It is bordered by the Los Angeles districts of Mission Hills on the west, Arleta on the south, Sun Valley on the southeast, Lake View Terrace on the northeast, and by the city of San Fernando on the north. Major thoroughfares include San Fernando Road, Van Nuys Boulevard, and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The Golden State and Ronald Reagan freeways run through the district.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Times's "Mapping L.A." project supplied these Pacoima neighborhood statistics: population: 75,014; median household income: $49,066.
Pacoima's first inhabitants were the semi-nomadic Tongva and Tataviam Native American tribes; the name Pacoima in fact comes from the Fernandeño language and translates to "the entrance". In 1797, Spanish colonists built the nearby Mission San Fernando Rey, but the Pacoima area remained without permanent settlement until 1887. In that year, former Republican California State Assemblyman and California State Senator Charles Maclay purchased 56,000 acres (227 km2) in the area with a loan of $117,500 from a friend, U.S. Senator Leland Stanford (president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, former Governor of California, and founder of Stanford University). MacLay proceeded to subdivide the tract into agricultural parcels, most of which were used for the production of Southern California staples such as citrus, nuts, beans, wheat, and vegetables. As was the case in most of the San Fernando Valley, the lure of plentiful, cheap water from the Los Angeles Aqueduct proved irresistible to Pacoima's farmers, and the district was annexed by Los Angeles in 1921.
During World War II, the desperate need for housing for workers at Lockheed's main plant in neighboring Burbank led to the construction of the San Fernando Gardens housing project. By the 1950s, the rapid suburbanization of the San Fernando Valley had come to Pacoima, and the area changed almost overnight from a dusty farming area to a bedroom community for the fast-growing industries in Los Angeles and nearby Burbank and Glendale, with transportation access provided by the Golden State Freeway. While racial segregation barred African-Americans from most of the Valley, Pacoima was home to a large black population until the 1990s, in addition to whites and Latinos. Industrial decline, capped by the demise of Lockheed's Burbank operations in the 1990s, led to the departure of most of the white and black population from the 1970s onward; by the 1980s, the area was majority-Latino. Since the late 1970s, it has been one of the poorest districts in the city of Los Angeles, with San Fernando Gardens a particular locus of poverty and crime. However, the district has received a great deal of attention from the Los Angeles Police Department since the arrival of new chief William J. Bratton in 2001: according to LAPD statistics, the area has seen the largest decrease in crime during that period of any of LAPD's patrol areas.
Pacoima was thrust into national headlines on January 31, 1957, when three students on the playground of Pacoima Junior High School were among the eight persons killed as the result of a midair collision between a four-engine Douglas DC-7B airliner and a United States Air Force Northrop F-89J Scorpion jet fighter in the skies above nearby Sunland.
The DC-7B, earmarked for delivery to Continental Airlines, took off from the Santa Monica Airport at 10:15 a.m. on its first functional test flight, with a crew of four Douglas test personnel aboard. Meanwhile, in Palmdale to the north, the two-man F-89J fighter jet took off at 10:50 a.m. on a similar test flight, one that involved a check of its on-board radar equipment. Both aircraft were performing their individual tests at an altitude of 25,000 feet in clear skies over the San Fernando Valley when, at about 11:18 a.m., a high-speed, near-head-on midair collision occurred. Investigators were later able to determine that the two aircraft converged at a point in the sky approximately one to two miles northeast of the Hansen Dam spillway.
Following the collision, Curtiss Adams, the radarman aboard the eastbound twin-engine F-89J Scorpion, was able to bail out of the stricken fighter jet and, despite incurring serious burns, parachute to a landing in Burbank. However, the fighter jet’s pilot, Roland E. Owen, died when the aircraft plummeted in flames into La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains.
The DC-7B, with a portion of its left wing sheared off and while raining debris onto the neighborhoods below, remained airborne for a few minutes, then rolled to the left and began a steepening, high-velocity dive earthward over Pacoima. The aircraft broke up at about 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground and seconds later the hurtling wreckage slammed onto the grounds of the Pacoima Congregational Church and the adjacent playground of Pacoima Junior High School, killing all four Douglas crewmen aboard. On the school playground, where some 220 boys were just ending their outdoor athletics activities, two students—Ronnie Brann, 13, and Robert Zallan, 12, -- were struck and killed by flying portions of wreckage and debris from the crashing airliner. A third gravely injured student, Evan Elsner, 12, died two days later in a local hospital. An estimated 74 additional students on the school playground suffered injuries ranging from minor to critical.
The collision was blamed on pilot error—the failure of both aircraft crews to exercise proper “see and avoid” procedures regarding other aircraft while operating under visual flight rules (VFR). The crash also prompted the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to set restrictions on all aircraft test flights, both military and civilian, requiring that they be made over open water or specifically approved sparsely populated areas.
The Pacoima crash is referenced in the 1987 film La Bamba, a biographical account of the short life of veteran rock ’n’ roll singer Ritchie Valens. Valens was a 15-year-old student at Pacoima Junior High School at the time of the disaster, but he was not at school that day. He was attending the funeral of his grandfather Frank Reyes. Despite this, Valens developed a fear of flying, but would overcome it once he launched his rock and roll career. In tragic irony, Valens, along with fellow musicians Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper, along with pilot Roger Peterson, would perish just over two years later in the crash of a chartered Beechcraft Bonanza near Mason City, Iowa in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959.
Pacoima Junior High School underwent a name change, to Pacoima Middle School, in 1992.
The United States Postal Service Pacoima Post Office is located at 13507 Van Nuys Boulevard.
Pacoima residents are zoned to the following Los Angeles Unified School District.
The following schools serve sections of Pacoima.
Pacoima natives include: