Los Angeles, California is not just a city but also a county with a collection of smaller communities. That is especially true for Montrose which is part of the Crescenta Valley sandwiched between the San Fernando Valley and Glendale, California. It is about 15 minutes (unless you’re stuck in traffic) from downtown Los Angeles.
The history of the area dates back to 1784 when California was a Spanish territory. Don Jose Maria Verdugo was granted 36,000 acres by the Spanish Crown. Unfortunately, the original native inhabitants known as the Tongva were displaced and forced to live and work at the missions. After the Mexican-American war of 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave ownership of California to the United States.
In the later 1800’s, the land was developed as a sanatorium for respiratory illness such as tuberculosis and asthma. In the 1920’s, the area began changing its focus from a clinical to a resort setting with farm land developing nearby. In New Year’s Eve 1933, there was a rainstorm causing massive flooding which resulted in much damage and death.
After World War II had ended, tract homes were being built and the former farm lands gave way to post-war suburbia. When the 210 Freeway was built for easier access to downtown Los Angeles in the early 1970’s the area was revitalized and has pretty much remained as it is today.
Lex and I had learned quite a bit of history about an area that we had frequented many times for their Farmer’s Market on Sundays but didn’t really know about its history.
The historical markers and photo montages really helped us in seeing how special and amazing that this community is.
A double Olympic Gold Medal winner of the 1948 London games, Vicki Draves opened a diving school with her husband in Montrose where they lived. Victoria Manalo Draves was the first Asian American (her father, Tefilo Manalo was Filipino and her mother, Gertrude Taylor was English) woman to win gold medals in the springboard and platform diving competitions of the 1948 London Games (Dr. Sammy Lee who was a good friend of hers, won the gold medal in the men’s platform diving competition and was of Korean descent). After the Olympic Games, Vicki turned professional and performed in various aquatic shows with celebrities such as Esther Williams and in Buster Crabbe’s “Aqua Parade”. Afterwards, she returned to Montrose, California to start a family. She and her husband/coach, Lyle Draves opened a swimming and diving program at Indian Springs. Vicki Draves passed away in 2010.
Walking down Honolulu Avenue and seeing all of the wonderful shops was fun – especially the toy shop. Lex wanted to ride the mechanical pony but a sign said the maximum age to ride was 8 years old. Sorry Lex! A lot of the shops were established before the revitalization project in the 1960’s especially Faye’s Lingerie Shop.
I love how beautiful the building curves around the street corner where it stands. Her name is in beautiful lettering and the mannequins are pretty retro-looking. They might be original from when the store first opened in 1949.
After visiting and learning about the unique history of Montrose, I wondered how many more small communities have such amazing hidden stories. Maybe Lex and I can find more. We’ll see.
So much of Southern California has become suburban sprawl where one city may seem indistinguishable from the next. It’s rare to find a place that has its own unique character and feel. Montrose is one of those places that do! While there are certainly plenty of tract homes like in every suburb, the Shopping Park area evokes small-town American charm and has its own unique history.
It’s fascinating that so much of their 20th century history can be found right outside of one of Montrose’s larger supermarkets on Verdugo Boulevard. There, Neek and I discovered this was the site of the Indian Springs Swimming Pool.
This was a recreational area from the early 20’s to the late 60’s where lots of young people came to play. It was also the place where Coach Lyle Draves trained competitive divers in the 40’s and 50’s. His wife, Vickie Draves, was the first Asian-American female to medal at the Olympics, (winning gold twice in 1948) and after starting a family in the early 50’s, operated a swimming and diving program with Lyle at Indian Springs.
After exploring that area, Neek and I walked down toward Honolulu Avenue. This is where 50 years ago, businesses in that area assessed themselves a fee to pay for a new idea to construct a winding thoroughfare with “bump out” curbing and lots of landscaping to encourage pedestrian traffic. This was the Montrose Shopping Park and this new concept worked.
We had such a great time walking down the sidewalk checking out the stores. Lots of great independent “Mom and Pop” stores, including clothing stores, book stores, toy stores and restaurants. Montrose is a laid-back, comforting environment that sure was enjoyable to visit!