An 'Old Town' celebration

Several thousand revelers are expected Sunday in the Montrose Shopping Park for the community’s 95th birthday celebration, which will also consummate the City Council’s decision to designate the area as “Glendale’s Official Old Town.”

In February, the City Council unanimously approved the Old Town branding as a way to increase Montrose’s attractiveness as a destination and a retail venue.

“We need to continue to promote Montrose in a way that really plays up the uniqueness of the history,” said Dale Dawson, president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn. “Brand Boulevard is really not an old town; the mall is certainly not an old town; the Americana [at Brand] will not be an old town — so we’re it.”

Sunday also marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn., a business district formed to promote businesses in the area and be a voice for local business owners and residents.

The business district is a Glendale success story and has proven itself to be more commercially viable during its long history, said Councilman John Drayman, whose family moved to the area and opened a business in 1949.

“What makes it special is that, unlike other types of malls, it has a built-in clientele,” he said. “This is a business district that is situated in the center of a residential area, so we have the benefit of having our customers not have to drive to us. They can walk from their front door to our front door.”

And more than 200 of the 216 businesses in the district are sole proprietors, or “mom-and pop” operations, which is a phenomenon seldom seen these days, Drayman added.

“You really have an image of what retail in America looked like prior to the malls,” he said.

In the 1950s, the business climate was lagging in Montrose, and some Glendale officials were favoring an idea of turning Honolulu Avenue into a route for heavy trucking between Verdugo Road and La Crescenta Avenue, Drayman said.

But a small group of residents started to talk about how to save the town, and six men — remembered affectionately as “The Men Who Saved Montrose” — traveled to a business district in Grand Junction, Colo., to collect ideas for what could be done on Honolulu.

After five years of trying to persuade the city of Glendale to adopt some of their ideas, the group established a business district and raised more than $300,000 to add curbs, landscaping, parking and other features to the area.

“It’s hard to believe that for $300,000 or so the shopping park we know today was built,” Drayman said. “So these gentlemen really saved the town.”

One of those men, Garth Gragg, 90, who ran the retail store Dorsey’s before he retired, is set to be honored Sunday.

Gragg said the old-town designation is appropriate, having seen the area go from one small block to what it is today.

“There’s new buildings and new people, but still it has the small-town feeling,” he said. “And I personally, when I moved over here, I said this is where I’m going to stay the rest of my life, and I’ve spent quite a bit of it here.”

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