Saturday, December 20, 2014


The Library Heritage Room has some interesting artifacts that aren't books. Samson the Bear (stuffed) happily resides on a shelf. There's an antique book press that was used when the Library did some of its own book mending. Looking across from the book press is another artifact of interest. It's a small statuette of a kneeling Mayan. This statuette, encased in glass, was presented to Mayor Lara Blakely in 2002 by the Mayor of Guadalajara. Monrovia and Guadalajara had just become sister cities.

The artwork is a partial scene from the Tablet of the Slaves. In the complete work, King K’inich Ahkal Mo’Naab is shown in the center sitting on the backs of two slaves. He faces his father who presents him the royal headdress (our portion), while his mother presents a personified flint and shield, emblems of warfare. From Palenque, Chiapas, Maya culture, classic period: 300-650 A.D.

For  a drawing of the complete wall relief, click on this link:

Thursday, November 6, 2014


On the evening of August 6, 2013 the past and present collided at the Farmers Club Monument at Library Park, when a motorist jumped the curb and crashed into the structure. The following morning, only a crumble of stone and a fascinating Monrovia mystery remained. In subsequent weeks, the accident brought to light exactly how important this community landmark had become in its 100 plus year history, and even City Hall, in a wistful moment of municipal remembrance, rechristened the monument as "The Monrovia Wishing Well." What wasn't brought to light, though, were the whereabouts of the time capsule that had been placed by Farmers Club members over a century ago.  

A time capsule in the Farmers Club monument, you ask?

Indeed, members of the agricultural club built and dedicated the fountain monument in 1909 to much civic fanfare.  On the November dedication day, they buried a time capsule for future Monrovians that included copies of the Monrovia Messenger (October 9, 1909), Monrovia News (October 15, 1909) and the Los Angeles Times (November 1, 1909) newspapers.  The club members also included a letter addressed "To Posterity." 

The contents of the letter, in a modest way, reads: Those who had most to do with the building of this fountain hope that if the contents of this box is ever to light it will be so far in the future that the names of all having in any way to do with it will have been forgotten. It is dedicated by the people and for the people. May it outlast the everlasting hills that tower above it. Monrovia, California, November one, Nineteen hundred and nine. (Monrovia Daily News).

Where does this time capsule, its letters and documents reside? When the question was posed to City Historian Steve Baker, even he was stumped by its whereabouts.  Presently, the capsule remains elusive. Was it removed long before the traffic collision in 2013? Is it still buried within the monument? Though we can all rejoice now that Farmers

Club monument is being reconstructed, the historical mystery remains. 

Speaking of the reconstruction, the remaining pieces of tile and stone were removed by the Public Works Department and stored while awaiting a stone mason to piece the structure back together. Bill Goss was selected as the contractor for the site. The stones have been cleaned so upon reassembly the parts would appear whole. Only one stone needed to be fabricated to complete the base. Stainless steel threaded anchor rods were embedded to securely attach the roof. The original structure relied on its own weight to hold it down.

This project is supported by the City of Monrovia and the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group (MOHPG) who have pledged to provide the wood framing and installation of the roof to match the original structure. The 80 missing roof tiles are being provided by Architectural Detail in Pasadena.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


As dynamic as Monrovia is, one aspect of city life that has not changed much over the past 127 years is, surprisingly enough, residential street names. Despite some spirited citizens’ zealous efforts to alter them, only a handful of street modifications have been made. As our city thoroughfares were being shaped in the late 19th century, city founders decided that a street grid with a framework of flora would be best. North-Southbound streets would be named for flowers, while all East-Westbound streets would be named after trees. Two bucolic exceptions were made in honor of William Monroe’s daughter, which gave us Myrtle Avenue, and Colonel Samuel Keefer's daughter, giving us Charlotte Avenue (now Canyon Boulevard).      

Within 30 years of the city’s founding, many Monrovians questioned the suitability of the flowery names for future generations. In 1911 a fairly contentious civic argument broke out in the Monrovia Daily News. Several editorials voiced support in erasing the trees and flowers framework, and suggesting that Spanish translations and the inclusion of more indigenous plant life would represent the City better.   

From this public outcry in 1911, some immediate changes occurred, while others crept up more gradually over the years, with history claiming such streets as Banana Avenue, Daffodil Avenue, and JIC Avenue. Many lost streets have fascinating origin stories that may go unnoticed without checking in with Monrovia history. Banana Avenue* got its name because residents on the street believed the temperate climate of Monrovia would be an ideal place to grow bananas. That the name changed in January 1913 speaks to the horticultural success of the trees that grew on Hillcrest then.  JIC Avenue**, another street that didn’t conform to the plant-inspired street grid, has an ambiguous, and somewhat disputed origin story. The street was either named after a prominent farm tools manufacturer, J.I. Case, or a famed racehorse that belonged to him. Whatever the real story may be, this one and only initialed street in town became Alta Vista Avenue.   

Not all the modified street names have been relegated to the history books, though. Walking around town, you may notice that the walkways adjacent to Colorado Commons are all named. In fact, they honor several of the more popular fallen streets. White Oak Avenue is now White Oak Alley and there’s nearby Date Court, named for Date Avenue. See how many more street signs you can spot next time you’re in the area.       

* Named after banana trees that proved unsuitable for the San Gabriel Valley climate (Monrovia Daily News,  01/31/1911, pg 1)  

** There are two competing stories about the origin of J.I.C. Street.  John L. Wiley, in his History of Monrovia, states it was named after after J.I. Case, a famous farm implement manufacturer that city trustees wanted to honor by naming a street after him (p. 118). Another story is that the street was named after the racehorse Jay Eye See that belonged to Mr. Case. 

What follows is a key to all curious-minded Monrovians who may come across a street name that no longer exists because at some point it was changed to better suit the community’s needs or municipal image. The list doesn't track streets that were lost to land or other economic development, and is by no means definitive.  Any amendments, suggestions, or corrections are appreciated.
Street Change Date Original Street Name New Street Name
1/28/1913 Banana Avenue Hillcrest
8/12/1929 White Oak Avenue Foothill
6/5/1916 Falling Leaf Avenue Huntington
5/1/1962 Falling Leaf Avenue Cypress
8/13/1934 Orange Avenue/Rte 66 Colorado
6/15/1925 East Avenue Norumbega Drive
5/15/1951 Plum Ave Los Angeles Ave
12/19/1910 JIC Avenue Alta Vista Ave
1/20/1914 Violet Highland Ave
1/28/1913 Charlotte Avenue Canyon
2/16/1965 Daffodil Avenue California
unknown Oak Park Lane E. Greystone Ave.
11/16/1936 Date Avenue Cherry

4/19/1966 Bonita Court Court Street
5/5/1958 Live Oak Avenue Walker Avenue
11/19/1957 Hill Street Crestview
4/4/1949 Duarte Ave Royal Oaks Avenue
12/5/1949 Royal Oaks Avenue Royal Oaks Drive
7/19/1926 6th Avenue Madison Avenue
7/30/1923 Center Street Avocado Place
11/3/1930 Main Street Duarte Road
11/16/1936 Marie Avenue May Avenue
11/16/1936 Centre Ave Greystone Ave
11/16/1936 Diamond Street Central Street
11/16/1936 Route 9 Huntington Drive

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's a Shovel and Hard Hat Doing in the Heritage Room?

Our Heritage Room contains artifacts as well as books. Among those treasures are the shovel and hard hat from the the groundbreaking ceremony held on December 5, 2007. As talismans go, it's a bit odd to have those items so prominently displayed, but it reminds us of the generosity and dedication of Monrovia's citizenry when it comes to the current showpiece of Library Park.

There were two more ceremonies for the library. The Dedication Ceremony, hosted by Mayor Rob Hammond, was held on April 4, 2009 and allowed people into the building before it was furnished or the books and computers were moved in, to give them a sense of the scale of the project. Finally, the big Grand Opening was held on May 16, 2009 and the library was officially open for business.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Henry Ford: Connoisseur of Monrovia's Groceries and Monrovia Bakery

Henry Ford was once a frequent visitor to the San Gabriel Valley. His wife's sister and brother-in-law resided in Altadena, and he spent a great deal of time in Pasadena and the surrounding area as he particularly enjoyed the natural beauty of the region. But did you know that he also made regular visits to Monrovia? Ford found the quality of Monrovia's groceries and baked goods to be superior to those offered in Pasadena, and the prices were fair. He was said to have motored daily from Pasadena to Monrovia to shop at Slick's Grocerteria and the Monrovia Bakery. In 1919 he even paid a surprise visit to Nelson and Mosher, the local Ford dealership, whose historic sign was recently uncovered in a business on Foothill Boulevard. He offered a personal demonstration of the operation of the Fordson tractor, and then returned to Pasadena in one of his very own automobiles.
Source: John L. Wiley, History of Monrovia (Pasadena: Press of Pasadena Star-News, 1927), p. 185.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Just over a century ago, the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools expressed his concern that the fashions worn by teenage girls in the county schools were getting out of hand. In January  1911, the Monrovia Daily News printed some of his remarks, including his suggestion that legislation be considered, “providing that students of the California schools wear simple uniforms instead of the old ultra fashionable raiment of the present day […] unless the present day tendency of the younger generation to […] extravagance in dress is checked.”

What, exactly, did this extravagance entail? Superintendent Mark Keppel spoke against the “smart filmy gowns” that were “ruinously expensive and altogether inexcusable from any standpoint of reason, art or necessity.” He advocated “reform in dress and death to the hobble skirt, the tube gown, paint and powder, the transparent and cloud-like material in dresses and waists, and to the ‘Baby Doll’ curls and puffs.”

Hairstyles, it seemed, were a particular issue, as they involved “fluffy Chantecler puffs, the baby-like Nell Brinkley curls, the stately coronation braids and the transformation, the moderate pompadour and even the cute little cupid bangs.” All of these styles, it was suggested, should be subjected to reform – and a haircut!

In the end, no legislation was necessary to bring more modest fashions to Monrovia. In 1924, the female students of the Monrovia High School adopted a uniform following a lively debate and a vote of two-thirds majority. The uniform, which a number of students had independently adopted the previous year, was made up of a white middy blouse and a blue skirt. The decision was said to be popular among the general public, who appreciated the simple, attractive style of the uniforms as well as the return to focus on education.

Source: John L. Wiley, History of Monrovia (Pasadena: Press of Pasadena Star-News, 1927), p. 120-122.