San Gabriel Valley, California on Route 66

The land began as a Mexican land grant in 1841 to Luis Arena who sold his holdings three years later to Henry Dalton, a wealthy merchant from Los Angeles. Dalton called his holding the Azusa Rancho de Dalton. He soon planted vineyards, built a winery, a distillery, a vinegar house, a meat smokehouse and a flour mill. When flood destroyed many of the mills in the canyons between Dalton’s property and San Bernardino, the Azusa mill prospered.

Gold was discovered in nearby San Gabriel Canyon in 1854 which brought a flood of miners to the new boo town of El Doradoville, built at the fork of the San Gabriel River. Over the next twenty years, some twelve million dollars in gold was taken from the El Doradoville mines. However, during the floods of 1861 and 1862, the entire town was destroyed.

In 1860 Dalton’s ranch was resurveyed by the United States Land Office, taking 1 ½ miles from both the southern and eastern boundaries of the ranch. The land was then opened for homesteading, brining another influx of people into the area.

In 1881, Dalton lost title to all but 55 acres of the land to a Los Angeles banker named Jonathan Slauson. Over the next several years, the rancho was divided providing more land for newcomers and in 1868, the first school was built. In 1887, when the railroad barreled through, Slauson formed the official town site of Azusa.

Though modern in all of its amenities today, Azusa still provides a number of vintage views of the past. The old Azusa railroad depot continues to stand as well as the historic bank building housing Wells Fargo at the intersection of Route 66 and Azusa Avenue.

Next to the bank is one of the few remaining “mom and pop” stores that existed during the heydays of Route 66. Leo C. Nasser’s Men’s Clothing continues to operate today, complete with its old glass bricks and neon sign. At 1050 West Foothill Boulevard you will find Corky’s Place that has the feel and flavor of a genuine Route 66 diner, housed in what was once the Bright Spot Tavern when original travelers were driving the Mother Road.

Azusa, California Drive-In Theater

Azusa, California Drive-In Theater

Azusa’s most famous icon is its classic red neon sign featuring the Foothill Drive-In. In operation not so long ago, the single screen drive-in closed in 2001 after being purchased by the neighboring Azusa Pacific University. Stalling plans for classrooms and dorms on the site, the California Route 66 Preservation Foundation secured the drive-in as a California State Historic landmark.  However, in October, 2005, the theater’s screen came tumbling down to make way for a college parking lot. However, the historic sign has been preserved for future generations of Route 66’ers.

Just west of the theater marquee look for two vintage motels, complete with signage at the Colonial Motel on 534 E Foothill Boulevard and the Stardust Motel at 666 E Foothill Boulevard.

Just two more blocks west will bring you to Azusa’s elegant 1932 City Hall, Auditorium and Library complex, which looks much the same as it did when the city was popularized by Mel Blanc on the Jack Benny radio show during the 1930’s and 40’s.

Outside of town in San Gabriel Canyon, another rich view of the past can be found on large boulders covered with Indian markings. This also will lead the adventurous traveler along a treasure seeking side trip of abandoned gold mines that dot the San Gabriel River as it winds its way north from Azusa.

Irwindale and Duarte – Leaving the Past Behind

Route 66 Products

Route 66 Products

As you continue to drive the “burbs” of Los Angeles, you will soon arrive in the Cities of Irwindale and Duarte, originally settled as yet another land grant. Here too, were living the Gabrielino Indians before the governor of Alta, California granted the land to an ex-Mexican Corporal Andres Duarte in 1841. The 7,000 acre parcel was named the Rancho Azusa de Duarte.

However, by the 1850’s Duarte found himself in financial trouble and sold most of the land to Dr. Nehemiah Beardslee who soon divided the land into 40-acre plots, started the first school, and laid out water lines for new residents.

Early pioneer families began to buy the property for its fertile soil and pleasant climate and the area soon began to thrive as an agricultural community. Duarte remained primarily an agricultural area until after World War II, when it was largely converted into a residential community. Irwindale has since developed into more of an industrial community, with numerous plants including a Miller brewery and Health Valley Foods.

Of Route 66, a couple of glimpses of the vintage past can be seen at the old motor courts of the Capri Motel at 2435 Huntington Drive and the Evergreen Motel at 1648 Huntington Drive in Duarte. Two more fun and informative stops include the Justice Brothers Racing Museum at 2734 E. Huntington Dr. and the Duarte Historical Museum at 777 Encanto Parkway.

Monrovia – Gem City of the Foothills

Monrovia is part of what were once two large ranchos, including the Azusa de Duarte and Santa Anita.  Over the years, the ranchos were broken up and in 1884, William N. Monroe, a railroad builder, purchased 240 acres, which soon became known as the Monroe Ranch. Gracious hosts, the Monroes frequently entertained friends from Los Angeles and by the end of 1885, three of these friends also purchased acreage in the area and the group decided to establish a town. In honor of W.N. Monroe, the new sixty acre town site was named Monrovia. Lots were first offered for sale on May 17, 1886 and the Gem City of the Foothills was born.

Monrovia, California, 1949

Monrovia, California, 1949

The very next year the town was incorporated under the leadership of prohibitionists who wished to control the arrival of an unwelcome saloon. One of the first orders of business for the newly formed government was to pass a tippler’s law, prohibiting the sale of alcohol.

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Pacific Electric was opened providing transportation to and from Los Angeles, making it possible for Monrovians to commute to work and the town began to grow

Today, Monrovia is primarily a residential community of nearly 40,000 people, but continues to provide some charming visions of the past. One block north of Colorado Boulevard on Shamrock a vintage gas station continues to stand on an older alignment of Route 66.

On West Foothill Boulevard can be seen a number of vintage motor courts including Harding Court, a 1921 property of 15 bungalows, now designated as a historic landmark. Today, the property has been completely restored.

The Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, California by Jim Hinkcley

The Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, California by Jim Hinkcley

Further down the road is the historic Aztec Hotel at the corner of Foothill and Magnolia. One of the most unique Route 66 structures in California, the hotel was designed in 1925 by architect Robert Stacy-Judd, whose creations were inspired by Mayan and Aztec buildings.  A local showplace during these early days, the Mayan murals, Native-American themed lobby, brass railings, stained glass, and numerous antiques, awed its guests. The historic hotel once also boasted the city’s most prominent beauty salon, barbershop, and pharmacy. Restored today, the hotel continues entertain Route 66 travelers in its casual atmosphere, where you can stay the night or just drop into the hotel’s exotic Elephant Bar and Restaurant.

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