California Fool's Gold -- Exploring East Pasadena

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 24, 2013 09:29pm | Post a Comment

This neighborhood exploration is about tiny East Pasadena. Despite its name, East Pasadena is an independent community and no more a part of the city of Pasadena than are South Pasadena or Altadena. Historically it was a much larger community but through many annexations it has shrunk to a small area that also includes the neighborhoods of Michillinda Park, a portion of Chapman Woods, and several numbered tracts.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of East Pasadena

South Pasadena is neighbored by Pasadena to the north and west, San Marino to the west, East San Gabriel to the south, and Arcadia to the east. Though an independent community, many of its businesses have Pasadena addresses.  East Pasadena is a small but diverse As of the 2010 census, the population was just 6,144 and 52% white, 35% Latino of any race (mostly Mexican), 23% Asian (mostly Chinese and Filipino), 3% black, and 1% Native American. Though the fastest growing population in the last ten years was Asian-American, it still has a ways to before it reaches a plurality and thus joins its neighbors in "The Far Eastside." Whatever East Pasadenans' ancestral origins, it is heavy on the American Flags... and USMC flags... and one Colombian one.



Eaton Wash looking north toward the San Gabriel Mountains

Present day East Pasadena is located near the Tongva village of Sisitcanonga (also spelled Sisitkanonga), which was located near the banks of Eaton Creek. Eaton Creek is a small, seasonal stream, the headwaters of which are in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The lower, channelized version is referred to today as Eaton Wash and flows into the Rio Hondo.


Spaniards first arrived off the coast of Southern California 1542 although it wasn’t until 1771 that they built a nearby mission at which many of the Tongva were enslaved. With Mexican independence achieved in 1821, the land again changed hands. The missions were secularized in 1834 and the 54 km2 Rancho Santa Anita (which includes modern day East Pasadena as well as all or portions of Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena, San Marino, and Sierra Madre) was granted to Perfecto Hugo Reid, a Mexican of Scottish origin.


In 1848, after Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American War, California became part of the US but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo required that the pre-existing Mexican land grants be honored by the conqueror. After that the land changed hands many times before being purchased in 1875 by Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. Baldwin was a stockholder in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and in 1885 the railway arrived on his ranch in then-new town of Arcadia. To the west, the rail line reached Pasadena in 1887.


Pasadena was incorporated in 1886, the second town to do so in the county after Los Angeles. It quickly grew through annexations in all directions. South Pasadena incorporated in 1888 but Pasadena continued to annex the unincorporated lands of Altadena and East Pasadena. From 1906’s East Pasadena Annex to 1971’s Foothill Freeway Annex No. 71-2, nearly all of unincorporated East Pasadena was eventually annexed by Pasadena and today just 3.39 km2 remains.


Sunny Slope Water Company

In the 19th Century, Leonard Rose’s Sunny Slope property included 2,000 acres of orange groves and vineyards comprised of 35 varieties of grapes. It employed 150 workers and produced Rose’s Sunny Slope Brandy. In 1887, Rose created the Lamanda Park subdivision on his property and sold his company to a British firm. I'm not sure if Sunny Slope Vineyard was directly connected to East Pasadena’s Sunny Slope Water Company or whether it's merely named after Rose's Sunny Slope tract but it does date back to 1895, when it was established, and still operates today.


Lamanda Park station, served by the Pacific Electric Railway’s Sierra Madre Line and the Southern Pacific Railroad, opened in 1903 and the community further emerged as the industrial center of East Pasadena – namely around Nina Street and Rose Avenue (now San Gabriel Boulevard). It was annexed by Pasadena in 1920’s East Side Lamanda Park Annex.


Chapman Woods was purchased in 1869 by Albert (or Alfred, depending on the source) and Katherine Champan. It was later subdivided and true to its name, much of it retains an actual woodsy character. Part of it was annexed by Pasadena in the Eaton Annex of 1927 and part remains within East Pasadena.


The Michillinda Tract was subdivided around 1910. According to a 1916 edition of Out West magazine:

There is a little village near Pasadena called “Michillinda,” which is not a Spanish nor an Indian name, nor is it taken from an automobile tire, or a chill cure. It is simply the work of an original real estate lord who joined the names of three states – Mich., Ill,. And Ind., to appeal to prospective purchasers from these states. So on these rainy days he fuses the names of different states into on name, and dreams of opening new tracts and calling on “Minn-al-ar-ky,” for Minn., Ala., Ark., and Ky.: another “Wisgawyo,” for Wis., Ga., and Wyo.: still another “Mopanebore,” for Mo., Pa., Neb., and Ore.: and still another “Flamisskansla,” for Fla., Miss., Kans., and La.

The tract, bordered by Michillinda to the east, Foothill to the south, Rosemead to the west, and Cole Avenue to the north, is now known as the Michillinda Park neighborhood.


A park, a playground, and a lovely window-less van

There’s a small park as old as the community in East Pasadena’s southeast corner, Michillinda Park. On the day that I visited there was a homeless man sleeping in the shade and a playground crowed with screeching children whose parents were congregated at a nearby picnic table. One of the children quoted Titanic, crying “I’m king of the world,” although more likely referencing some Dreamworks cartoon rather than the source film.

Extending north from the park are Woodward Boulevard and Michigan Boulevard, two streets with wide medians that are home to large evergreens that look older than most of the homes alongside them. When I the park live avenues, both were being pecked and shat upon by several peafowl, probably visiting from Arcadia’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden.


The East Pasadena Water Company was established in 1930 and still operates. It grew out of California-Michigan Land and Water Company (aka “Cal-Mich”), which was established in 1910 alongside the Michillinda Tract. In 1913 the company began functioning as a public water utility.


From around 1930 until 1950, East Pasadena was served by its own newspaper, the East Pasadena Herald. There also used to be an East Pasadena Kiwanis Club (c. 1949 – c.1975) and the East Pasadena Boys’ Club (founded in 1951 and operated at least until 1977 and may have evolved into the Boys & Girls Club of the Foothills, one of whose buses I saw on California as I explored). The East Pasadena Rotary Foundation, founded in 1963, still exists and there’s an East Pasadena Knights of Columbus branch. A club of different sorts is the APA League that meets and plays at Crown City Billiards.


By 1927, nearly bit of land up to the north-south Sierra Madre Villa Avenue had been annexed by Pasadena, leaving modern day East Pasadena and one other large area, Hastings Ranch, located to the north. The ranch’s owner, Charles H. Hastings, died in 1942 and his 1,000 acre ranch was sold in 1945 and quickly developed into an industrial, retail and residential neighborhood. It was duly annexed by Pasadena between 1946 and 1954. 


Hastings Drive-In (image source: Jalopy Journal)

Across the street from its then-northern border on Foothill Boulevard, Hastings Drive-In opened in 1950. It had a 1,315 car capacity. Unfortunately for drive-in fans, it was demolished in 1968 and was replaced with the Pacific Hastings Theatre in 1972, when it showed The Poseidon Adventure. Subdivided and renamed the Pacific Hastings 8, it eventually closed in 2007. This would be the part where I’d normally mention any films shot in East Pasadena or filmmakers and/or actors from there but I haven’t been able to find any so please hit me up with any additions that you may have. I suppose that I could mention that I saw a girl driving a car with a Totoro air freshner on her dashboard. 


Colorado Boulevard (renamed from Colorado Street in 1958) was part of the famed Route 66 and home to Pasadena’s Rose Parade, which is probably something most people had in mind that opened most of East Pasadena’s lodging along it. For overnight visitors to East Pasadena there currently exists Best Western Pasadena Inn, Best Western Pasadena Royale, Days Inn Pasadena, El Rancho Motel, Hi-Way Host MotelHoliday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Pasadena, and Pasada Motel. El Rancho Motel opened in 1950 and has a pleasantly mid-century vibe. The Hi-Way Host opened in 1956 and has a nice neon sign. I can’t vouch for their quality as guest accommodations, however, as both have an average rating of one star on Yelp.

If you’d like to use public transportation to visit East Pasadena it’s served by the Los Angeles Metro 79264, 266, 267, and 268 bus lines as well as the superior Foothill Transit 187 line and Pasadena ARTS. About 117 meters outside the community is Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Station, served by the Metro’s light rail Gold Line. On a related note, East Pasadena’s DMV office is the last one I renewed my registration at before ridding myself of my last automobile.


Craftsman home with an Ent (left)

Despite its small size, East Pasadena is home to a wide variety of architectural styles. The low-profile businesses along Colorado Boulevard with their slender bricks, iron ornaments, and fleurs-de-lis motifs are clearly products of a mid-20th century aesthetic.

Flinstonian architecture from 1956

Much of the eastern part of the community is characterized by nondescript ranch homes situated atop thirsty lawns decorated by dusty lawn ornaments and dry fountains. The southern edge along Huntington Drive is more obviously oriented toward the San Gabriel Valley’s growing Asian-American population, faced by billboards in Chinese from the East San Gabriel side of the street and home to tea houses and Chinese-speaking ESL schools.

The Outrigger Apartments (1961) -- now inanely re-named "The Aparments at Huntington"

The western area near Pasadena is home to private communities and stately mansions. There are beautiful Craftsman homes sprinkled here and there and a dismaying number of pebto abysmal Spanish Revival McMansions due in large part to the fact that the unincorporated county community is un-served by even a basic preservation ordinance.


Elizabeth Carneceria (she's pushing the cart apparently) and Sprout's Market with Sprout street art

There are a handful of dining options within East Pasadena including B-Man’s Teriyaki & Burgers, Chiquita Bonita...

... Cynthia Brooks Distinctive Catering, El Super Burrito, Gin Sushi, Golden Palace Mongolian BBQ, Half & Half Tea Express, Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta, Nikki C’s Restaurant, President Thai, Sprouts Farmers Market, Yang Chow, and Yes Sushi.

The most popular judging by crowd size during my visit would have to be either El Super Burrito or The Original Tops. The Original Tops began in 1952, when Greek immigrant Steve Bicos started it as a diner with an uncle. The current restaurant was built in 1978 and is run by Bicos’s son, Chris.

Gin Sushi used to house an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. The building dates back to 1946 and seems to have been a winery, according to an old directory.

President Thai wins points from me for almost looking like a wat as does Mama’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta for having a replica of the 93 meter tall Statue of Liberty in New York (or El Monte’s seven meter version).

There are two bars as well: Esquire Bar and Lounge (formerly a gay club called Club 3772, I think) and R Place, which opens at noon and is by all accounts more of a neighborhood dive.



Normally I would mention any bands or musicians from East Pasadena but I have thus far been unable to discover any. There is music being made, however, in a music studio on Rosemead, RedZone Guitar Works, and Lee Music School. Art is hopefully being made at Pasadena Art School.


For religious sorts there are a few options. On outward appearances alone I’d have to go with St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1965.

New Hope Presbyterian Church
, built in 1963, is a fairly typical church of the era. It used to be Michillinda Presbyterian Church, whose story was told in David Rohrer’s book, The Sacred Wilderness of Pastoral Ministry. Most of its signage now is in Korean. The windowless Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall looks like a military barracks.

The Pasadena Hindu Temple looks rather like a house, albeit one with a large “om.” I’m so used to seeing those hanging on the necklaces of spiritual bros that I almost forget that it has a religious meaning. There’s also Iglesia del Nazareno, Impact Harvest Church, and Life Church.


I don’t normally get too into neighborhood crime statistics as I think it might make people unnecessarily afraid of exploring and personally I don’t think that any neighborhood in Southern California has struck me as dangerous enough to warrant a travel advisory. However, I will mention crime statistics here primarily out of the hope that it will challenge stereotypes. To wit, of all the communities reporting crime statistics, East Pasadena has the highest violent crime rate in the SGV (much of which, to be fair, doesn’t report crime statistics). Its crime rate is higher than that of Cypress Park, Koreatown, Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Van Nuys, San Pedro, and many other communities that are with unfair but numbing regularity characterized as being “gang plagued,” “ghetto,” “the hood,” “sketchy,” having “gone to the dogs” &c (often coded shorthand for becoming less white).

Military relics

As I expected, I never once felt even remotely threatened in East Pasadena in the hours that I was there. Sure there was a dog that barked at me and I suppose the sidewalk sign-twirlers arrow could’ve gone awry and poked one of my eyes out but most of the menace occurs either behind McMansion walls or near East San Gabriel’s Clairbourn School and San Marino’s KL Carver Elementary, at least.

An orange 1980 Scout and van/pick-up with horns on the hood for sale

That being said, there was a high profile crime that took place (four years ago) that rocked a community perhaps used to the occasional aggravated assaults and robberies but not murder. On 26 July, 2009, then 85-year-old James Che Ming Lu murdered his wife of nine years, Michelle Lu – then 55 – by striking her nineteen times in the head with a hand ax at the couple’s Rosemead Boulevard home in East Pasadena. He also attacked the victim’s son, Ji Zeng, who escaped and called the police. Lu is currently serving a 42 year sentence.

East Pasadena shopportunities 

Not to end on a dour note, my experiences (excepting that with the DMV) were absolutely pleasant aside from a bit of high temperature-induced heavy sweating. I hope to come back and check out some of the restaurants and R Place in the future. And please politely contribute any additions or corrections in the comments, thank you.

Peacocks in East Pasadena (one just off camera to the left was doing its business)


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Santa Catalina Island and Avalon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 26, 2013 07:38pm | Post a Comment

Two weeks ago I made my first visit to one of California’s Channel Islands, Santa Catalina Island. For those that don’t know, Southern California is home to an archipelago of small, rugged islands off its coast. My 2012 New Year’s resolution was to visit one or more of the Channel Islands. Having failed to realize this wish by December of that year, I instead resolved to learn to tie a bow tie after being berated (jokingly, I think) for not knowing how do so despite operating a gentlemen’s shop. For the record, I accomplished this last minute resolution and wore a bow tie a few nights later New Year’s Eve that I tied all by myself. Any, since transportation via Catalina Express is free on one’s birthday, I decided to have another go at island life.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Santa Catalina Island 

Accompanying me in her debut appearance was Una. In order to get as much out of our adventure as possible, we departed at some pre-dawn hour. After a hastily-devoured meal from McDonald's (which, though simple and clarified three times, managed nonetheless to be both screwed up and roof-of-the-mouth blisteringly hot) we raced down the docks and leapt aboard the boat with about two minutes to spare.

 Catalina Landing and another Catalina Express boat in Long Beach

Despite the relatively early hour, I could scarcely contain my excitement at once again being back on the sea after so long on land. As we passed freighters in the Harbor from the other side of the ocean, I thought what an adventure it must be to journey, even as a mere cabin boy, between San Pedro Bay and Japan or China by sea -- singing sea shanties for the enjoyment of my fellow seamen. As the biting wind struck my face I reminisced about hitting the seas to go scuba diving and remembered that one of the main draws of California upon me was its maritime nature. Before long the site of Catalina (almost always visible from the mainland as a dark silhouette) came into focus like something out of a dream.

Avalon emerging on the horizon


Santa Catalina Island, often referred to as either Catalina Island or just Catalina, is about 35 km long and 13 km wide at its greatest width. It’s located 35 km from the coast. The highest point is the 639 meter tall Mount Orizaba. The Channel Islands, in descending order of size, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina, San Clemente, San Nicolas, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Like San Clemente Island, Santa Catalina Island is just as much a part of Los Angeles County as the communities of the mainland (even though the two islands are often given the Alaska and Hawaii treatment on maps). 

Pendersleigh & Sons' Cartography's map of Los Angeles County regions and detail of Channel Islands

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Several of California’s Channel Islands – Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel – were historically home to the Chumash, who may’ve settled them some 10,000 years ago. It’s possible that San Clemente, San Nicolas and Santa Catalina were as well also home to bands of Chumash. Evidence on San Nicolas and San Clemente suggest that at least they were the sites of major battles. What is known with more certainty is that around 7,000 BCE bands of Tongva were living on all three of these southern Channel Islands.

Santa Catalina appears to have been first settled a group calling themselves Pimugnans or Pimuvit. The Tongva band called the island Pimu'gna (“Place of the Pimu”) and archaeological evidence suggest that they first settled the islands after their ancestors emigrated from distant the Sonoran Desert. Their largest settlements were near the present day settlements at Avalon, Shark Harbor, and Emerald Bay. They traded soapstone from the island with other nations along the California coast and possibly with Polynesians. Evidence from the thousands of ancient middens on the island suggests that around 2,000 BCE the island was home to around 2,500 Pimuvit.


The first European explorer, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, arrived on 7 October, 1542 and, naming it San Salvador, claimed it for Spain. In 1602 another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, again “discovered” the island, this time naming it Santa Catalina in recognition of the Eve of Saint Catherine’s Day (24 November), on which he arrived. The Spanish lacked the ability to prevent other nations from using the island and for centuries Aleut, American and Russian otter hunters, luckless gold prospectors, and smugglers used the islands for their own purposes, decimating the Pimugnans with disease and deliberate killings.


Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821 and the islands changed hands once again. The last of the Pimugnans were gone by the 1830s – mostly victims of disease and migration to the mainland in search of work. Governor Pío Pico granted the island to Thomas M. Robbins in 1846 as Rancho Santa Catalina.


Miners on Catalina - Image source: The Catalina Islander

In 1850 Robbins sold the island to José María Covarrubias who sold it to Albert Packard in 1853 who in turn sold it to James Lick. Despite the fact that no gold was ever found on the island, otter hunters began telling tales of gold mines and buried treasure. Boom towns sprang up and in 1863 and 70 miners were then mining various claims. One character, Stephen Bouchette, claimed to have struck a rich vein and after securing a backing to mine for gold, set sail with his wife and all of their belongings and was never heard from again. In 1864, the US ordered everyone off the island and a small garrison of troops was stationed on the isthmus’s west end. The barracks, still there, are currently home to the Isthmus Yacht Club and are the oldest structure on the island.


Civil War barracks at Two Harbors - Image source: Visit Catalina Island

After the end of the Civil War, a few ranchers began to move to the island. Real estate developer George Shatto was the first to capitalize on the island’s potential as a tourist destination. After buying the island from the Lick estate, Shatto built the island’s first hotel, Hotel Metropole, and a pier. His sister-in-law, Etta Whitney, came up with the name Avalon, taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem “Idylls of the King.” Shatto soon defaulted on his loan and ownership returned to the Lick estate.

Postcard depicting Avalon Bay in 1900


The Santa Catalina Island Company was established by the sons of Phineas Banning in 1891 with the intention of developing the island as a resort. In addition to promoting Avalon, the Banning brothers developed inland roads for stagecoach tours and to access hunting lodges. They also built homes for themselves at Descanso Canyon and in what’s now Two Harbors. Their efforts were majorly set back when a fire destroyed most of Avalon on 29 November, 1915. In 1919 the brothers were forced to sell shares of their company.


The Tuna Club of Avalon

After visiting the island with his family, William Wrigley, Jr. purchased most of the island’s shares and thus gained controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company. The Tuna Club of Avalon was built in 1916. To drum up publicity, Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs began using the island for spring training in 1921 and stayed at the Hotel St. Catherine in Descanso Bay. The Catalina Island Yacht Club, established in 1893, built a new Yacht Club in 1924 (the former was destroyed in the fire). Wrigley established the Wrigley Ocean Marathon in 1927. He built the Catalina Casino in 1929. He died in 1932 and control of the company passed to his son, Philip, who continued his father’s work.

Left Catalina Island Yacht Club (built 1924). Right Catalina Casino (1929)

The 1920s and ‘30s are widely considered to have been the island’s heyday with movie stars like Clark Gable frequently making high profile visits and famous western author Zane Grey making his home there (which is now the phone-and-TV-less Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel).

During World War II the island was used by the military and closed to tourists. San Clemente Island, to the south, is still owned by the military and off-limits to visitors. The US Maritime Service, Coast Guard, Office of Strategic Services, Army Signal Corp and Navy all established a presence at various locations throughout the island.

In 1972, 26 Brown Berets planted a Mexican flag in Catalina, claiming that the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty between Mexico and the US didn’t cover the Channel Islands. Following 24 days of camping near Chimes Tower the activists returned to the mainland. In 1975, 42,135 acres of the island were deeded not to Mexico but to the Catalina Island Conservancy, established the same year as the Brown Berets’ action.



Avalon, as seen from the mountains

As of 2010, Catalina was home to 4,096 people – with 90% living in the only incorporated community, Avalon. Unincorporated Two Harbors is the next largest settlement and was then home to only about 298 people. The population of the island is about 56% Latino, 41% white Anglo, and about 2% Asian/Pacific Islander.


About 400 species of native plants grow on the island. Six varieties are endemic. There are five native land mammals: a subspecies of California Ground Squirrel, the Santa Catalina Island Harvest Mouse, the Santa Catalina Island Deer Mouse, the Ornate Shrew, and the aforementioned Island Fox.

Critically endangered Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis)

The endangered Island Fox was almost wiped out. In 1999, there remained only about 100. A recovery program increased their numbers and I saw and snapped a picture of one of the new roughly 400.

Bison grazing in the hills

In addition to the fox, the most recognizable fauna icon of the island is the American Bison. Fourteen bison were brought to the island in 1924 for the film, The Vanishing American. Rather than euthanize or return the bison, the filmmakers simply left them be and today there are about 150 which have -- along with other non-natives including Blackbuck, Bullfrogs, feral cats, Mule Deer, rats, and Starlings -- wrought taxed the ecosystem. The non-native cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep were also destructive but are no longer present on the island. The waters around the island is home to California SheepheadGaribaldiGreat White sharks, Leopard sharks, White Seabass, Yellowtail, Bat Rays, Giant Sea Bass, California Sea lions, and Harbor Seals


Catalina is regularly serviced by public transportation. Passenger ferries depart from Dana Point, Long Beach, Marina del Rey, Newport Beach, and San Pedro. Helicopters also connect Long Beach and San Pedro to the island. On the day of our visit, there was a Carnival Cruise ship broken down (I kid) off the coast.

Catalina Airport (CIB)

For those with access to a private plane, the island is also home to the Catalina Airport aka Airport-in-the-Sky, built in 1946 on top of a mountain 488 meters above sea level.


Claressa Avenue in Avalon, CA

Most residents of Catalina own gas-powered golf carts and many tourists rent them as well. When we explored Avalon in the morning, it took me a bit to get used to what sounded and smelled like 2,000 lawn mowers and leaf blowers being operated at once. There are also bike riders and rentals as well as tour busses and a trolley. There are, contrary to what I’d heard, some proper cars and trucks. Most of the ones that I were Minis (originals, not BMW’s) and Japanese mini trucks.

Metropola Avenue in Avalon, CA


With almost one million annual visitors annually dwarfing the local population by hundreds of times, it should come as no surprise that tourism is central to the island’s economy. There are all sorts of appropriately touristy activities available including glass bottom boats, scuba diving, snorkeling, para-sailing, and tours seem to be especially popular. Despite Avalon’s most iconic architecture being Catalina Casino, legal gambling is not. To quote Pee-Wee Herman, “Some things they don't teach you in school; some things you just have to learn for yourself.” We opted for an inland bus tour, the tickets for which were sold to us by a seemingly authentic Sea Hag straight out of Popeye. We also, not very tourist-like, visited the local library.

The Sea Hag and Alice the Goon

Swimming in the ocean near Avalon’s beaches is also popular although the fact that the Natural Resources Defense Council lists Avalon as one of the ten most chronically polluted beaches in the nation due to mainly to its antiquated sewer system convinced me to pursue liquid refreshment elsewhere – namely, in a bar.


Nearly all of the restaurants on Catalina Island are in Avalon. Refreshingly, none are part of an international chain. We ate a hearty elevenses at Pancake Cottage, a light lunch Avalon Seafood (aka Fish and Chips), and dinner at Lobster Trap. In between he enjoyed ice cream from Big Olaf's Ice Cream, and beer at one of the island's only proper bars, the Marlin Club.

Restaurants we didn't manage to check out include Antonio's Pizzeria & The Catalina Cabaret, Avalon Grille, Avalon's Plaza Cafe, Barbecue House, Bluewater Grill, Buffalo Nickel Restuarant, Cafe Metropole, Casino Dock Cafe, Catalina Cantina, CC Beau Deli, CC Gallagher, Channel House Restaurant, Chef D'Arcy's Soul Food, Coney Island West, Coyote Joe's Bar & Restaurant, Debbie's Island Deli, Descanso Beach Club, Dessert Island, Dockside Deli, Eli's Island Deli, El Galleon, Eric's on the Pier, Island Sushi, Joe's Place, Katie's Kitchen, Landing Bar & Grill, Laua Larry's, Lori's Good Stuff, M Restaurant, Mi Casita Mexican Restaurant, Mr. Ning's Chinese Garden, Original Anotio's Deli, Original Jack's Country Kitchen, Pete's Plaza Cafe, Pic Nic Fry, Ristorante Villa Portofino, Sally's Waffle Shop, Sandtrap Restaurant and Bar, Steve's Steakhouse, Three Palms Avalon Arcade, and Topless Tacos.

Outside of Avalon there are few options. We squeezed in more beer at DC-3 Gifts and Grill (aka Runway Cafe) which is located at the airport. In Two Harbors there's Doug's Harbor Reef Restaurant. Presumably guests can get breakfast at least at the island's bed and breakfasts.


Catalina has long been the subject of documentaries. A sampling of the earliest includes Santa Catalina, Magic Isle of the Pacific (1911), Santa Catalina Islands, and The Capture of a Sea Elephant and Hunting Wild Game in the South Pacific Islands (both 1914).

The island has also been a filming location for episodes of several TV series including Airwolf, The Aquanauts, The Bachelor, Bahcelor Pad, The Bold and the Beautiful, Den store fisketuren, Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door, The Girls Next Door, Hell's Kitchen, Home from Home, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, Mannix, Route 66, Sea Hunt, Twentysixmiles, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Its list of features and short films set and/or filmed there includes but is not limited to Biblical stories, prehistoric fantasies, pirate movies, swashbucklers, and Naval epics. Many films shot in Catalina were done so in the silent era, including Action (1921), American Pluck (1925), The Beach Combers (1912), Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), The Black Pirate (1926), Conquering the Woman (1922), Ebb Tide (1922), Feet of Clay (1924), Half a Man (1925), His Jonah Day (1920), The Isle of Lost Ships (1923), The Kid Brother (1927), The King of Kings (1927), Loot (1919), Male and Female (1919), Man's Genesis (1912), Miss Adventure (1919), No Man's Land (1918), Old Ironsides (1926), Peter Pan (1924), A Prizma Color Visit to Catalina (1919), The Professor's Wooing (1912), Rivals (1912), A Romance at Catalina (1912), Roughest Africa (1923), The Sea Beast (1926), The Sea Hawk (1924), The Sea Maiden (1913), The Sea Nymphs (1914), The Shepherd of the Hills (1919), Sirens of the Sea (1917), Terror Island (1920), The Treasure of the Sea (1918), the aforementioned The Vanishing American (1925), The Woman (1915), The Valley of the Moon (1914), and The Yankee Girl (1915).

Catalina's also been a filming location and/or setting for many talkies. Consider the following:

Affairs in Order (2008), All Ashore (1953), All is Lost (2013), Apollo 13 (1995), Aquanoids (2003), Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Battle at Bloody Beach (1961), Beachcomber (2009), Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss (1998), Bird of Paradise (1932), Blockade (1938), The Blue Men (1990), Born to Dance (1936), The Buccaneer (1938), Captain Calamity (1936), Catalina Caper (1967), Chinatown (1974),

The Circuit III: Final Flight
(2006), Cruise into Terror (1978), The Cruise of the Jasper B (1926), Dancing Dynamite (1931), Dangerous Character (1962), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Dead in the Head (2010), The Divine Lady (1929), The Divorcee (1930),  El capitan Tormenta (1936), Elmer, the Great (1933), Fast Life (1932), The First to Go (1997), The Flaming Signal (1933), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), 
Guadalcanal Diary (1943), Harpoon (1948), Hero's Island (1962),

Hong Kong Nights
(1935), The Hurricane (1937), I Live My Life (1935), The In-Laws (1979), The Incredible Petrified World (1957), Into the Wild (2007), Island of Lost Souls (1932), Island Prey (2005), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), Jaws (1975), Journey of Echoes (2011), King of the Jungle (1933), Life as a House (2001), 
Lost Focus (2004), Love thy Neighbor (1940), The Man with Bogart's Face (1980), Men Without Women (1930), Mermaids of Tiburon (1962),

Monster from the Ocean Floor
(1954), The Monster That Challenged the World (1957), Murder on a Honeymoon (1935), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), New Moon (1940), Oh Kay! (1928), P.J. (1968), 
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (1935), Pirates of the High Seas (1950), Platinum High School (1960), Port of Hate (1939), Rain (1932), Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), Red Hair (1928), Ruthless (1948),

Sadie Thompson (1928), Sand Sharks (2011), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), The Sea God (1930), 
The Sea Hound (1947), Seas Beneath (1931), The Shepherd of the Hills (1928), Sherlock: Undercover Dog (1994), The Sin Ship (1931), Sixteen Fathoms Deep (1934), The Son of Kong (1933), Song of the Islands (1942), Strange Interlude (1932), Submarine D-1 (1937), Suicide Kings (1997), Summer Children (1965), The Tenderfoot (1965), Tormented (1960), two short films called Catalina (both 2007), Typhoon (1940), Wake of the Red Witch (1948), Waterworld (1995), We're Not Dressing (1934), When Willie Comes Marching Home (1950), and You Said a Mouthful (1932) 

In 1981, actress Natalie Wood drowned in the waters near Two Harbors under fishy circumstances, where she and her husband, actor Robert Wagner, were vacationing aboard their yacht with fellow actor Christopher Walken. In 2011 the case was reopened due to statements made by the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern. When we visited, there was some sort of related exhibit regarding the events at the small Catalina Island Museum.

Catalina is also the birthplace of actor/producer/director Gregory Harrison (he directed episodes of Trapper John, MD and Touched by an Angel), visual effects guy Jack Cosgrove (Gone with the Wind), and Ernie Reed (camera and electrical department on City Heat).


Not a lot of (or any that I’m aware of) widely-recognized music performers or bands have emerged from the island’s small population but it has hosted a couple of big names and events. Every year there’s the Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival. It was also the recording site of John Tesh: The Avalon Concert (1997).

Additionally, it’s been mentioned or referenced in a couple of songs including Harry Carroll and Harold Atteridge's "By the Beautiful Sea" (1914), Al Jolson and Vincent Rose's "Avalon" (1920), Nacio Herb Brown and Grant Clarke's "Avalon Town" (1928), Carrie Jacobs-Bond's "California" (1929), Cliff Friend and Con Conrad's "California" (1930), Harold Spina's "Santa Catalina" (1946), Gorden Vanderburg's "Catalina Honeymoon" (1953), The Four Preps’ “26 Miles” (1958), The Descendents’ “Catalina" (1982), and Modern Skirts’ “Pasadena” (2005).


We caught the last ferry home, along with many more people than were on board our boat on the way to Catalina. Whereas our morning journey had been amazingly quiet, the trip home was memorable for the shrill screams of energetic children. Outside the boat’s window, I was treated to a stunning sunset that I gave up on trying to capture with a camera and then the lovely site of downtown Long Beach. down, seven to go!

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring El Monte, the End of the Santa Fe Trail (or at least some trails)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 23, 2013 08:00pm | Post a Comment

Valley Boulevard and Peck Road -- Welcome to El Monte

El Monte is a city in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley. As of the last census (in 2010), its population was 113,475. It contains the neighborhoods of Arden Village, the Auto District, Downtown, Five Points, the Flair Business District, Hayes, Maxson, Mountain View, the Northwest Industrial District, Norwood Village, and Park El Monte.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of El Monte

El Monte is neighbored by Temple City, North El Monte, and Arcadia to the north; Irwindale to the northeast; Baldwin Park to the east; City of Industry to the southeast, Avocado Heights and South El Monte to the south; and Rosemead to the west. Although El Monte's top three employers are school districts, its economy seemed to me to be dominated by auto shops and smog checks as well as nail and beauty salons.


Aerial view of old El Monte Station and freeway

El Monte has long served as a crossroads and transportation hub. It is believed that the Tongva made camp in the area when travelling between villages. Later, Spanish missionaries and soldiers used to rest in the area. Even later, some have claimed that it's the end of the Santa Fe Trail.

El Monte Metrolink station with lions and film motif 

Today El Monte is still a crossroads -- it's served by two freeways, the Los Angeles Metro's rapid transit Silver Line, Southern California Regional Rail Authority's Metrolink train, a 38 mile bike trail that connects the San Gabriel Mountains to Alamitos Bay, and two rivers (that aren't terribly reliable ways of getting around for most). It's also home to the largest bus station west of Chicago (and served by many bus lines) and Longo Toyota -- the number one auto dealer in the US (by sales and volume) and El Monte's fourth largest employer. I was accompanied on this episode, the debut of Season 7, by librarian Matt Patsel, first and last seen in Season 4's episode, "Gardena - The South Bay's city of opportunity."



The land that is now part of the city of El Monte was something of an oasis in the middle of the semi-arid San Gabriel Valley as it is situated between the banks of both the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel Rivers and thus has relatively fertile soil. Somewhat surprisingly, El Monte is one of the oldest towns in Los Angeles County and yet seemingly few vestiges of its rich past remain today. Despite its current appearance (very few buildings remain that were built before the 1950s and almost none from before the 1920s), El Monte has a rich history.


End of the Santa Fe Trail or End of the Gila River and Old Spanish Trails?

Spaniards named the area "El Monte" -- an archaic Spanish term which describes an uncultivated scrubland and not, as is probably often assumed, "mountain." It was part of The Old Spanish Trail, which originated in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As of 1821, The Santa Fe Trail (which connected Kansas City, Missouri to Santa Fe) was extended to El Monte. This is why El Monte is said to be "The End of the Santa Fe Trail" -- a claim that is rejected by the Official Santa Fe Trail Association.

El Monte - The End of the Santa Fe Trail (1923)

At the time El Monte was referred to by several variations including "El Monte," "The Monte," and simply "Monte."  In 1826, explorer Jedediah Smith led a party that stopped in the area. One of the members of his party, Harrison Rogers, referred to the area as "Camp Monte" and "Monte Camp" in his diary entry about it.


Oldest home in El Monte as it appeared when photographed in 1922

Sources vary on exact dates and names but Americans began to permanently settle in El Monte around 1850. The first non-Native-constructed home was built for Nicholas Schmidt. Other early settlers included were G. and F. Cuddeback, J. Corbin, and J Sheldon. Mostly farmers, they came from Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas. Around 1851 the Thompson Party (led by Ira W. Thompson) settled there. Captain Johnson, was from Lexington, Kentucky and he convinced the villagers to rename their settlement "Lexington" after his hometown. 

Plaque commemorating Southern California's first Evangelical church

Shortly after the settlement was founded, the structures of a small town followed. In 1852 the first schoolhouse was erected. That same year John Prior organized the first Evangelical congregation in Southern California (a plaque was installed in 1930 to commemorate the site). By 1855 the town was rounded out by the Old Cecil Saloon and a Masonic lodge. In 1858, El Monte became a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. By then El Monte's economy was based around the production of bacon, castor oil, cotton, fruits, grains, honey, hops, and wool.


El Monte was very much a Wild West town in the mid-19th Century and frontier justice was the law of the land. A notorious vigilante militia, the El Monte Rangers, was established in 1854 to impose their brand of justice (namely in the form of trial-less lynchings). They later evolved a group which called itself The El Monte Boys.


Although California was a free state, by 1861 El Monte was a stronghold of CSA sympathizers. A. J. King, an undersheriff of Los Angeles County and former member of the El Monte Rangers, formed a secessionist militia company, the Monte Mounted Rifles in 1861 (taking after the pro-Confederate Los Angeles Mounted Rifles). After he marched through the streets of El Monte carrying a portrait of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard he was arrested by a U.S. Marshal. In 1862, Union troops established New Camp Carleton near El Monte to suppress any rebellion by southern sympathizers.


In 1866, the California State Legislature divided up the state into governmental units known as townships. The village of Lexington was made the governmental seat of the new El Monte Township but the residents soon after voted to change the name of their town to El Monte. As the town continued to establish itself, the Willow Grove Inn was constructed by the Thompson family to serve travelers on the Butterfield Stage Route between Riverside and Los Angeles.


El Monte in 1889

The Southern Pacific built a railroad depot in El Monte in 1873. In 1875 W.L. Jones built the El Monte Hotel (which was sold and renamed the Lexington Hotel in 1875). In 1876, El Monte began publishing its own newspaper, the El Monte Gazette (later the El Monte Herald). In 1888, B.F. Maxson and P.F. Cogswell planted El Monte's first crop of walnuts. El Monte soon grew to become the walnut-growing capital of the world. The first local drug store opened in 1892.


El Monte's Main Street in 1908

In the early 20th century; dairy, fruit, hay, vegetable, walnuts and truck farms dominated El Monte's economy. Arden Farms (a dairy) and Bodger Seed Ltd were two of the largest operations. The El Monte Union High School District was organized in 1901. In 1907 the Pacific Electric Railway (the so-called "Red Cars") expanded its reach to El Monte. In 1910, refugees from the Mexican Revolution arrived in significant numbers and most found work in El Monte's agriculture sector. In 1911, D.W. Griffith filmed a western, Was He Coward? In El Monte. El Monte was finally incorporated as a municipality in 1912.

More than "knee high by the Fourth of July" -- El Monte corn crop in 1914

"Welcom to Friendly El Monte"
 -- the Welcome Wagon in 1920

By 1920, El Monte's population had grown to 1,283. That year The Son of Tarzan, starring Kamuela C. Searle as Korak, Son of Tarzan, was filmed at Woodland Park.


In 1934, another Tarzan film, Tarzan and his Mate (starring Johnny Weissmuller ) was also filmed there.


The front and back of the Rialto as it appears today

El Monte's first movie theater, The Rialto, opened in 1923 at 10818 Valley Mall (then Main Street). It was built for local developer Walter P. Temple and was designed by Walker & Eisen. For sixteen years, the Rialto was operated by Arthur Sanborn. In 1940, the Rialto was sold to James Edwards and became part of the Edwards chain until it closed in the early-1950s.


Postcard from Gay's Lion Farm - El Monte

Gay's Lion Farm opened in 1925, offering visitors an alternative to the usual ostrich and alligator farms of Los Angeles and its suburbs. It was operated by Charles Gay and his wife -- two retired circus performers. Gay's pride of more than 200 African lions was used in film productions -- including more Tarzan installments. Metro Goldwyn Mayer used El Monte lions "Jackie" and "Slats" in their logo from 1924 until 1927. El Monte High School adopted "The Lions" as their mascot in 1925. The lion farm was featured in the documentary Lions for Sale (1941). The lion farm closed in 1942 due to a wartime meat shortage and the lions were given to zoos.

The orignial lion from Gay's Lion Farm -- in front of El Monte High School

Today, the original lion statue from the farm is situated in front of El Monte High.

Marker identifying site of Gay's Lion Farm

In 2000, another lion statue was installed beneath the freeway at Valley and Peck to commemorate the original site of the lion farm -- behind bars and just below the 10 Freeway.


By 1930 the population of El Monte reached 3,479. By then the population was roughly 75% white, 20% Mexican-American, and 5% Japanese-American. Most of the Mexicans lived in El Monte's barrios (Granada, Hayes Town, Hicks, Las Flores, Medina Court, and Wiggins). Most of the Japanese residents grew berries, melons and vegetables on small tracts after the Great Depression hit in 1929 and forced many larger operations to sublet their land to tenant farmers. Schools were segregated with Anglos attending class with Anglos, and Japanese and Mexicans attending class together. Theaters were segregated along similar lines but there were occasional tensions between the town's main minorities, such as with the famous strike of 1933.


Thousands of Mexican berry pickers, organized by the Communist Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU) demanded a raise (nine cents per hour wasn't unheard of). The Mexicans' employers were Japanese. Due to alien land laws, Asians weren't allowed to own land so the 80% of El Monte's agricultural land that they farmed was leased. It was the largest agricultural strike in California at that point. The Japanese and Mexican consuls, and the US and California Departments of Labor intervened but a settlement wasn't reached for a month.

Small Farm Homes in El Monte, CA -- 1936 (by Dorothea Lange)

During the 1930s, the city became a vital site for the New Deal's federal Subsistence Homestead project, instigated in 1933. Many of the new arrivals were Dust Bowl refugees and their new ranch homes built as part of the project were photographed by Dorothea Lange.


The El Monte Airport, built in 1936, is the last remaining one in the San Gabriel Valley; Alhambra, Arcadia, Monrovia, Rosemead and San Gabriel's airports have long since closed. It was founded by New Jersey-transplant Nick Lentine. In 1931 he became the first Californian to land a plane on a city street (in Pasadena) due to fog.

Matt and I checked it out. Not only was it filled with small airplanes but the smell of food being prepared and consumed at Annia's Kitchen. Annia's has an outdoor patio which offers a view of the San Gabriel Mountains and arriving and departing airplanes. We looked at some of the displays but opted to eat later.


The El Monte Community Center

The El Monte Community and Civic Center also opened in 1936 and initiated the annual Pioneer Days festival. Because they were too rowdy, the festival was ended in the 1940s. A new Civic Center was built in the 1950s. The complex also includes the El Monte Historical Museum, headquarters for the El Monte Historical Society (established in 1989).

The El Monte Historical Museum

The El Monte Aquatic Center

Up the street is the El Monte Aquatic Center. I couldn't find out what year it was built but in 2012 it made the news when fourteen of the lifeguard staff were fired for filming an homage to Korean musician Psy's music video for "Gangam Style" whilst wearing their uniforms (despite the fact that they did so off hours).

El Monte Lifeguards' parody of Psy's hit music video

The El Monte Library

Just a little bit further up the street is one of El Monte's two public libraries, the El Monte Library. It was founded in 1890 (although the current building is obviously much newer). The other is the Norwood Library -- which we didn't visit.


The old El Monte Theater

The Tumbleweed

In 1939, the El Monte Theater, was built in 1939 for Arthur Sanborn after he sold the Rialto to Edwards. That same year the Tumbleweed Theater opened on Garvey. The building was designed by S. Charles Lee and was designed to look like a barn (with a windmill on top of the marquee). It was demolished sometime in the 1960s.


By 1940 the population of El Monte reached 4,746. Throughout the decade the population nearly doubled. The advent of World War II saw small aircraft parts factories spring up on the west side of town. World War II also saw El Monte's till-then-prominent Japanese population forcibly rounded up and sent off to concentration camps. The berry fields went into decline and never recovered.


The El Monte Drive-In Theatre

The El Monte Drive-In opened in 1948 at the corner of Lower Azusa Road and Ellis Lane. It was featured in the films Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (the 1993 remake), Bikini Drive-In (1995), and the stop motion short, Wazzock (2006). In 1980, reflecting the change in El Monte's demographics, it became a Spanish language theater. Around 1999 it was torn down and replaced with a Home Depot.


El Monte Legion Stadium

One of El Monte's most-missed treasures is the El Monte Legion Stadium. Construction of the stadium began back in 1927 and was completed in 1929. It was originally built as the gymnasium for El Monte High School. It was used as an Olympics venue in 1932. The Long Beach Earthquake of 1933 damaged it and most of the campus and it sat vacant until it was bought by American Legion Post 261 in 1945 at which point it officially became known as the American Legion Stadium in El Monte and unofficially as "The Pink Elephant."


After buying the old El Monte High School gym in 1945, the American Legion first used the hall for little more than meetings. They had little success with it as a basketball venue but more with boxing, wrestling, roller derbies, mini-car racing and dances. Then came Cliffie Stone. KTLA's famed country music program Hometown Jamboree (produced and hosted by Stone beginning in 1949). It ended up being recorded at the stadium. Country acts who played there include Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Tex Ritter, to name a few. Along with Compton's Town Hall Party (which debuted in 1952), El Monte was one of the major hubs of country and rockabilly music on the west coast.


Art Laboe in El Monte with his people

Famed DJ Art Laboe had originally tried to organize rock 'n' roll and rhythm & blues concerts in Los Angeles but ran afoul of those who objected to race-mixing minors and the then-widely detested music. He (and fellow DJ Huggy Boy) began promoting concerts at the El Monte venue beginning in 1957 with as part of a series billed as Oldies But Goodies. Brenton Wood, Dick Dale and his Del-Tones, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Otis, Ray Charles, Ritchie Valens, Rosie & The Originals, Sam Cooke and others performed at the popular Friday night dances. The house bands were The Phantoms and The Romancers. The song "Memories of El Monte" (written by Frank Zappa and originally recorded by the doo-wop group, The Penguins in 1963) celebrates the once vibrant scene.

The scene extended beyond just music to other Eastside subcultures. El Monte was a hotbed of lowriding culture. Whereas many other venues had strict dress codes, the diverse El Monte crowd fostered varied sartorial expressions. Sir Guy plaid shirts and khakis became cholo fashion and young black men favored velvet or satin-trimmed suits (de rigeur for the Continental look).

As rock 'n' roll became more accepted and racial hostility cooled in Los Angeles, big acts started opting to play there instead of in El Monte. By the late '60s the stadium was losing money and was occasionally rented out for weddings (boxing and wrestling continued to be popular). Grateful Dead recorded a live album there on 28 December, 1970 that only saw the light of day as a bootleg. The venue was bought by the US Post Office for the site of a new post office and subsequently demolished in 1974.


Plaque marking the execution of Flores Gang members

The population of El Monte reached 69,837 in 1970, following biggest decade of growth. Even after Anglos became a minority, the Nazi Party still had an office there. After many young Latino lives were lost in the Vietnam War, gangs proliferated. The largest, El Monte Flores, and several others had roots in the old barrios of El Monte's agricultural past and even further back. A survey undertaken at the time estimated that there were ten to twelve separate gangs operating in that decade with roughly 1,500 gang members. Author Benita Bishop's books, Escape from El Monte and The Lost Girl from El Monte recount her experiences as a young Latina in that decade.


Approaching the new El Monte Bus Station

Inside the new El Monte Bus Station

Map of El Monte Bus Station Services showing connections

The old El Monte Bus Station opened in 1973. The new one opened to the public on October 14, 2012. It is currently the largest west of Chicago. [Click here to read about my misadventures there on 2012's Election Day].


By 1980, the population of El Monte had reached 79,494. Faced with a serious gang problem in the '70s and the attendant influx of heroin and violence, the El Monte Police Department Gang Employment program was initiated in 1980 with the aim of finding proper jobs for gang members. By most accounts, the programs met with limited success. However, by 1988 only 40 active gang members were counted -- a considerable decline from the bad ol' days of the '70s. Despite this huge decrease in gang activity, as the population of El Monte has grown increasingly Latino, many El Monte old-timers have since taken to internet comment sections to moan about how gangs are taking over El Monte in what (as far as I can tell) is nothing more than not-so-thinly-veiled racial hysteria or at best, cognitive dissonance.


Thrifty Ice Cream in El Monte

Thrifty Ice Cream has its roots in a chain called Thrifty Cut-Rate Drug Stores, run in the 1930s by a pair of siblings known as the Borun brothers. In 1940 they decided to start making their own ice cream at their Hollywood factory. It moved to its massive El Monte facility in 1976. 

Beginning in the 1970s, realtor Frederic Hsieh had begun marketing another San Gabriel Valley city -- Monterey Park -- as "The Chinese Beverly Hills." As Monterey Park's population grew much more Asian in the 1980s, political pressure from hostile old timers drove some Monterey Park's newer immigrants into neighboring cities in the valley. El Monte remains primarily Latino but there was a significant influx of Asians in the 1980s and '90s.


In front of El Monte's City Hall is a thirty-foot tall fiberglass replica of the Statue of Liberty, donated to the city by Dr. Jung T. Wang, Paul Mu, and Victor Chiang on July 4, 1986. In 2012, sixty rose bushes, Japanese boxwood shrubs, and two purple leaf plumb trees were planted in front of it in commemoration of the city's 100th anniversary of incorporation.


In 1990 the population of El Monte reached 106,209. The Edwards El Monte 8 opened in 1992.

Outside the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club

Inside the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club

The San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club started in September of 1995. The club was Matt and my first stop upon visiting the city. The rates are quite reasonable and, with a few exceptions, most players didn't seem intimidatingly skilled. The facility itself is a huge building which seems likely to have been a factory in some previous incarnation.

Freed Thai sweatshop slaves in El Monte

In 1995, 72 undocumented Thai workers were discovered working in an El Monte sweatshop where they worked sixteen to eighteen hour days, seven days a week for less than $2 dollars an hour making High Sierra, B.U.M., Anchor Blue and other brands for Miller's Outpost, Nordtsrom's, Target, Sears and other stores. Ultimately, in 1999, seven companies paid out more than $3.7 million to 150 El Monte sweatshop workers, many of whom were also granted citizenship.


The Heaven's Grace Maitreya Buddha Society was built in 2001. Maitreya is the future Buddha, presently a bodhisattva residing in the Tushita heaven.


113,475. 73% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran with a smaller percentages of Guatemalan, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Peruvian), 19% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese with a smaller percentages of Filipino, Cambodian, Burmese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai, and Pacific Islander), 7% white, 1% Native American, and 1% black.


El Monte was the birthplace of Gregg Myers, Joe "Country Joe" McDonald, and singer/guitarist Mary Ford.

John Paul Larkin
was born March 13, 1942. As Scatman John he released the hit "Scatman (Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop)" when he was in his early 50s. El Monte was formerly home to Pate's Tapes and Records and is still home to Musica Latina. There used to be a county music club, the Nashville West, in Five Points. The house band, also known as Nashville West, released an eponymous album in 1967.


A palomino named Bamboo Harvester was born in El Monte in 1949. He later gained fame as the star of Mr. Ed. Actor-filmmaker Timothy Carey filmed much of The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) in El Monte. Actors Glenn Corbett, Mark Idda, and Virginia Gilmore were all born there, as was screenwriter Sam Rosen.

In addition to the aforementioned films, El Monte served as a filming location in Back to the Future II (1989), Back to the Future III (1990 -- the McFly residence in 2015 is the home at 3793 Oakhurst Street), Falcon Crest (1981 -- two episodes featured the El Monte Police Station), Shocker (1989 -- at Legg Lake Park), Death Ring (1992), L.A. Sheriff's Homicide (2003), and Songs Like Rain (2006). The Circus Clown (1934), Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (1992) and A Test of Will (2005), were filmed primarily or entirely in El Monte.

There are a couple of mom 'n' pop movie stores in El Monte that one might consider supporting -- Video 1 DVD & Game, Video Sales and Video Plus.


Cyclists of all ages can ride or walk The San Gabriel River Trail (if they can find an entrance) which connects Azusa and Duarte in the north with Seal Beach in the south. El Monte is home to few proper bars. My research and exploration turned up the Oasis Club and the Silver Dollar Saloon. There's live music, karaoke, gambling (and probably smoking) at Babyface Restaurant & Bar. Pool players have KBC Champion Billiards. Karaoke fans can go to Happy KTV. El Monte sports clubs include Badminton Fan Club, San Gabriel APA, and the Los Angeles Table Tennis Association. There's also a Moose lodge.


There are several parks in El Monte with a variety of services.

Tony Arceo Memorial Park

The first park that Matt and I visited was Tony Arceo Memorial Park. The park originally opened as "El Monte City Park." It was dedicated in 1974 to Ton Arceo, a policeman who was killed that year in the line of duty.

Tony Arceo Park Bandshell

In the summer the park hosts a short series of free summer concerts. Last year's line-up included cumbia, mariachi, ranchera, rockabilly, and rock 'n' roll sounds.

Pioneer Park and Santa Fe Historical Park

We later went to Pioneer Park, which includes Santa Fe Trail Historical Park (which opened in 1989). Matt and I walked around it -- not surprised that it was closed on Martin Luther King Day. However, one half of a couple of day drinkers told us that it's never open (and then laughed maniacally). 

Other parks include Baldwin Park, Fletcher Park, Lambert Park, Lashbrook Park, Mountain View Park,  Rio Vista Park, and Zamora Park

Though not parks -- there are these things called "Tree Power Towers." According to the legend there are twelve along Valley. The mascot is "Monty." A search on the internet yielded absolutely nothing.


One of the most popular pastimes in El Monte is dining out -- there's even a culinary club, The Medina Court Men's Breakfast Club, who meet once a month. There's a wide selection of eateries offering the cuisines of Mexico, Vietnam, and China. There are additionally a lot of taquerias and bakeries. However, the number of burger and donut joints is simply staggering. The first drive-thru burger joint was Big D Enter-Out Restaurant, which opened in the late 1960s (after the similarly-named In-N-Out). Since then it opened it moved to a larger location. The old location is now the home of Art's.

Outside Jolly Jug

Watching the inauguration at Jolly Jug

Matt and I ate at Jolly Jug. The restaurant (and bar) was established in 1947, making it one of, if not the, oldest restaurant in El Monte. The ambiance was charming, we both quite enjoyed our food.

Here's a list of the rest:

Ajos y Cebollas, Alberto's, Alfredo's Mexican Food, Amigo Donuts, Angel Bakery, Antojitos, Apple Jack's Coffee Shop, B & B Ice Cream Wholesale, BBQ Express, Baby Bros Pizza & Wings, Bamboo Wok, Basileia Cafe, Best Noodle House, Big Famous Burgers, Bill's Drive In, La Barca Restaurant, Brothers Burgers, Burritos La Palma, CG Italian Bakery, Cafe Rosemead, California Sushi & Teriyaka, Carlton's Market, Cate Japan Teriyaki & Sushi Exp, Cerezo Bakery, Cha Cafe,

Chanos Restaurant Number Two, Chillin' Thai Cuisine, China Express, China Great Buffet, Chinatown Bakery, Chinese Restaurant, Chinese Taste Fast Food, Chopsticks Kitchen, Christy Donuts, Corita Bakery, Cyber Yogurt, Da Cheng Vegetarian Food, David Son's Meat Market, 
The Deli Box, Diana's Restaurant & Tortilleria, Donut Capital, Donut Galore, Doublz, Douglas Drive-In, Dragon Restaurant, Dulceneas Tacos y Bionicos, Eat Low Taqueria, El Bukanas, El Burrito Grande, El Caney Market,

El Chamango, El Comalero Pupuseria No 2, El Gallito Market & Restaurant, El Gordito Taqueria, El Huarache Restaurant, El Jacalito, El Patio Bar and Grill Restaurant, El Salvadoreno Pupuseria, El Siete Mares Restaurants, El Sol de Acapulco, El Sombrero, El Taco Man, El Taquito, Fanta Chinese Food, Flames X Press, Flo's Coffee Shop, Fogo de Andre, Foody Goody, Fortune BBQ Restaurant, Fu-Xing Bakery, Gardunos Restaurant, George's Produce, Golden Ox, Golden Ox Burger, 

The Good Donut, 
Goody's Restaurant, Green Produce Market, Happy Bakery, Havana Club, Ho Ho Kitchen, Hoa Binh Restaurant, Hot Space Restaurant, I Love Pho, Italiano's Restaurant, Jack's Sub, Jade Cafe, Jim's Burgers, Joy's Market, Juan Colorado Meat Market, Kim Hoa Hue Restaurant, Kim Long Hue Restaurant, King Taco, Kirin's House Chinese Restaurant, LOL Cafe, La Blanquita, La Blanquita Tortilleria, La Fruta Feliz, La Lonchera, La Mexicana Bakery, La Michoacana,

La Michoacana Bakery, La Pizza Loca, La Pradera Market, La Principal Bakery, La Reyna de Michoacan, La Sirena Restaurant, Las Islas Marias Restaurant, Las Mas Meat Market, Liang's Kitchen, Links Hot Dogs, Little Malaysia Restaurant, Lorena's Mexican Restaurant, Los Toros Meat Market, Louisiana Fried Chicken, Love Sandwiches, Malaysia Kitchen, Maria's Bakery, Mariscos Cancun Restaurant, Mariscos La Quebrada, Master Fresh Donuts, Menos Pinches Burgers,

Mexicali Grill, Mi Pueblo Market, Mitchell's Donuts, Mr. Chopsticks Seafood & BBQ, Mr Pizza & Pasta, Mr Steve Donuts, New Nature Food Co, New Wok, Nick's Burgers, Ocean Bo, Palermo Pizza, Paleteria Y Neveria, Peck Market, Pepe's Mexican Seafood Restaurant, Pho Hai Phong Noodles, Pho Hien Mai Restaurant, Pho Huynh, Pho Kim, The Pizza Oven, Point Dume Chinese Food, Pollo Mania, Qi Lu Restaurant, Queen's Donuts, Ray-Ray Restaurant, Restaurante De Mariscos Altata,

Rice Wok, SIR Pizza'n'Chicken, Sk Donut, Shrimp House Original, Shun Fat El Monte Superstore, Sunny Restaurant, T & M Market, TC Bakery, Taco N Tento, Tacos Don Chente, Tacos La Bufadora, Tacos Los Betos, Tacos del Chino, Tacos el Arco, Tai Pan Chinese Food, Taqueria Azteca, Taqueria La Cabana, Tasty Express, Tay Do Quan Hy, Thai Excellente Restaurant, Thanh Diem, Thanh Loi Tofu, The Sandwich Place, Thien Tam Vegetarian Restaurant, Thrifty Maid Ice Cream Co,

Tina's Bakery, Tito's Market, Tommy's Original World Famous Hamburgers, Tommy's Burgers, Tommy's Restaurant, Top Donut & Sandwich Shop, Triple J Burger, Universal Donuts, Valenzuela's Restaurant, Viet Huong, Wing Lee Fresh Poultry
, and Yummi Chinese Fast Food

For a great hand account of El Monte, visit Richard's History of El Monte. Please share your own memories and impressions of El Monte in the comment section as well as any additions or corrections. 


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California Fool's Gold -- A San Fernando Valley Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 5, 2012 10:55am | Post a Comment


San Fernando Valley State College postcard (1973)


San Fernando Valley panorama

There are numerous valleys in Los Angeles County: the Antelope, Crescenta, Hungry, Peace, Pomona, PuenteSan Gabriel, Santa Clara River, and Santa Clarita, to name a few of the better known ones. However, when one hears mention of The Valley it is almost universally recognized as a reference to LA County's San Fernando Valley.

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Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography art opening at 1650 Gallery

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 19, 2012 02:16pm | Post a Comment

In a recent poll of Americans conducted by Public Policy Polling, only 33% of respondents said that they view Los Angeles favorably whereas 40% view it negatively. 27% stated that they’re not sure. Of America’s largest five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia), LA is the only one with a higher negative response than positive. As someone who lives in and loves Southern California, this disappoints but doesn’t surprise me.


Growing up in other parts of the country, pop culture sculpted and skewed my perception of the Southland more than anything else. Living here I consider it to be the most misrepresented too. I’ve never been to Philadelphia but my experiences in other large American cities haven’t produced the same sort of glaring dissonance between my expectations and experience that LA has. And with LA the center of America’s pop culture machine, I have to wonder why the city doesn’t do a better job of showcasing its positive attributes instead of its negative – mainly conspicuous consumption, movie stardom and gang culture.

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