Hunting for Monrovia’s Heritage : Preservationists Seek Historic Houses

Times Staff Writer

Lyn and Bruce Carter are about to set out on a historic trip. Armed with 1985 computer printouts of a 1919 city directory, they will try to find some California treasures--homes built before 1920 that might qualify as historically significant buildings.

Members of the Historical Society and the Old House Preservation Group have already identified 100 homes that would qualify under a state program and hope to find 100 to 200 more by Aug. 1.

The Carters are among 65 volunteers who are helping the city take advantage of a $15,000 grant given to Monrovia by the state Office of Historic Preservation to encourage local preservation efforts.

State Recognition


“The project is important because we want to get as much state recognition as we can,” said Lyn Carter, president of the Historical Society and one of the founders of the Old House Preservation Group. “Monrovia is unusual because of the number of these old places, and there is very little protection of them on the local level.”

Volunteers will donate their time and the $15,000 will be used to set up a preservation program based on the survey. The volunteers will identify potentially significant buildings, said Pam Eicholtz, administrative assistant in the Community Development Department.

The old city directory will make the task simpler, Eicholtz said, because volunteers can use it to help determine whether the original structures are still standing.

But not just any old house will qualify. A home must be either architecturally significant, well preserved in its original condition or a city landmark. City landmarks include homes where founding fathers once lived, for example.


Significant Buildings

The volunteers will fill out forms listing the architectural style, major alterations that have been made and the home’s historic and architectural importance. They will also take photographs. The data will be submitted to the state for possible inclusion on the list of historically significant buildings.

Homeowners who agree to be included on the list are limited as to what they can do in the way of altering the houses, a provision some homeowners regard as detrimental to possible sale of the property. But the owners of historically significant homes also receive tax credits for improvements made in preserving their homes.

Gene Itogawa, a state historian, said Monrovia was selected for the survey because it has an excellent collection of older homes and buildings and a wide range of architectural styles.


Had to Build Homes

That is no accident. When William Newton Monroe founded this city during a land boom nearly 100 years ago, he sold lots to early settlers for very good prices. But there was a proviso: Buyers had to build homes on the lots.

The result today is a gold mine of historic homes. And many of them have already been restored, thanks to the efforts of the Monrovia Old House Preservation Group.

Members of the group are restoring their homes as closely as possible to their original condition, said Charlotte Schamadan, a former president.


The group has about 150 members, mostly couples, who meet monthly to learn how to restore their homes built between 1885 and 1925.

Skilled Craftsmen

“A lot of people in the group are skilled in painting and molding--they are skilled craftsmen,” Schamadan said. “People try to stay close to the original. They don’t modernize and when they add on, it is in the style of the house. A few kitchens are more modern.”

Restoration has become increasingly popular in anticipation of Monrovia’s centennial year, which begins in May, 1986. Through efforts of the group, owners are learning the history of their homes and how to maintain their architectural and stylistic integrity.


The first Monrovia homes, built in the late 1800s, were Victorian in style. But by the 1920s there were many Spanish colonial revival homes and Craftsman bungalows.

Remained in Same Family

One of the outstanding Victorian homes, known as the Burr House, may have retained its architectural integrity because it remained in the same family until 1975. The 10-room, redwood house was built by Frank W. Burr in the late 1900s. Subsequent owners have added rooms, galleries, porches and a carriage house in period style.

Another is The Oaks, a mansion built for Monrovia’s founder in 1885. The redwood Queen Anne-style house was converted in 1890 to a “young ladies college” associated with USC. That venture failed and the house reverted to private owners. The mansion still retains much of its former architectural glory and is being restored by its present owners.


It is listed on the national Register of Historic Places because of its architectural design and its association with Monrovia’s founder.

Monrovia’s heritage has been well preserved, Schamadan said, “because the city had a lot of older homes to begin with and people cherished them because turn-of-the-century homes are rare for Southern California. People who live in Monrovia tend to stay put so there is a lot of hometown pride.”

Alhambra, the other San Gabriel Valley city selected by the state for a survey this year, is also in the process of identifying historically significant structures. That city, incorporated in 1903, has many Spanish colonial and mission-style homes, compared to the Victorian style found in Monrovia. Both cities have Craftsman-style homes built in the early 1900s.

Pasadena and Claremont have also participated in the program, begun in 1976.