Reseda originated as a farm town named "Marian" (or "Rancho Marian") that appeared in 1912. Its namesake, Marian Otis Chandler, was the daughter of Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, a director of the Los Angeles Suburban Homes Company. About 1920, Reseda—named after a fragrant North African yellow-dye plant, Reseda odorata, which grows in hot, dry climates—replaced Marian as a designation for a stop on the Pacific Electric interurban railway running along Sherman Way.
The population of Reseda was 1,805 in 1930 and 4,147 in 1940. By 1950 it had topped 16,000, but the Ventura Freeway lay 10 years in the future, and most Reseda residents still bought fresh eggs, milk, honey and vegetables at stands along Ventura Boulevard. The name "Reseda" was given first to a siding on a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the south San Fernando Valley.
By 1950, the Valley's population reached 400,000. The average new Valley home, in 1949, cost $9,000. By 1955, that same house could be resold for nearly $15,000. But even at that price, a household income only had to be $6,000 a year, not at all difficult, considering Valley incomes continued to hover above the national average.
By 1960, the average market value of a Valley home reached $18,850. During the 1970s, however, these costs and income patterns over the rest of the country began to reverse. Land and housing costs shot upward, while most incomes only crept. By the beginning of the 1980s, the average price of a home in the Valley reached $110,000. According to a 2004 study by the U.S. Bureau of the Census it has reached triple that of the beginning of the 1980s.
Although home values continued to increase, the Caucasian population stopped growing in the early 1980s. As the white population decreased due to aging and a lower birth rate, Latino immigrants continued moving into the area. At the same time, a variety of factors led to a decreasing level of income, from discrimination to gang problems and the changing economy of the Los Angeles area that is losing blue collar unionized jobs. As a result, the neighborhood changed from a middle-class neighborhood back to its working-class roots.
Tom Petty immortalized Reseda in his song "Free Fallin'" with the lines:
Incidentally, there are no freeways within Reseda's boundaries. In the 1970s there were proposals to build a freeway, called the Whitnall Freeway, west to east through the middle of Reseda, but it was never approved.
Soul Coughing mentions Reseda in their song "Screenwriter's Blues":
The Mountain Goats mention Reseda in their song "High Doses #2"
The 1974 Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention release Roxy & Elsewhere contains, on the song Dummy Up, a reference to the city as Napoleon Murphy Brock's character is asked where he is from during a vamp in the song and he is scoffed at by Zappa when he replies he is from Reseda.
In the film Boogie Nights, the night club scenes were filmed at The Country Club (now a church) on Sherman Way, a block east of Reseda Boulevard. The long opening shot tracks from the marquee of The Reseda Theatre (actually long closed) down the block and across a side street to the club entrance, then inside. The donut shop holdup takes place several blocks east of the club, which is the donut shop on Sherman Way called Miss Donuts, which used to be a Winchell's Donuts and the scene where Dirk Diggler prostitutes himself in a pickup truck was filmed in the Bank of America parking lot across the street from the donut shop.
Several prominent scenes from the film Magnolia, also directed by Anderson, were filmed near the intersection of Sherman Way and Reseda, about half a block away from The Country Club.
In the 1984 film The Karate Kid, character Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio had just moved to Reseda from New Jersey. The apartment building that Daniel lived in is on Saticoy St., and the scene where Daniel is being chased in the empty field is next to the apartment building.
The 1995 film A Kid in King Arthur's Court places the home of the main character in Reseda. Both the beginning and ending scenes of the movie ostensibly take place on a baseball field in Reseda.
In the film Erin Brockovich, certain scenes were filmed near Sherman Way and Yolanda Ave.
The show My Name is Earl is often filmed in Reseda, captured to look like rural small town America. One episode was about a hot dog stand which was filmed on the corner of Saticoy and Reseda at home plate.
Like other areas of the city of Los Angeles, Reseda is served by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Vanalden Early Education Center is in the community.
Comprehensive elementary schools in Reseda include Bertrand Avenue Elementary School, Blythe Street Elementary School, Cantara Street Elementary School, Garden Grove Elementary School, Melvin Avenue Elementary School, Newcastle Elementary School, Reseda Elementary School, Shirley Avenue Elementary School, and Vanalden Avenue Elementary School
The Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES), formerly Sequoia Junior High School lies adjacent to Reseda Park; it is not in or near the community of Sherman Oaks, its former location. Sven Lokrantz Special Education Center, a Kindergarten through 1st Grade special school, is in Reseda.