MONROVIA, CALIFORNIA: The Monrovia Public Library has a Heritage Room dedicated to collecting, preserving and protecting information about Monrovia. As we find interesting snippets of information, bits and bobs of historical trivia, or just things of interest, it will be posted here.
Jan. 1, 1980 Rose Parade Pioneer Trophy goes to Monrovia’s World Vision Float
Jan. 6, 19571950s Library dedicated (3rd library in Monrovia after the Granite Bank Building room and the Carnegie Library)
Jan. 24, 1910City’s Fire Department established
Jan. 27, 1908Carnegie Library opened
Feb. 6, 1888Granite Bank of Monrovia opened for business
Feb. 22, 1888Monrovia Water Department established
Mar. 1, 1903Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway come to Monrovia
Mar 14, 1978Pat Ostrye sworn in as 1st woman Mayor
Apr. 10, 1954City Hall on Ivy dedicated
Apr. 29, 1954Monrovia Quota Club received charter
May 2, 1891Masonic Lodge #308 established
May 14, 2001Samson the Hot Tub Bear dies in Orange County Zoo
May 16, 2009Grand Opening of the fourth library in Monrovia
May 17, 1886 Monrovia Founded and first lots go on sale
May 17, 1895Monrovia Electric Power Co. begins service
May 25, 1938Monrovia Lions Club organized
May 26, 1911LiveOakMemorial park (cemetery) incorporated (had been in business before incorporation)
May 27, 1918First woman police officer, Zella Vining, is hired
May 29, 1926Citizens Bank of Monrovia opened for business
June 2, 1887Bank of Monrovia opens
June 4, 1841William N. Monroe is born (d. Dec. 26, 1935)
June 24, 1954Optimist Club of Monrovia gains formal recognition from National
June 24, 1995Monrovia awarded All-AmericaCity award
June 29, 2002SkatePark dedicated
July 7, 1888OfficialSchool District established
July 2, 1926Exchange Club chartered
July 28, 1911Trail built to Emerson Flats in CanyonPark
July 22, 1893MonroviaCityHighSchool District created
Aug. 11, 1961Santa Anita Family Services opens doors
Aug. 26, 1925Aztec Hotel opened with a premiere dinner
Aug. 31, 1924Great forest fire of ’24 started (finally put out September 18)
Sept. 2007 Re-Dedication of renovated Public Works Building
Sept 1915 Monrovia Feature Film Company formed
Sept. 1, 1911Free mail delivery system began in the City
Mark Twain, aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), is alive and well in Library Park. You can sit with him any day, even have your picture taken with the famous author, at the corner of Myrtle and Lime.
OK, so it's really a cast bronze Art in Public Places installation, dedicated on March 29, 2003. The artist is Gary Price.
The plaque to the left of the statue starts with a Mark Twain quote:
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can read them.
The plaque further gives the names of the generous donors to the project:
Cognoro and Biasotti Families
Peter Jacksen and Vicki Novell
For 10 extra points, what book is in Twain's hand? If you guessed Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you are correct.
One of the most notable features in Library Park is the enormous tree on the North side. There is a post supporting a large overhanging branch. Squirrels love to play up and down the trunk and in the overhead branches. Many people mistake it for a Banyan tree because of the large canopy.
The tree, planted in 1913, is a Moreton Bay Fig. Moreton Bay - as in Australia. Figs, well as in figs. These particular figs are inedible. The squirrels love using them as projectiles though, so watch out.
Monrovia is now home to many businesses, many of which are part of huge chain stores or are internationally known because of their unique product. But perhaps the most obscure bit of history is the Airdrome, named for its proximity north of the MonroviaAirport. Built by two brothers, it was an octagonal juice stand they cobbled together from scrap lumber and dreams. In addition to all the orange juice you could drink, they also served hot dogs, burgers, coffee and beer.
In 1940, with business booming and expansion on their minds, Richard and Maurice had the Airdrome dismantled and moved to San Bernardino, where they re-opened under the now ubiquitous name McDonald’s. If you go to the company’s website today, you won’t find any mention of Monrovia or the Airdrome, but Monrovia obviously gave the brothers their start to fame and fortune.
Like many enterprising small towns, Monrovia wanted to have its own newspaper. On November 20, 1886, Monrovians enjoyed the first issue of the Monrovia Planet, which continued until 1889. The Planet ran simultaneously with The Leader until they merged to become the Monrovia Messenger (1889 – 1915). The Messenger overlapped with the Monrovia News (1907 – 1910). Monrovia News morphed into the Monrovia Daily News (1910 – 1929) and then into the Monrovia News-Post (1929 – 1968). As if that wasn’t dizzying enough, the last stab at a local newspaper was the Monrovia Journal (1968 – 1975). Today the Monrovia Weekly lends local flavor to the news, but it is not owned by a local company. An interesting side note: the News-Post building now houses Community Services.
Foot-Hill Flying Field, later referred to as the MonroviaAirport, operated from 1928 – 1953. Leroy Criss (1925 – 2008) learned to fly at the Foothill Flying Field. This training inspired him to become one of the crack pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. After the war, Criss returned to the Los Angeles area to teach flying and later became a schoolteacher. Ellenor and Frank Bell were siblings who lived near the airport and couldn’t get enough of flying. Ellenor first soloed on March 6, 1940 and later took the Civil Pilot Training course which allowed her to join the Woman Air Force Service Pilots in 1943. Her brother Frank enlisted in the Army Air Corps and piloted bombing missions until 1945, when his plane was shot down over Germany. He became a prisoner of war. Fortunately he was released after only 17 days.
Albert E. Cronenwett, a jeweler by trade, formed the first city brass band in the late 1880’s. His love of his silver coronet prompted him to persuade like-minded gentlemen in town to play up and down the streets of Monrovia, to “boost the morale” of working people along the street. Nicknamed Cronnie’s Band, it holds the distinction of being the first musical organization to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena.
What a difference a day (or two) makes. The scenic mesa at the divergence of two canyons had no road leading to it. After spirited discussion, the town decided to call for a volunteer army for hard labor on the road. This grass-roots call to labor, rather than asking the City to take on the project, had startling results. On July 28, 1911, citizens who normally would not swing a pick or wield a shovel willingly worked with picks and shovels to build a road to CanyonPark. Doctors, lawyers, clerks, ministers and businessmen finished the road (granite blasted out and prepared for work the day before) in one very full day and a clear way to Emerson Flats became a reality.
Monrovia occupies portions of two Mexican land grants called Rancho Santa Anita and Rancho Azusa de Duarte. The boundary between the two ranchos is Norumbega Drive. However, Monroe and his partners E.F. Spence, J.D. Bicknell and J.F. Crank purchased the land not directly from the Rancho owners, but from E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin and L.L. Bradbury. The only one of the original four partners who never made his home in Monrovia was James F. Crank.
Monrovia was officially founded on May 17, 1886, with the sale of the first town lots by the four founders of Monrovia. For a 10% down payment buyers were promised free water, electric street lamps and pepper trees to line the streets. Starting in 1892, Monrovians chose to celebrate the founding of their town with a grand parade down Myrtle Avenue.
Horse-drawn wagons decorated as floats, private buggies carrying prominent citizens, and a small brass band marked the early parades. A Queen and her court graced one of the floats. Zella Vining, first female police officer, was a Princess for the Monrovia Day Queen’s Court in 1912. This proud yearly tradition continues with a full day of events and fun for all ages.
Monrovia starting keeping the peace with the election of a Town Marshall, but by 1903 established the seeds for the Police Department we have today. The jail was built sometime in 1904, and operated out of the GraniteBankBuilding until 1925, when a dedicated station house was built for the force.
Julian Fisher and Zella L. Vining represented firsts. Julian Fisher, after whom the park is named, was the first African American police officer. Son of Lucky Baldwin’s blacksmith, Fisher was seen as an effective mediator between the black and white communities.
According to the Monrovia Daily News, Ms. Vining was hired as a deputy marshal on May 27, 1918, without pay, to facilitate the handling of the rare female prisoner arrested in Monrovia.The article went on to say she was a stenographer and accountant in City Hall and would likely not be "burdened with police work." The non-paying job apparently didn't suit her as she quit on June 17, 1918.
The leading ladies of Monrovia wanted a library. With patience, determination and hard work, the Saturday Afternoon Club (later the Woman’s Club) held teas. The price of admission was a book. Lobbying the City Council to create a Library Board, they were able to encourage the City to budget for the rental of the Southeast room in the GraniteBankBuilding for $2.50 per month in 1895. Their initial collection of 150 books formed the nucleus for what is now the fourth public library. The Carnegie Library replaced the room in the Granite Bank and opened January 27, 1908. It was torn down and a new library opened January 6, 1957, serving Monrovia for 50 years. The soaring new library dominating LibraryPark today opened on May 16, 2009, housing approximately 125,000 volumes and adding up-to-date technology available for the public.
Gem of the Foothills, also known as Gem City of the Foothills, is the present slogan for Monrovia, but not its first. It replaced The Tropical Paradise of Los Angeles County, which was a bit of a mouthful. In 1905, when the Board of Trade realized Whittier was also using Gem of the Foothills, they staked prior claim and forced Whittier to cease and desist. Monrovians liked the current slogan so much they have a song about it, written in 1950 by Elizabeth Graeme.