Can you name the Los Angeles County municipality with the spa-loving bear, a weekly street fair, a former youth soccer official who embezzled the teams’ kitty and a grass-roots anti-crime program that has cut truancy and misdeeds?
Try Monrovia, honored this month by Vice President Al Gore for its community policing program.
Hugging the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the city’s tree-lined streets are lined with a wealth of Victorian, Queen Anne and Craftsman-style homes on spacious grounds. Many older houses and buildings, such as the Aztec Hotel on Foothill Boulevard, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The heart of town is Myrtle Avenue, which each Friday night features a farmers market and street festival replete with kiddie rides, crafts vendors and the smells of sizzling Cajun sausage and hot funnel cakes.
Myrtle Avenue was named for the eldest daughter of William Newton Monroe, a retired railroad man-turned-real estate promoter who founded the town with two partners in 1886 after Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin sold them 240 acres of his vast ranch nearby.
Like most of the Southland, Monrovia saw enormous post-World War II growth. Soon, housing tracts and shopping centers wiped out orange groves, and Myrtle Avenue became an afterthought, with a 40% business vacancy rate. As chain stores in more distant suburbs began squeezing out local retailers, big city blues caught up with Monrovia.
In the early 1880s, Baldwin hired former South Carolina slaves to work his ranch, and many settled in Monrovia. Nearly a century later, their descendants, plus other blacks who had moved to the town in the meantime, made up a sizable portion of Monrovia’s population. In the 1960s and 1970s, conflicts arose. There were brawls between white and black students in the city’s schools, and two teacher strikes. A friendly hamlet it wasn’t.
By 1977, however, Monrovia had united behind a plan to revitalize the town and raise residents’ spirits. An ambitious redevelopment program created economic improvements that rekindled the small-town feeling; more than a million dollars went to refurbishing Myrtle Avenue, which once again became the city’s commercial heart.
Monrovia still captures headlines now and again. Last month, a former youth soccer league treasurer pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $89,000 in league funds. And last summer, locals videotaped Samson the bear hot-tubbing (uninvited) and snatching fruit from neighborhood trees.
* NOBEL NEIGHBOR: Socialist gubernatorial candidate and Nobel Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair took his family and his politics to Monrovia after finding Pasadena too crowded. His Spanish colonial revival house is a national historic monument.
* SHOOTING STAR: Myrtle Avenue is a setting for more than 30 movies, TV shows and commercials every year, including the scene in which Mike Myers plows a car into a fire hydrant in “Wayne’s World 2.” Other Monrovia filming sites with that Midwest look: a bikers’ hangout on Canyon Drive where Cher lived with her son in the movie “Mask” and a home featured in “Picket Fences” until the CBS series recently bit the dust.
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By The Numbers
Incorporated: Dec. 15, 1887
Area in square miles: 14
Number of parks: 7
City employees: 214 full time; 78 part time
1995-96 budget: $23 million
Average household size: 3
Median age: 31
Money and Work Median household income: $35,684
Median household income / L.A. County: $34,965
Median home value: $231,500
Employed workers (16 and older): 19,260
Percentage of women employed: 60%
Percentage of men employed: 81%
Car- poolers: 2,675
Number of stores: 293
Number of employees: 3,171
Annual sales: $354 million
Married couples with children: 24%
Married couples with no children: 26%
Non-family households: 33%
Other types of families: 18%
Source: Claritas Inc. Household expenses are averages for 1994. All other figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.