The San Gabriel Valley (SGV) is very famous for its multicultural mix in cities like Alhambra, Monterey Park, and Rosemead. There are several key arteries that connect the web of municipalities in the area. One of the main streets of the SGV -- that exemplifies its diverse demographics as well as the many different land uses and agrarian history -- is Garvey Avenue. This week L.A. Letters examines the vibrant landscape along Garvey from Alhambra to El Monte, passing through Monterey Park, Rosemead and South El Monte, before the main stretch of it flows into the 10 East in El Monte just west of the 605 and Baldwin Park.
Before describing the geographic and streetscape features along Garvey, a brief background history dating back to the late 19th Century is needed. The street is named for Richard Garvey, Sr., who was a mail rider for the United States Government between 1860 and 1863. He delivered mail by horseback across a 300 mile stretch between Arizona and California, and through his travels he discovered that the path that is now Garvey Avenue was the shortest route between El Monte and Los Angeles. He gradually began to love this stretch of land and, in 1873, he bought a ranch that was about four miles long and two miles wide. The west end of his ranch was where Atlantic Boulevard is now, and the eastern end was where San Gabriel Boulevard currently runs. Most of Garvey's land is now considered Monterey Park, with some of it in Rosemead and South San Gabriel.
He gave some of his land in order to create the east-west highway now called Garvey Avenue. The site of Garvey's ranch house is now called Garvey Ranch Park, and is less than a mile south of Garvey and just east of Garfield. Remnants of his home remain on the park, as well as an observatory built by his son in the 1930s. The Monterey Park Historical Society has a small museum here and has much more information on both Garvey and the area's early history.
In the early 20th Century, long before the construction of Interstate 10, the 60 and 210, Garvey was one of the main routes into Los Angeles. Valley Boulevard was equally important and was originally the path of the Butterfield Stage Coach in the 19th Century. Valley and Garvey are parallel roads that are related, like Pico and Olympic, or Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard. Both Garvey and Valley run parallel to the 10 and are never more than about a mile apart from each other with the 10 in between the two. Similar to Wilshire and Santa Monica, they also intersect at one point: Garvey and Valley meet in El Monte, just west of where Garvey's main stretch becomes Interstate 10.
Garvey Avenue begins in Alhambra just south of the 10 Freeway and Cal State Los Angeles. It officially starts from the curve where Ramona Boulevard splits adjacent to the 10. Local residents from Alhambra, Monterey Park, and Rosemead often use this stretch of Garvey rather than taking the 10 because the 10 east always slows down just past City Terrace when it reaches Alhambra and Monterey Park by the Fremont exit. For this reason, commuters in the know exit from the 10 on Ramona and when you make a left turn onto Ramona, it becomes Garvey in less than a half mile.
On the western edge of Garvey where it begins, is the Chinese Church for Christ, also called the Calvin Chao Theological Seminary. A few hundred yards east of the church on the northern side of Garvey are three still-functioning archaic roadside hotels that date back to the first half of the 20th Century. They are the Wayfare Motel, Midwick Motor Hotel, and the View Motel. All along Garvey heading east are other similar motels that date back over a half century ago. These motels are a lot like the small hotels along Route 66 and other major roads that were once considered highways before the Interstate system was built in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Heading east on this part of Garvey the road curves and heads up hill. This vantage point offers excellent views of Mt. Wilson, Mt. Baldy, and Pasadena to the north and the entire San Gabriel Valley on the eastern horizon. On a clear day, one can even see the towering Mt. San Gorgonio over 50 miles east. The series of foothills in this area are where Alhambra and Monterey Park meet on the western edge. As noted above, the road is fast through this stretch and much like a highway all the way to Atlantic about a mile east. Coming down Garvey through this area one cannot help but notice the opulent St. Stevens Serbian Orthodox Cathedral on the northern side of Garvey. As one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in America, the Byzantine architecture of the church is truly awe-inspiring. The location was chosen for its hilltop location and the outstanding view it offers of the San Gabriel Valley below. The Serbian population in the local area was much bigger in the past, nonetheless Serbians and devoted members of the church commute there from all over Southern California.
As Garvey descends down the hill there is an intersection that crosses with both Fremont and Monterey Pass Road. Monterey Pass Road was once called Coyote Pass for the many coyotes that could be found in the area. Splitting off from Garvey, it heads southwest towards East Los Angeles and City Terrace. Numerous historians have recounted that the Spanish captain Portola and Father Junipero Serra travelled along Monterey Pass Road on their way to building the second mission in California, which eventually was located in San Gabriel. Monterey Pass Road is on the flat stretch between the hills of Monterey Park and City Terrace.
Further down the hill heading east on Garvey, the retail stretch of Monterey Park begins at Atlantic Boulevard. Atlantic was once called Wilson Avenue, named after Don Benito Wilson, the second mayor of Los Angeles in the mid-19th Century and longtime owner of much of the land in the western stretch of the San Gabriel Valley. On the northeastern corner of Garvey and Atlantic sits a vacant gas station that was once a service station owned by Laura Scudder. Scudder started her Potato Chip empire on this very corner back in the 1920s. Her family owned the service station there and decided to start selling food items because so many travelers would stop at their station after passing by on Garvey. An exhibit in the Monterey Park Historical Museum noted that many cars broke down along this stretch of Garvey, especially those coming down the hill from what was then Coyote Pass. Scudder created her potato chips and other food items to feed travelers who stopped at the station. Her station was also one of the first rest stops and more extravagant stations similar to the modern day truck stops more common these days. A plaque commemorating Scudder sits on the corner and can be seen by pedestrians who look close enough.
East of Atlantic, Garvey gradually enters Downtown Monterey Park. Monterey Park is famous for its large Chinese population. There are more Chinese eateries than one can count. Near Ynez and Garvey is one of the more popular restaurants, Mama Lu's Dumpling House. Further east before Garfield is the Hong Kong Café. Along the way there are Chinese herb shops, teahouses, and many other small retail stores. Further down, Yama's Body shop is still open and its one of the last vestiges of Monterey Park's Japanese-American history. Near Yama's, the eatery known as Victory is a French Vietnamese restaurant. East of Garfield along Garvey are a few locations that date back to the early Anglo history of Monterey Park. Two of these sites are Johnny Thompson's Guitar and Divine's Furniture. Dating back to 1932, Divine's has been an antique furniture store that originally opened by Harry Divine back during the Great Depression. They are widely known in the San Gabriel Valley for great deals and quality merchandise. Their website reports that their building was originally built in 1922 as an open-air Japanese produce market.
Past Divine's and New Avenue, Garvey enters Rosemead. As much as Monterey Park is Chinese, Rosemead is both Chinese and Vietnamese. More than a half dozen Pho eateries are along Garvey as the road heads east through Rosemead into South El Monte and El Monte. The western stretch of Garvey through Rosemead was once an unincorporated Los Angeles County territory called Wilmar, named after a place in Arkansas. Many of the early residents of Wilmar were from Arkansas, and they named the area after their home state not only because they were from Arkansas but because the hills just south of Garvey reminded them of all the hills around their home in Wilmar, Arkansas. Most of the unincorporated Wilmar territory was eventually annexed into Rosemead about 50 years ago and some of it became a part of South San Gabriel, which remains unincorporated.
Along the southern side of Garvey in Rosemead is Richard Garvey Intermediate School. Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis Rodriguez grew up in nearby South San Gabriel and attended Garvey in the late 1960s. He writes about the school and his childhood in the area in his memoir "Always Running." Rodriguez devotes a few pages in his book to his years at Garvey. The school is now much better than it was then. Rodriguez describes the conditions when he attended: "We drove teachers nuts at Garvey. A number of them were sent home with nervous breakdowns." He also reports that there were still a few of the Arkansas descendants in the area during his youth there. Rodriguez's book paints a vivid picture of both the school and the evolving landscape around Rosemead and South San Gabriel as it was over four decades ago.
Local historian and Cal State Los Angeles graduate student in history, Brian Sun also attended Garvey. Sun has lived most of his life in Monterey Park and Rosemead, and attended Garvey in the 1990s. Sun has eaten in most of the eateries along Garvey and is an expert in the history of the San Gabriel Valley. He recently took me to an indoor mall at Garvey and San Gabriel Boulevard with dozens of restaurants inside called "the Square." The mall that is now "The Square," was once a hardware store called Builder's Square over two decades ago. Sun explains more about the space: "It's an Asian market with a food court. Harlem's Kitchen is the well-known spot for wonton soup and chow fun, they have very authentic Hong Kong food."
At the southwestern corner of Garvey and San Gabriel, near Harlem's Kitchen and the Square, is an iconic bell signifying El Camino Real, the road connecting all of the California missions. A small concrete bridge a few yards north of the bell reads "1935." The bridge was built over the Alhambra Wash, a small diagonal waterway that connects with the Rio Hondo River a mile south near the Whittier Narrows, where Rosemead meets South El Monte.
Continuing east along Garvey there are used car lots, small motels, pho eateries, Vietnamese markets, and places offering acupuncture. There are a few vacant lots along Garvey through Rosemead. There are also a few trailer and mobile home parks that harken back to Garvey's early history. The Vagabond Villa Trailer Park is one of them. These trailer parks and the few small motels are remaining bits of Appalachia in the cosmopolitan and multicultural milieu that is the 21st century San Gabriel Valley. Streets like Walnut Grove also pay homage to the early agricultural history of the San Gabriel Valley.
Heading east, Garvey briefly enters South El Monte, the self-proclaimed "City of Achievement." South El Monte and El Monte have both had longstanding ties with the Mexican community, but they are also now having a gradual influx of Vietnamese and Chinese residents as well. In the early 20th Century, these communities were also home to many Japanese-Americans. In the midst of botanicas, taquerias, and Mexican markets there are a few Chinese and Vietnamese markets and bakeries, like Mr. Baguette. On the corner of Garvey and Humbert in South El Monte are two Pho eateries directly across from each other. Near Tyler and Garvey in El Monte there is a boxing and mixed martial arts gym. The sign in the window says, "Home of the Aztec Dragons." West of Santa Anita on Garvey is King Taco. The mix of Mexican and Asian residents in El Monte and South El Monte corroborate with the thesis espoused by author Wendy Cheng in her book, "The Chang's Next Door to the Diazes."
Garvey intersects with Valley Boulevard in El Monte a few blocks east of Peck Road. A few streets east of Valley, Garvey merges with Interstate 10 just past Durfee, and starts and stops as a frontage road along the 10 through Baldwin Park and West Covina. Valley meanwhile continues east uninterrupted into the San Gabriel Valley into Baldwin Park, City of Industry, La Puente, Walnut, and eventually becomes Holt Avenue in Pomona. Valley extends for over 25 miles, and is perhaps more known than Garvey. Nonetheless the 10 miles of Garvey between Alhambra and El Monte packs a lot of culture and history in a very concentrated stretch.
There are few streets in Southern California that show the past, present, and future of the state like Garvey Avenue. There are many more locations along Garvey than can ever be recounted in one essay. Take a trip down Garvey between Alhambra and El Monte to witness a touchstone slice of geography in the landscape of L.A. Letters.