Living Up to ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ Image : Montrose: Part in Glendale, part unincorporated, this community of older homes is where neighbors still know your name.
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in Montrose. Along a winding, leafy village lane the local merchants have set out their wares on sidewalk tables. Young couples pass by pushing baby strollers, while elderly couples walk by arm in arm. Teen-agers are packed into the red leatherette booths at a local malt shop called the Rocky Cola Cafe, wolfing down burgers and Cokes, while younger kids are ricocheting around the sidewalks, laughing and screaming.
The sidewalks are full of friendly townspeople who greet each other by name--"Hi, Frank! Hi, Bob! Hi, Gladys!"--and pause to pass the time of day.
It sounds like a Hollywood version of small-town America. “Ozzie and Harriet” country, Beaver Cleaver’s hometown. “Back to the Future.” Certainly that is the image that people who live in Montrose have of their community; it is also the image that the Montrose Chamber of Commerce tries mightily to project.
And yet in Montrose’s case the image is not wholly imaginary. Although it’s almost a cliche to say that Montrose is Small Town, USA--millions of people in the Los Angeles megalopolis say the same thing about their communities--in Montrose’s case that is very close to the truth.
In the minds of the people who live there, Montrose could be situated a thousand miles away from downtown Los Angeles, instead of just eight miles north of it, in the southwest corner of the intersection of the 210 and 2 freeways.
“Walking through Montrose is sort of like seeing an old movie,” says Lynne Farrell, 54, who has managed, and lived in, a senior citizen apartment complex in Montrose for the past two years. “People here are close. They care about each other.”
“Going into Montrose is like going backward in time,” says Chamber of Commerce President Bob Torres.
“It’s a pretty little town,” says Marian Trowbridge, who with her husband, Don, has lived in Montrose for 35 years. “I never go into (downtown) Montrose without running into somebody I know.”
“This is a different kind of community than you find other places around here,” says Frank Roberts, who owns the Candle Tree gift shop in downtown Montrose. By “around here” he means the Los Angeles megalopolis. “It’s like some place you’d find in Missouri or Nebraska.”
Technically speaking, Montrose--the name means “mountain rose” in French--actually doesn’t exist. Although there is a Montrose Post Office, which delivers mail to about 12,000 people in the area, Montrose has no city hall, no city council, no police force to call its own.
Part of the community lies in the northern part of the city of Glendale; the other part lies in an unincorporated portion of L.A. County. Montrose youngsters attend Glendale schools. And yet no Montrosians, even those who technically live in Glendale, consider themselves to be Glendalians.
“A lot of people who move into Montrose don’t even know they’re actually living in Glendale until they start getting their utility bills,” says Bob Thompson, the postmaster of the Montrose Post Office. “People around here tend to identify with Montrose.”
The heart and soul of Montrose, the thing that gives the community its identity, is the downtown shopping district, officially known as the Montrose Shopping Park. Stretched along a tree-lined, three-block section of Honolulu Avenue, it features about 160 small stores and shops--"mostly mom and pop businesses,” says shop owner Frank Roberts.
The sidewalks are startlingly clean--littering is ruthlessly suppressed, usually by store owners who keep watch over their section of sidewalk frontage--and are lined with benches and carefully tended flower boxes. Parking areas on alternating sides of the street create the illusion that Honolulu Avenue, which narrows to two lanes in the shopping district, is a winding village lane.
Every year the Chamber of Commerce and the shopping park association sponsor a host of street fairs and sidewalk sales and other extravaganzas. At last year’s Oktoberfest celebration, for example, about 40,000 people filled the streets in the shopping park, eating bratwurst, swilling beer by the hundreds of gallons and listening to men in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats crank out oom-pah music on accordions.
Amazingly, perhaps, given the size of the crowd and quantities of beer consumed, there were no serious problems. Montrosians say that’s just the way Montrose is--friendly, peaceful, free of urban problems.
Homes in the residential areas that surround the Montrose central business district are almost all of the small, California bungalow style. Most were built in the 1940s and ‘50s.
Ann McLaughlin, an agent for Realty World Emporium, says that while some small homes are priced in the $160,000 range, most sell for about $225,000. Because almost all the single-family homes are of the small, two- or three-bedroom variety, a “high end” home in the Montrose area barely tops $300,000.
Don and Marian Trowbridge bought their two-bedroom-and-a-den home on a quiet, no-outlet street called Luana Lane, north of the shopping district, for $20,000 in 1956. They put its current value at about $300,000, although they doubt they’ll ever sell it.
“It’s been a great place to raise our three boys,” says Marian Trowbridge. “They’re all grown now, and since we retired, well, you always think when you retire that you have to move someplace else. So we’ve looked at some other places to live, but when we come back here we always say, ‘Why would we want to leave this great little town?’ ”
Some new residents have similar feelings.
“I’d like to make this place where my two boys grow up,” says Sheryl Bryant, a 29-year-old legal secretary and single mother who moved to Montrose early this year from Eagle Rock. Currently she’s renting a two-bedroom stone cottage on Montrose Avenue for $850 a month--"I got a real good deal,” she says--but eventually she’d like to buy a home in the community.
“This is absolutely one of the best places I’ve ever lived,” she says. “It has a really warm feeling, everybody is friendly. You go to the stores and they’re always nice to you. It was a whole different atmosphere than other places in the city. It’s like a little country town.”
Of course, some things have changed over the years. For example, some residents worry about the increasing “apartmentization” of the area.
“In the immediate Montrose area almost all the property is zoned for multiple-residential,” says Gladys McClenahan, a real estate agent who has lived in the Montrose area for 30 years. “A lot of the older homes are being torn down and replaced with apartments. That has caused the population to grow.”
“They were tearing down homes and putting up apartments and condos all the time,” agrees Postmaster Thompson. “It was going crazy for a while there.”
It’s true that many of the residential streets in Montrose are a jumble of single-family homes wedged between apartment buildings. Although the city of Glendale has recently moved toward a slower-growth policy, the overlapping jurisdictions of city and county have made a planned approach to growth difficult.
Still, while Montrose residential areas may be facing modern urban pressures, the heart of the community, that winding, tree-lined little village lane, remains as something out of another era. As Chamber President Torres said, going to Montrose is like going backward in time.
At a Glance
Population 1991 estimate: 2,088 1980-91 change: +16.8% Median age: 34.8 years
Annual income Per capita: 21,687 Median household: 43,901
Household distribution Less than $15,000: 14.5% $15,000 - $30,000: 20.5% $30,000 - $50,000: 21.5% $50,000 - $75,000: 22.5% $75,000: + 21%