Neighborhood Spotlight: Alhambra quietly shows off its assets

The city of Alhambra can rightly boast of its beautiful neighborhoods, with its troves of historic homes in virtually every style popular over the last 100 years. It can also boast of having one of the most remarkable founders of any Southern California city, in the person of Benjamin Wilson.

Wilson came to California in the 1800s with dreams of sailing away to China, but a chance meeting with Ramona Yorba, the beautiful daughter of one of the prominent local Californios, convinced him to stay.

He immersed himself completely in the culture of Alta California, learning Spanish, converting to Catholicism and marrying Yorba. His transformation from Yankee to Californio was so complete that he soon became known as Don Benito.

After California became a state, Wilson embarked on a successful political career. He was the first L.A. County clerk, the second mayor of Los Angeles, an L.A. County supervisor and a three-term state senator.

In 1874 he bought a tract in the San Gabriel Valley and subdivided it for a new housing development he called “Alhambra,” after the Washington Irving book.

The settlement was the first in the region to have water delivered to each home site via iron plumbing, and its location on a busy spur of the transcontinental railroad ensured a steady supply of homesteaders.

Wilson didn’t live long enough to see the land bust that would nearly sink Alhambra in the 1880s. He died in 1878 and is memorialized by the naming of Mt. Wilson after him, and by a statue in downtown Alhambra.

The settlement eventually recovered from the bust and incorporated in 1903. Main Street became a bustling commercial corridor, and the Pacific Electric Railway built a line down the middle of the street, knitting the city deeper into the fabric of the rapidly growing L.A. region.

Shifting consumer tastes led to the decline of the Main Street shopping district beginning in the 1970s, and efforts to revitalize the strip resulted in the demolition of large swaths of the historic storefronts that lined the street.

Alhambra’s historic housing stock fared much better and remained a draw for suburban home buyers over the years, including Chinese Americans joining the eastward exodus out of L.A.’s Chinatown into the San Gabriel Valley.

Neighborhood highlights

A city of homes: Alhambra’s homes appeal to a wide range of tastes, with well-preserved examples of early 20th century architecture as well as more contemporary styles.

Downtown renaissance: Residents of Alhambra are embracing its historic downtown once again, and restaurants, bars and a movie theater are now flourishing there.

Dine on the Boulevard: Valley Boulevard offers some of the best Asian food in the San Gabriel Valley, including Sichuan specialists Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Impression.

Neighborhood challenges

Quiet … too quiet: Alhambra’s laid-back suburban vibe and dearth of clubs might be enough to turn off younger home buyers looking for bright lights and big-city nights.

Expert insight

Diana Tran, a Realtor with RE/MAX Elite Realty in Alhambra, said the city is desirable because of its schools, easy access to the 10 and 710 freeways and its proximity to downtown L.A.

And unlike its much more expensive neighbors, South Pasadena and San Marino, Alhambra provides more moderately priced real estate options, she said.

“Inventory has been very low, and it has been for the last two years,” Tran said. “So anything that hits the market — if it’s priced right — really doesn’t stay on the market more than two weeks.”

Market snapshot

The 91801 and 91803 ZIP Codes compose the majority of Alhambra. In April, based on 11 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in the 91801 ZIP Code was $623,000, up 5.1% year over year, according to CoreLogic. In the 91803 ZIP Code, eight sales resulted in a median sales price of $598,000, a 12.7% increase year over year.

Report card

There are nearly two dozen public and private schools within the boundaries of Alhambra. Among them is Martha Baldwin Elementary, which scored 899 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Academic Performance Index.

Ramona Elementary scored 872; William Northrup Elementary had a score of 840; and Emery Park Elementary scored 835. Alhambra High and San Gabriel High had scores of 798 and 790, respectively. Independence High, an alternative school, scored 655.

hotproperty@latimes.com

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