palm trees. Never actually having seen palm trees before, they mistook the local Joshua trees for palms and so named their settlement after them. (Palmenthal is German for Palm Valley.) According to David L. Durham Joshua trees were sometimes called yucca palms at the time, which was the reason for the name. The village was officially established upon the arrival of a post office on June 17, 1888.
By the 1890s (soon after the last of the indigenous antelopes, which the valley was named after, had died), farming families continued to migrate to Palmenthal and nearby Harold to grow grain and fruit. However, most of these settlers were unfamiliar with farming in a desert climate, so when the drought years occurred, most abandoned their settlement. By 1899, only one family was left in the original village. The rest of the settlers, including the post office, moved closer to the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. This new community was renamed Palmdale and was located where the present day civic center is. A railroad station was built along the tracks there. This railroad was operated by Southern Pacific and traveled between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Wells Fargo stagecoach line that ran between San Francisco and New Orleans stopped there as well. The only remaining pieces of evidence of the original settlements of Palmenthal and Harold are the old Palmdale Pioneer cemetery located on the northeast corner of Avenue S and 20th Street East, recently acquired and restored by the city as part of a future historical park, and the old schoolhouse now relocated to McAdam Park.
Palmdale was first inhabited by Native Americans. Spanish soldier Captain Pedro Fages explored the Antelope Valley in 1772. The opening of California to overland travel through the forbearing desert was due to Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and Father Francisco Garces, a most remarkable Spanish padre. They led a colonizing expedition including 136 settlers across the Mojave Desert from Mexico to Monterey in 1773. Later in 1776 while exploring the Valley, Garces with several Indian guides from the San Gabriel Mission recorded viewing the vast expanse of what was the El Tejon Rancheria (the Badger Ranch) of the Cuabajoy Indians. After the Shoshone Indians left the valley, immigrants from Spain and Mexico established large cattle ranches there. Then, in the late 1880s, the ranches were broken up into smaller homesteads by farmers from Germany, France and the state of Nebraska.
First two decades of the Town of Palmdale, 1913–1933
As the population of Palmdale began to increase after relocation, water became scarce, until November 5, 1913 when the California – Los Angeles Aqueduct system was completed by William Mulholland, bringing water from the Owens Valley into Los Angeles County. During this period, crops of apples, pears and alfalfa became plentiful.
In 1915, Palmdale's first newspaper, the Palmdale Post, was published. Today it is called the Antelope Valley Press.
In 1921, the first major link between Palmdale and Los Angeles was completed, Mint Canyon/Lancaster Road, later designated U.S. Route 6. Completion of this road caused the local agricultural industry to flourish and was the first major step towards defining the metropolis that exists today. Presently this road is known as Sierra Highway.
In 1924, the Little Rock Dam and the Harold Reservoir, present day Lake Palmdale, were constructed to assist the agricultural industry and have enough water to serve the growing communities.
Picture of Lake Palmdale with the California Aqueduct in the foreground.
Last three decades of the Town of Palmdale, 1933–1962
Agriculture continued to be the foremost industry for Palmdale and its northern neighbor Lancaster until the outbreak of World War II. In 1933, the United States government established Muroc Air Base (from an original founder's name, Effie Corum, spelled backwards) six miles (10 km) north of Lancaster in Kern County, now known as Edwards Air Force Base. They also bought Palmdale Airport in 1952 and established an aerospace development and testing facility called United States Air Force Plant 42. One year later, in 1953, Lockheed established a facility at the airport. After this point in time, the aerospace industry took over as the primary local source of employment. The city has been referred to as the "Aerospace Capital of America" because of its rich heritage in being the home of many of the aircraft used in the United States military.
In August 1956, an unpiloted out-of-control Navy drone flew over Palmdale while Air Force Interceptor aircraft tried to shoot it down with unguided rockets. Many rockets landed in and around the city, starting fires and damaging property.
In 1957, Palmdale's first high school, Palmdale High School, was established, making it easier for youths to not have to travel to Antelope Valley High School in nearby Lancaster.
In August 1962, the township of Palmdale officially became the city of Palmdale with the incorporation of 2 square miles (5 km2) of land around the present day civic center.
In 1964, the Antelope Valley Freeway, or State Highway 14, was completed as a link between Palmdale and Los Angeles. The freeway at this time ran all the way to present-day Technology Drive. It was at this time that talk about the future Palmdale Intercontinental Airport was seen as the way of the future. By 1965, the new city had annexed an additional 20 square miles (52 km2) of land and industry was thriving. Talk of the future commercial airport had many investors buying up large quantities of land.
In 1970, the city of Los Angeles went forward with buying 17,750 acres (71.8 km2) of land east of the city for its proposed intercontinental commercial airport. However, the United States Air Force desired to put construction of this new facility on hold until the existing airport reached its commercial capacity. So, under a joint use agreement with the military, the Los Angeles Department of Airports, now called Los Angeles World Airports, built a 9,000 square foot (800 m²) terminal on leased land that opened in 1971, creating present day LA/Palmdale Regional Airport which the City of Palmdale has taken control of in an effort to establish reliable air service in the region.
By 1974, the Antelope Valley Freeway construction ended at the southern border of Mojave in Kern County. In 1977, Palmdale built its first municipal building, the Palmdale City Library. This was the same year that its northern neighbor Lancaster incorporated as a city. Since the 1920s, Lancaster had been the much larger and principal community of the Antelope Valley, as well as the rest of California's Mojave Desert.
First housing market growth and recession, 1980–1990
Central Palmdale looking north along 10th Street West toward Rancho Vista Boulevard
The 1980s and 1990s were the decades that really started to define the two Antelope Valley cities. Affordable housing in the area caused a dramatic spike in the population. The city, like its northern neighbor Lancaster, became a bedroom community for those employed in Los Angeles. In 1980, Palmdale's population was 12,227.
By 1990, it had grown to 68,842. During that same year, the Antelope Valley Mall opened at Avenue P (present day Rancho Vista Boulevard) and 10th Street West. In 1991, the Palmdale Auto Center complex opened. In the earlier 1990s, the city of Palmdale annexed the Ritter Ranch and City Ranch (Anaverde) development which today is Southwest Palmdale. In the late 1990s, the developer of Ritter Ranch built a bridge over a river at the corner of Elizabeth Lake Road and the Lazy T. Ranch, but in 1997, the developer of the Ritter Ranch filed for a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and that bridge (Ranch Center Drive) would be known as "The Bridge to Nowhere" for years to come.
Second housing growth
Over the last 25 years, Palmdale has consistently been ranked among the top 25 fastest growing cities in the United States (based on percentage change). As of the 2010 census, the population was 152,750, the sixth most populous in Los Angeles County. With 106 square miles (275 km2) of land in its incorporated boundaries, the city is the second largest city in Los Angeles County by land area, 6th largest in California by land area, and in the top 100 largest cities in the United States in land area. Palmdale is also one of the largest cities in the United States that is not currently served by either an Interstate Freeway or a U.S. Highway. Sierra Highway was at one time labeled as U.S. Highway 6 until the state of California truncated it at Bishop.
A new multimodal transportation center, serving local and commuter bus and train services, opened in 2005. A voter-initiated and -approved tax has funded major park and recreation expansions, including the Palmdale Amphitheater (capacity 10,000), two new pools, other recreation buildings, satellite library and Dry Town Water Park.
Downtown revitalization includes hundreds of new senior housing units, a new senior center, and expanded open space. A sheriff station opened in July 2006, the largest in Los Angeles County. Two additional fire stations have been built, one on the east side of town and one on the west side of town.