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South Gate pays tribute to General Motors plant

SOUTH GATE — Mayor Maria Davila and the United Auto Workers Local 216 Union unveiled a plaque at South East High School on July 27 to commemorate the General Motors automotive assembly plant that once occupied the land that is now the school campus.

The plant produced Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile cars from 1936 to 1982 and played a major part in the community’s economy and development. The majority of those attending the ceremony were former employees of the plant, including guest speaker and former South Gate City Councilman Henry C. Gonzalez.

South East was completed in 2005 and shares the lot where the GM plant stood with Southeast Middle School and the International Studies Learning Center, South Gate Campus.

“It was the largest employer in our community. It is an honor to commemorate those who worked here with this historic landmark,” Gonzales said.

“They’re a part of history. I think it’s important to remember those who kept this community together,” Davila said.

She also said the school and its history are important to the community. Davila added that she thinks it is important for students in the community to know that they are able to pursue their education because of the hard work of working-class people.

Davila also thanked Gonzalez for his support in having South East High School built. She said his knowledge and connection to General Motors helped her and the activist group Padres Unidos, in its efforts to have schools built in the Southeast.

Padres Unidos helped alleviate the overpopulation of schools like South Gate High School, Huntington Park High School and Jordan High School in the late 1990s.

Gonzales shared some of the plant’s history with attendees. Like many automotive manufacturing plants in the United States, the South Gate Assembly plant halted its production of cars to support the war effort during World War II in the 1940s.

During this time, the South Gate plant produced tanks and other military vehicles. Many of its employees enlisted in the armed forces as well. A few former employees that enlisted during that time were present during the plaque unveiling ceremony.

The General Motors plant’s long history in South Gate ended in 1982 when the auto industry was adjusting to globalization and a recent oil crisis.

“Unfortunately, a lot of jobs were lost when the General Motors plant closed,” Davila said. “However, look at how many students are now being educated and preparing for their future here.

“You should be proud that [the GM plant] is being used for that purpose,” Davila told the former employees present at the ceremony. “I just want to thank you for being part of history.”

Former Councilman Bill Dewitt said the auto industry helped propel South Gate’s industrial development in the 1930s. “We’ve advanced a lot since then and we’ve had our ups and downs.”

Dewitt recounted having to prepare a campaign speech when he ran for mayor in 1982 on a day when many of the GM plant’s employees were notified that they would be getting laid off.

“It was not a good afternoon at Union Hall across the street from here,” Dewitt said.

However, he ended by saying he thinks it’s important to commemorate that history.