Alhambra pushes aside its hick reputation

Special to The Times

Alhambra gained notoriety earlier this year when actress Lana Clarkson was found slain at record producer Phil Spector’s hilltop mansion. Spector may have told Esquire magazine that Alhambra is a “hick town where there is no place to go that you shouldn’t,” but this West San Gabriel Valley city of more than 86,000 residents is more than a sleepy suburb.

Wow factor

Alhambra is evolving from hick to hip. The newly redeveloped downtown area on Main Street, bookended by two Edwards Cinema complexes, boasts trendy restaurants, coffee shops, dance clubs and city-provided live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. From July until Labor Day, the city hosts a weekly themed street party downtown on 2nd Street.

Drawing card

The city, with six community parks on more than 200 acres and a golf course, wants even more green space for its residents. Alhambra is in the process of using parkland grants to convert the asphalt jungles of the 13 elementary schools into green parks for the enjoyment of the students and city residents.


A tale of two cities

Alhambra drew its name from the title of a Washington Irving book about the legends of the Moorish palace in Spain. From its beginning 100 years ago and for decades afterward, that Spanish influence dominated the demographics and culture of the city. Spector’s 33-room mansion, dubbed the “Pyrenees Castle,” was built in 1926 by a Basque rancher.

But the demographics are shifting. Today 47% of the population is Asian. Drive down Valley Boulevard and you’ll see dozens of blocks of Asian restaurants and stores and storefront signage in Chinese and Vietnamese. Valley Boulevard hosts the annual Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. Main Street, on the other hand, reflects both the city’s roots (with Latin-flavored dance clubs) and its growing Asian influence (in restaurants).

Good news, bad news

Alhambra residents have only an eight-mile drive to downtown Los Angeles, but many of the city’s north-south arteries, such as Fremont Avenue, are experiencing gridlock. Frustrated motorists, attempting to take the road less traveled, are clogging residential streets as well.

Hot spots

Even though Alhambra is celebrating its centennial, most of the houses are in post-World War II tract developments. The well-manicured homes in Alhambra’s priciest neighborhood, the Bean Tract, sell in the $500,000 range for a 2,000-square-foot home. The 1940s neighborhood is next door to San Marino. Homes with character from the 1920s and ‘30s can be found in a nameless neighborhood south of the Bean Tract.

Homes in the Midwick Tract, in the southwest corner of Alhambra, start at $200,000. The 1940s development sits on the former Midwick Country Club. According to local lore, said Tom Berge of Berge Co. Realtors, an Italian immigrant purchased and redeveloped the land after he was denied membership at the exclusive club.

Report card

The Alhambra Unified School District is made up of 13 elementary and middle schools and one high school. Although there are four high schools within Alhambra city boundaries, only one, Alhambra High School, is part of the Alhambra Unified School District. The 2002 Academic Performance Index scores at the elementary schools range from 639 to 790 out of a possible 1,000. Alhambra High School scored 658.

On the market

The first week of April, 58 homes were on the market, ranging from a $179,000 condominium to a 4,000-square-foot home for $749,000, according to Mark Paulson of Venti Realtors.

Historical values

Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price






Sources: DataQuick Information Services; City of Alhambra Web site,;; Mark Paulson, Venti Realtors; Tom Berge, Berge Co. Realtors.