Neighborhood Spotlight: Montebello, close (but not too close) to the action, offers reasonable prices

Montebello has played an outsized role in the history of California, from the earliest days of the Spanish conquest to the Mexican-American War.

The region was first settled by Europeans in the 1770s, when Spanish emissaries of the Catholic Church set about establishing the mission system, through which they would subjugate the native peoples of what they called Alta California.

After working their way north on an overland journey from San Diego, a group of friars founded Mission San Gabriel on the banks of the Rio Hondo in 1771, near the present-day intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue.

Its sojourn in Montebello would be short-lived, however. When a flood devastated the mission just five years after its founding, the padres moved it to present-day San Gabriel, about six miles north.

The land around the rio was not abandoned for long. Spain soon established ranchos across Southern California, dividing the newly conquered land among settlers who would graze cattle and raise crops on the fertile alluvial plains.


In 1847, this quiet countryside would witness one of the biggest battles of the Mexican-American War. Seeking to recapture the pueblo of Los Angeles, which had earlier fallen to Californio forces, about 600 American soldiers retraced the Spanish missionaries’ march from San Diego north to the Rio Hondo. There they found a detachment of about 450 Californios.

During the ensuing battle on Jan. 8, the American forces outlasted and outgunned the Californios, who were forced to retreat. Los Angeles was soon retaken, and five days after the battle, the Treaty of Cahuenga effectively brought an end to all fighting in California.

It would be 50 more years before the settlement that became Montebello was established on land purchased by prominent Los Angeles businessmen. First called Newmark, after one of the landowners, the town was soon renamed Montebello at the behest of William Mulholland, the pioneering engineer of the Los Angeles water system; his Montebello Land and Water Co. served the new settlement. The official city history notes that the name translates as “beautiful hills” in Italian.

In 1917, oil was struck in the hills of Montebello, and the sleepy farming community was soon a major contributor to California’s overall oil production. Agriculture became progressively less important to the city’s economy.

During the post-World War II boom, Montebello’s proximity to downtown Los Angeles and relatively cheap housing made it a popular bedroom community for commuters and continues to draw home buyers today.

Neighborhood highlights:

Close to the action: Whether you work or play downtown, Montebello is a short commute or relatively inexpensive Uber ride away from DTLA hot spots.

But not too close: At the end of a long day at work or a night out at Staples Center, you can recharge your batteries far from the madding crowd.

Reasonable prices: For such a relatively close-in neighborhood, Montebello’s prices are a steal, compared with those of its neighbors to the north, such as Alhambra and Pasadena.

Neighborhood challenge:

School woes: A state audit last year alleging misuse of funds has put the Montebello school system in the midst of a financial scandal that has reinforced community demands to reform the district.

Expert insight

Armando Arenas, a Century 21 agent and chairman of Montebello’s Chamber of Commerce, said the city has avoided the gentrification that’s plagued its regional neighbors. As a result, houses are still cheap.

“A lot of Montebello was developed in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, so California bungalows are the predominant architectural style,” Arenas said.

On the south side, developers are building high-density town homes that fall in the $400,000 range, drawing younger families. The city’s most notable development, however, may soon arrive after decades in the making.

In the oil-rich hills of Montebello, plans to build 1,200 single-family homes have been long postponed due to lawsuits from environmental activists and governmental red tape, but Arenas said they may finally break ground as early as next year.

“The homes would range from high-end town houses to executive homes,” Arenas said. “It would invigorate the area.”

Market snapshot

In Montebello, based on 29 sales, the median price for single-family homes and condos in July was $520,000, up 1% year over year, according to CoreLogic.

Report card

Ten of the 14 schools in the Montebello boundaries scored higher than 700 on the 2013 Academic Performance Index. The highest performers were Potrero Heights Elementary, at 823, and La Merced Intermediate, at 799.

The two largest high schools in the area, Schurr High and Montebello High, scored 739 and 685, respectively.

Times staff writer Jack Flemming contributed to this report.