It was the site of numerous protests and rallies, including an infamous day in August 1970 when a protest against the Vietnam War turned violent. By the end of the day, three people were dead, including Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar, who also was news director at Spanish-language television station KMEX-TV.
You can map the effort of Latino families to chase down prosperity and stability along Whittier Boulevard; many of them started in downtown Los Angeles around World War II, then moved to East L.A., then to Montebello, then to Whittier, then, perhaps, to the hills of La Habra or deeper into Orange County.
"This was the spot," Firme said. "This was the migration route."
Today, Whittier Boulevard is like an old man's spine: still prideful -- exhibited in tiny shops whose signs say Lolita's Tamales, Vasquez Shoe Repair, Armando's Bakery -- but bowed from the weight it has carried over the years.
Past efforts at rehabilitation along the boulevard have failed, but there is enough of a critical mass of face-lift projects and development proposals this time to offer hope.
In East L.A., county officials are preparing a $4.5-million project. Workers will repair curbs and sidewalks, add palm trees and new bus benches.
Separately, code-enforcement officials are conducting a scrub of stores along the boulevard near the 605 Freeway; dozens of shopkeepers have been asked to correct signage, parking and other problems.
Montebello has hatched an ambitious overhaul. Toward the eastern city limit, boxer Oscar De La Hoya is backing the development of 80 Mediterranean-style condominiums.
The city recently spent nearly $12 million on a beautification project, and construction was completed recently on a project at Whittier and Montebello boulevards that includes 55 senior-housing rental units and 23,000 square feet of commercial space.
In Whittier, between Virginia and 1st avenues, officials held a groundbreaking two weeks ago for a $40-million, 96-unit town house development. The city also is preparing to bury power lines and make other improvements along a stretch of the boulevard between Santa Gertrudes Avenue and the La Habra city line.
"People are rediscovering these communities," said Jeff Collier, Whittier's head of community development. "A lot of people are realizing that this can be a wonderful place to be."