Downey, CA

The Carpenter family moved to Downey, Ca. in June of 1963. Harold was 56 years old and felt his family would have a better life out west and that Richard, then 16, would have more options with his music. Karen was 13 years old and starting a new school.  When she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would answer either a nurse or a stewardess.  Those two professions were very popular during that time.

The Carpenters first moved to the Shoji Apartments (Now The Pinecrest Apts) in Downey, CA since money was tight since their home back in New Haven, CT had not yet sold. They moved into unit #22 of the Shoji complex. A few months later they moved across the walkway to a larger apartment, #23. (Shoji (now Pinecrest Apt) Apartments, 12020 Downey Avenue, Downey, CA)

In November Harold Carpenter was able to move his family to their first single-family residence in Downey — a “storybook house” (as Richard called it) on Fidler Avenue in South Downey, near the city’s borders with Paramount and Bellflower.   The Carpenters lived in the Fidler Avenue house until 1971. (IF ANYONE HAS A PHOTO OF THIS PLEASE CONTACT ME.)  This is where the Carpenter events such as Karen’s “Magic Lamp” records were made in 1966, the Richard Carpenter Trio” won “Battle of the Bands” at the Hollywood Bowl in the same summer.  They were with RCA Records in the fall of that same year which was short-lived (wow, their loss!).  In June 1968 performed on “Your All American College Show” as the “Dick Carpenter Trio”.  They would finally sign with A & M Records in Hollywood April 22, 1969.   The construction of the 105 freeway would later remove this piece of history.

Karen joined the Downey High School Marching Band to get out of taking gym. Karen did consider herself a ‘tomboy’ because of her athletic abilities and playing with toy machine guns as a kid. But she didn’t care much for gym class. So she asked Richard to help her get into the school band, but she didn’t play an instrument! Richard was able to get her in learning the glockenspiel . The glockenspiel was considered a percussion instrument so Karen marched along with the drum section. She had her eyes on the drums. Once she put the sticks in her hands, it was natural. Next thing, she was asking for a drumset. Of course her parents were a bit “dubious” about this but did buy her a Ludwig set and took some lessons. Within 6 months at age 16 she was playing with such ease and natural born talent.

Here is a transcript of Karen talking about this.

Karen Carpenter: I didn’t like gym. I liked softball and basketball and all that type of stuff, but I DIDN’T like running around a track at 8 o’clock in the morning. ‘Cos running ISN’T one of my gifts, believe me!  So Rich said “We’ll get into the marching band!”, and I said “But I don’t play anything”. And he said “That’s no problem – Gifford [the musical director] will let you play the glockenspiel”. So I did, but I didn’t really like it because it’s not a very convenient instrument to play and it’s hard to carry… and it’s always a quarter-step sharp to the band, which used to drive me crazy! But the good thing about it is, the glockenspiel is a percussion instrument, it marches in the percussion line. And I was automatically TAKEN OVER by a love for the drums! I had no idea whether I could play ’em or not, but I wanted to and I was very determined… but the band director said “That’s not really normal”. Of course, all you have to tell me is that something’s not normal and I’ll go for it!! And luckily I had a gift for it, and within a couple of weeks we went out and bought a drum set…

Now a teenager with a drum-set in the house might spell trouble. It was also highly unusual for that teen to be a girl. But as brother Richard explains, they were blessed with exceptional parents.

Carpenters house in Downey, CA







6 Responses to “Downey, CA”

  1. Merlin Jones August 11, 2015 at 11:43 am # Reply

    My cousins went to high school with Richard and Karen. I spent summers in Downey. It is interesting to think they were there at the time. What Karen and I have in common is that we were both transplanted before our freshman year in high school. The transition was to a radically different culture. I lost all my elementary and junior high school friends. Then just as I was beginning to know my high school mates we graduated and that was the end of those relationships. So, I can understand the losses she may have felt. I am also the youngest. My two older sister were born 1949 and 1950 and have a cousin named Karen born in 1949. I relate to the fact that Karen was the peerage age of my sisters and cousins.. In the video where she is drumming and singing Dancing In The Streets she is wearing white go go boots, and I remember my sister’s friends dressing like in that style. So, Karen represents the Boomer Generation quite well. But I do see tat Polly Puritan New England Americana gal.

  2. Ross Hurley September 8, 2016 at 12:34 pm # Reply

    Can’t find a picture of the Fidler Avenue house anywhere.

    • Nancy Calhoun March 24, 2017 at 10:50 am # Reply

      It was torn down and a freeway took its place.

  3. STEVE KESTEN October 25, 2019 at 4:01 pm # Reply

    I grew up on Foster Road in So. Downey. I delivered the Press Telegram paper to their house in 1967. Saw her at the Stox Restaurant on Imperial with her father I think sitting in a booth next to me around 1982 or so. I said to my friend the girl in the booth next to us looked at me like she knew me. My friend who went to Downey High also said well that is Karen Carpenter. She had short hair and did not look like I remembered her. Very pretty but thin. Loved their music. God Bless her and her family. They surely blessed us with beautiful music.

    • vtwatabe November 26, 2019 at 12:37 am # Reply

      Hi Steve,

      You are really a lucky person to see her in her almost last year. According to her posthumous story on TV, Karen was back from therapy in New York. Maybe it was that time when she came back to Downey, you came across her.

      The year you delivered Press Telegram is the year I was born.

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