About Alhambra


Midway in the nineteenth century, many people were drawn to the fabulous land of Alta California, lured by the promise of gold. Some settled in the north; others came over the southern trails and remained in Southern California to acquire great ranchos and smaller acreage planted with oranges and grapes.

(September 8, 1771) Mission San Gabriel

September 8, 1771 - Mission San Gabriel


The principal part of the land within Alhambra's present boundaries was included in a 1771 grant made to Mission San Gabriel, five years before the birth of our nation. There were no orchards or vineyards in San Gabriel Valley, only dry uncultivated fields broken by arroyos and low-lying hills from the Mission San Gabriel west to the small Indian village called "Yang-na," which later became Los Angeles. According to 1784 records of individual land grants made by the Spanish government, at least a portion of the land on which Alhambra was built was once part of 300,000 acres grant to Manuel Nieto. Confusion in the validity of the Mission grant resulted in years of litigation.


Benjamin Wilson

In 1841, Benjamin D. Wilson (1811 to 1878), a trapper and trader originally from Tennessee had already accumulated a fortune, and was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when he decided to accompany the famous Workman-Rowland Party to Southern California. While group's intentions were to settle in the San Gabriel Valley with their families, Wilson, on the other hand, had plans to travel to China but could not find passage. His plans were altered dramatically when he met and married Ramona Yorba, a daughter of the owner of Rancho de Santa Ana, a pioneer Californio family. Later, Wilson would became one of the first ranchers in Southern California.

In 1843, Wilson bought the Jurupa Ranch (site of present-day Riverside) for $1000 a league. The Wilson's had a daughter Maria de Jesus, who was born at the Jurupa Ranch and was baptized at the San Gabriel Mission in February 1845. A son, John, died at an early age and Ramona died in 1849.

Wilson became a powerful landowner whose properties included such areas as the present sites of Westwood, UCLA, Pasadena, Alhambra, San Gabriel, and San Pedro, plus part of Riverside County. He adapted to Hispanic society, learned the language, became a Catholic, and was much respected by both American and Spanish-Mexican residents. He was given the nickname of "Don Benito."

Benjamin Wilson

Benjamin Wilson

In 1845, he became an important figure while helping to defend Los Angeles against armed forces of the Mexican governor, Micheltorena, and leading a counterattack on Indians who were making frequent raids on white settlers.

When war broke out with Mexico in 1846, Wilson refused to serve in the army even when commanded to by Governor Pio Pico. When a call for help came from the beleaguered American commander of the Los Angeles garrison, he joined the army to fight against Mexico. In the Battle of Chino, Wilson was defeated and surrendered. Capt. Jose Lugo ordered him executed but his superiors rescinded the order and when war ended in 1847, he was released from prison.

When the territory was opened up to settlers after the war, a Scotsman named Hugo Reid received a portion of the vast San Gabriel Mission from the Mexican government, which then dominated California. In 1854, Reid's Indian widow sold part of her estate, the 128-acre La Huerte del Cuati, which he renamed Lake Vineyard. It consisted of a ranch with a 40 acre shallow pond fed by streams of Old Mill Canyon and Wilson Canyon. The property included Alhambra, San Marino, South Pasadena, and Pasadena-and Lake Wilson which became a swimming hole for the residents of the valley.

With the admission of California to the Union in 1850, Wilson took an active part in local and state politics. At age 39, he was elected the first Los Angeles County clerk. In 1852, he became the second-elected mayor of Los Angeles. He was also elected as a Los Angeles County Supervisor in 1853, 1861, 1862 and 1864. He later became a state senator for three terms, lobbied for federal subsidies for railroad connections and harbor improvements, and raised cattle, sheep, wheat, and grapes on his properties.

‍Benjamin Wilson as a young man

Benjamin Wilson as a Young Man

James de Barth Shorb

Wilson's eldest daughter, Maria, married a young engineer from Baltimore, James de Barth Shorb in 1867. Upon working for six years for his father-in-law without anything of value to call his own, his wife urged him to write a request for "half interest" in the lands adjacent to Lake Vineyard. This included the property below Stoneman Ranch and the water rights to same, plus was described as Oak Knoll and the lands meant to be attached to this property. Wilson agreed and drew up articles of incorporation for the partnership. Shorb named his portion "San Marino" after his boyhood home in Maryland and he named the rancho "Mound Vineyard." Shorb had his hands full working both Lake Vineyard and Mound Vineyard. Lake Vineyard consisted of 1,300 acres and Mound Vineyard 500. Today, the Huntington Library art gallery stands on the site of the Shorb home.

Wilson's first wife died in 1849, and four years later he married a widow, Mrs. Margaret Hereford. They had four children, one of whom was Ruth Wilson who later became Mrs. George Patton, mother of the famous General George Patton, Jr. Lake Vineyard was later acquired by the Pattons and that is where Gen. Patton was born.

After California became a state, Wilson held several political offices. He was Los Angeles County's first clerk; then he became Mayor of Los Angeles. He was appointed an Indian Agent for the Southern District in 1852 and the next year he became a State Senator.

Besides subdividing two tracts, Wilson also constructed a burro trail up the Sierra Madre mountain peak that today bears his name and on which Mt. Wilson Observatory is located. Wilson died at Lake Vineyard in 1878.

‍Don Benito & 2nd wife Margaret Hereford Wilson

Don Benito and 2nd Wife Margaret Hereford Wilson

His son-in-law, James de Barth Shorb continued with the development of Alhambra by subdividing another portion of the ranch, once a barley field, naming it "Ramona." The streets were named for Shorb's children: Ethel, Ynez, Carlos, Benito, Campbell and Marguerita. There were also streets named Yorba and De Barth, but they are no longer in existence. The Southern Pacific Railroad had been built through San Gabriel Valley in 1873, and in 1886, the railroad's Shorb Station was built near Ramona. Another station was located at Garfield and Mission Road.

One of Shorb's 11 children, Edith, was sent to Lake Merritt, Oakland, to attend school at the Convent of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. While her father was subdividing his new Shorb Tract, he decided to donate 15 acres of land to the Holy Name Sisters if they would build a school on the site so his children would not have to go north to school. Edith asked for the hill, "the adobe hill", where Ramona Convent was built in 1889. The site is still in use as a private boarding school for girls. Shorb died in 1878 and his fortune was lost following the "Boom of the 1880's." His properties were sold to Henry E Huntington.

The Shorb Family

The Shorb Family


In 1874, Benjamin Wilson bought 275 acres of state-owned land between the Arroyo and the Old Mill Wash paying $2.75 an acre. He divided the tract into 5 and 10 acre lots. Wilson named his venture "Alhambra" at the urging of his youngest daughter, 10-year old Ruth, who along with Sister Anne had been reading Washington Irving's book about the legends of the Moorish palace in Southern Spain called the "The Alhambra." 

(In 1832, Washington Irving visited and wrote about his trip to the Alhambra. The book is a combination of travelogue in the Spain of the time, along with recanting tales from days long past, even then. Although this book is now more than a century and a half old, it remains in most libraries of today for three reasons: It's a delightful read by one of the greats of American literature, it's a good description of the Spain of the 1830's, and it's one of the few books on Spanish folklore.) 

The beginnings of Alhambra

The Beginnings of Alhambra


Wilson called the subdivision, "The Alhambra Tract." It was the first tract of homes in Southern California to have water piped in iron pipes to each lot. Shorb, an engineer, devised a system to bring water from the canyon in back of Wilson's residences. He knew such an improvement would attract settlers because water was always a determining factor in the choice of settling. In those days, residents had only open ditches or wooden pipes carrying water to their property. Pioneers wrote that water ran like a brook (from Wilson Canyon) along Mission Street, San Gabriel, and some people dipped and carried their water home from the open "zanja."

In keeping with the theme of Irving's book, the five streets of the subdivision were named Granada, Almansor, Alhambra Road, Vega (for the wide plain in the province of Granada), and Boabdil (the last Moorish king to live in the Palace of the Alhambra). The name proved so difficult for early Alhambra residents to pronounce that it was changed to Main Street.

The original tract of 250 acres became an expanse of orchards and flowers. Streets were lined with pepper trees. Orchards bore peaches, pears and apples and there were abundant roses everywhere. Flowers and vines that had been brought from Mexico and Spain to San Gabriel Mission were shared by the padres with surrounding ranches.

San Gabriel Winery

San Gabriel Winery


The first Alhambra Tract was so successful that when it sold out, Wilson and Shorb purchased 2,500 additional acres west of the Arroyo and south of Alhambra Road. It is referred to on city maps as the "Alhambra Addition Tract." The tract was bounded on the east by the Arroyo de San Pasqual, on the south by the Southern Pacific Railroad, on the west by Marengo Avenue (between the railroad and Boabdil) and Raymond Avenue (between Boabdil and Alhambra Road), and on the north by Alhambra Road. The new subdivision's first street was named Wilson Avenue, but later changed to Atlantic Boulevard. Settlers named the road west of the Methodist Chapel, Chapel Street, and Capt. F. Edward Gray named Garfield Avenue for President Garfield.

As with the previous tract, the Addition Tract received water through iron pipes, supplied by water from the Kewen (El Molino) Canyon. The water was piped to a reservoir at Garfield and Alhambra Road, and an iron pipe was laid the entire length of Garfield south to the railroad. Later an additional reservoir was located on Alhambra Road a little west of Wilson (now Atlantic), with a pipeline laid down that street.

Orange Pickers

Orange Pickers


West of the new Alhambra Addition were extensive vineyards. Some had been planted by the Mission Fathers. There were 800 acres of grapes that extended up to the foot of the Raymond Hotel hill in South Pasadena and to the Southern Pacific tracks in Alhambra. The Shorb family owned the San Gabriel Vineyard, built by J. A. Creamer-a pioneer builder, the largest in the world at that time extending from the Southern Pacific tracks northward to Alhambra Road, westward to Fremont Avenue (named for Gen. John C. Fremont), and eastward to the present Marengo Avenue.

The San Gabriel Wine Company, located near the present intersection of Main Street and Palm, was successful and probably the earliest business enterprise in what is Alhambra today. The site was blasted out of a hillside. Walls were constructed of bricks made on the spot. It processed grapes not only from the Shorb vineyards but also those of other ranchers. At its peak, the winery was extremely busy and required the hiring of many people. Many Chinese and Mexican laborers were employed during the busiest times of the year. It was said that at the time it was the largest in the state, perhaps the world. The winery's cellar reportedly held a million and a half gallons in its huge oak tanks. It also held the distinction of having the first telephone installed in 1883.

During the 1890s, problems arose. A blight disease affected the vines and many were lost. Then, too, modern methods were being used in the vineyards of Northern California, which enabled vintners to undersell the San Gabriel Winery. Shorb tried to keep going by mortgaging buildings and properties to such an extent that the firm was taken over by I. W Hellman through the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Los Angeles. Hellman sold to Henry Huntington in 1900. In 1903, the buildings were purchased by Alfred Dolge who converted the complex to a felt factory. The portion of the town west of Marengo Avenue then became known as Dolgeville.

Alhambra Ice Wagon

Alhambra Ice Wagon


In 1871, Mrs. Wilson's niece and her husband, J. C. Wallace, arrived from Mississippi, traveling by train to San Francisco, then by boat to San Pedro, and finally by wagon to this area. Two years later, they built the first house within the present Alhambra city limits in an area known as the San Gabriel Township. Lumber for the house, 1212 N Granada, was cut and carried down from Mt. Wilson on the shoulders of Indians.

Alonzo Phillip's family arrived from New York with their six children in 1873 and they purchased five acres on Stoneman Avenue on the west bank of the Arroyo de San Pasqual. Their home near Alhambra Road was constructed of cement made from cobblestones and sand from the Arroyo.

One of the first houses in the Alhambra Tract was built at Vega and Alhambra Road by Rev. A. G. L. True (rector at San Gabriel's Church of Our Savior) in 1875. He sold it the following year to George B. Adams, a retired Chicago merchant. Adam's daughter, Alice, described the house as "a rude little redwood cottage under a wide-spreading oak tree which helped make the building less bleak, and the dry, barren fields less harsh."

In 1876. Dr. T. D. Kellogg and his associate, Dr. Hayden, bought land in the Alhambra Addition Tract and built a sanitarium on the east bank of the Arroyo at Almansor and Main. Each Monday for the next ten years, Dr. Kellogg would begin his rounds, taking all week to visit patients on ranches from Los Angeles to San Bernardino. His son, Tom, who lived only two years, was Alhambra's first-born child. A physician- surgeon, Dr. F. B. Elwood, arrived in 1886 and opened the first drug store where prescriptions were filled.

‍Tilly's Restaurant

Tillys Restaurant

In November 1877, the Halstead family arrived from New York and purchased ten acres on North Vega from Wilson. Halstead first considered building in Pasadena but the Alhambra Tract's fine water system swayed him in favor of Alhambra, as well as the fact that mail arrived every day in nearby San Gabriel and only once a week in Pasadena. He planted his acreage, "Orienta Ranch," in oranges, "expecting to make a fortune," but died in 1879, not realizing his ambition.

Edward Mayberry sailed around the Cape Horn in 1855 in his family's sailing ship and arrived in San Francisco where he built the Colton House, Grand Hotel and government buildings in Sacramento as well as the Napa Sanitarium. He settled in Alhambra in 1879 after a six-month stagecoach tour of Southern California, trying to locate an ideal spot to live in and to raise imported Hamiltonian horses. He purchased 160 acres between Valley Boulevard and the Southern Pacific Railroad, east of Chapel Avenue. Mayberry built a home at 300 Granada that is still standing. Two years later, he purchased the Old Mill property from the Hollenbecks and built one of the area's best race tracks. It was bounded by the present Virginia Road, Old Mill Road, Huntington Drive, and Lacy Park, San Marino. He built another home, this one on the mesa above Old Mill Road. When the property was sold to Henry Huntington after Mayberry's death in 1902, Mayberry's son and his family purchased a large section of land in northwest Alhambra and built a home on North Stoneman.

Other pioneers included two Swiss families, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hildebrand and their four daughters, and their friends, Mr. and Mrs. S Strasser. The two families came by way of Salt Lake where they had originally planned to settle. They bought home sites from Shorb on South Wilson Avenue (Atlantic Boulevard). Another pioneer family was Mr. and Mrs. Charles P. Browne and their two daughters.

A very "fine" home was built by Capt. F. Edward Gray at Second Street and Commonwealth, standing until the late 1960's. Later, Gail Borden built another beautiful residence on part of the Gray estate and the present Post Office on Bay State Street. Another attractive cottage was built by Rebecca Stoneman, sister of the California Governor, on her 20 acre plot near Garfield and Alhambra Road.

Garfield School around 1886

Garfield School Around 1886

By 1880, there were 25 families in the Alhambra Tract. Among them were the Rev. Charles Shelling (pastor of Pasadena's Methodist Church), and A. C. Weeks who bought a lot on the Arroyo bank on Almansor. Some early records indicate that the house he built for his bride, Mary Foss, may have been the first one built in the Alhambra Tract. Street

No better description has been given of Alhambra during the 1880's than that of Rufus Fiske Bishop, who came with his family from Massachusetts. His ancestors fled to America from England in 1638. On the 50th anniversary of his arrival, he recalled that in the 1880's "within what are now the city limits, there was not a school house, a store, or a blacksmith shop. We saw a valley, wide and open, yellow with stubble; shimmering in the summer haze eastward, stretching from the blue mountains to the brown hills, with here and there a green blotch of young orchards and vineyard toward Pasadena or the foothills."

"That first spring, we marveled to see the slope (Altadena) ablaze with poppies and were told that ships steered their course by the bright color." According to legend, some Spanish sailors gave the name, "La Sabanilla de San Pasqual," to this region because it was on an Easter Day that they first saw from off the coast of California, the brilliant fields of poppies spread along the mesas of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Bishop said he bought 15 acres of the Alhambra Tract because after "I rode my bronco everywhere over Pasadena, San Gabriel, and Oak Knoll, water was the deciding factor. Oak Knoll was a beautiful pasture that my wife coveted because of the trees, but there was no water. San Gabriel, with much better soil than either Alhambra or Pasadena was given over to pasturage, with high, wide cactus hedges between fields, but no water. I passed by Pasadena's business center of two redwood shacks, a post office, and a blacksmith shop, but Pasadena could not claim so fine a stream of water as that which flowed down Kewen Canyon." Kewen Canyon was named for Col. and Mrs. E J. C. Kewen who occupied El Molino Viejo, the Old Mill, from 1860 to 1879. Bishop returned to the first piece of property he looked at, 100 Bay State Street, Alhambra, where he built his home called "Back-woods." For 25 years, he was the city's water superintendent.

He also recalled that he, Claude T. Adams (son of George B. Adams) and John Harbert (a Missourian who bought 40 acres at Garfield and Main) plowed up and leveled Boabdil (Main) Street in 1881. At that time, he said, there were only four redwood houses between Chapel and Wilson (Atlantic).

Charles Winter - First Blacksmith in Alhambra at 4 W. Main St.

Charles Winter - First Blacksmith in Alhambra at 4 West Main Street

In 1883, Francis Q. Story purchased 30 acres in northern Alhambra around Chapel Avenue and developed a large citrus industry. Much of the fruit was being shipped east and the growers were at the mercy of the shippers. After two weeks of waiting, ranchers would be notified that the fruit had been bought less than the cost of shipping. One grower became suspicious and went to New York where he bought his own fruit at a high price and it was in perfect condition. With J. A. Graves and Rufus F. Bishop, Story organized the Semi-Tropic Fruit Exchange, and served as president of the California Fruit Growers Exchange. The growers pooled their crops and built their own packing house on the Monrovia rail line at Granada Avenue near Alhambra Road. It remained in use until 1932 but was not taken down until the 1940s after World War II.

Story also helped develop the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Line that ran from Los Angeles through Alhambra to Monrovia. His influence helped bring Pacific Electric's streetcar route through Alhambra on Main Street. Unfortunately, the street had to be widened to accommodate the tracks and the beautiful pepper trees that arched the street were destroyed. Mr. Story also donated land for the park bearing his name on Chapel. Later, the city named a street in his honor.

‍Charles Winter with son

Charles Winter with Son

BOOM AND BUST: THE 1880S & 1890S

It was no accident that Wilson laid out the Alhambra Tract where he did. In 1873, the Southern Pacific Railroad had completed its line through the San Gabriel Valley, but fares were expensive from the eastern United States. With completion of a transcontinental rail line, the average cost of a ticket dropped from $100 in 1885 to only $8 in 1886 on the Santa Fe line and just a $1 on the Southern Pacific line! The ridiculously low fares did not last, and settled over the next year at around $25. The result of this price war led to a huge influx of travelers, settlers and investors. Alhambra was "ripe for the taking."

The boom years of the 1880s brought into existence one of the finest buildings ever built in Alhambra. The Alhambra Hotel, at the northwest corner of Garfield Avenue and Boabdil Street, was constructed in the winter of 1886-87 by a syndicate of investors headed by H. W Stanton. The ornate, three-story wooden hotel contained fifty rooms on the second and third floors. A cupola at the fourth level offered an unobstructed view of Alhambra and the entire San Gabriel Valley. The bottom floor was dedicated to a spacious entryway, a large dining room, and offices-which included the Alhambra Post Office.

‍Alhambra Livery Feed & Sale Stable

Alhambra Livery Feed and Sale Stable

Other businesses included the town's first restaurant owned by Henry Tilley, and across the street from the Alhambra Hotel, at the northeast corner of Garfield and Boabdil, was a grand three-story brick building built by Dr. William Jones. The Jones Block included a hardware store, millinery shop, grocery store and a barbershop. Other early businesses included a bakery, butcher shop, plumbing business, shoe factory, livery stable, cobbler and blacksmith shop.

A horse-drawn trolley brought visitors to and from the new railway station at Mission Road and Garfield Avenue. They trolley stopped at the Alhambra Hotel and continued all the way north on Garfield to the Raymond Hotel in Pasadena. The fare from the Alhambra Hotel to the Alhambra Station was five cents.

Compared to the 1880s, Alhambra struggled economically after the boom of the 1880s ended and the community looked quite deserted. The Alhambra Hotel was no longer filled to capacity, and other once occupied businesses had become vacant. The horse-car line lost so much business that it ceased operations in 1893. The tracks were removed and soon no sign of it was visible. Although new houses were built, many were unoccupied. Most of the subdivided lots had been purchased by land speculators, rather than people intending to reside there. Many of the once thriving orange groves died due to lack of care and watering.

‍St. James Chapel (Methodist Church)1887-1890

St. James Chapel Methodist Church 1887 to 1890


The more than 500 residents, most of whom had been there since the start of the tracts, did not lose faith and pride in their town. They formed a town improvement association to clean things up, and pushed for incorporation. While many residents wanted to incorporate as early as the 1880s as had Pasadena and South Pasadena, there was considerable resistance from certain large land owners, among them James De Barth Shorb, who feared this would lead to higher taxes.

The move to incorporate did not surface again until 1903. This time, the measure passed and official incorporation of the City of Alhambra took place July 11, 1903. Newton W Thompson became the city's first mayor; William M. Northrup, the first city attorney, and Albert Clapp, the first city clerk. In April 1913, Fred A. Turner arrived and established the partnership of Turner, Stevens, and Turner Mortuary. Fred Turner was aptly known as "Mr. Alhambra," because of his tremendous support of the community.


Charter City Status

‍In 1915, Alhambra became a chartered city, one of only a few in California. By 1910, the population grew to 5,000 and by the end of the 1930's, its population was nearly 40,000. Another post-war boom in building occurred in the late 1940's and a subdivision of homes was constructed on the former site of the Alhambra Airport, located in the southeast portion of the city (south of Valley Boulevard between New Avenue and Almansor Street).

Participation in World War I

‍Alhambra has a long and shining record of coming forward when military personnel are needed to answer the call. By mid-summer of 1918, from a population of roughly 9,000, Alhambra had enlisted 120 men into service to fight in WWI. Service flags were flown on homes throughout the city indicating that a family member or employee was serving in the army or navy. A gold star was sewn over the flag when the individual was killed. The Alhambra Chapter of the Red Cross was organized in early 1917. Women of all ages assisted the Red Cross by making bandages and clothing such as underwear and pajamas for the troops overseas. The Red Cross also had a collection site located on the north side of Main Street a little east of Garfield Avenue, where such items as metal, rubber, and especially cloth were recycled for use in the war effort.

‍Home of Milbank Johnson, M.D.

Home of Milbank, Johnson, M.D.

Alhambra Airport

‍In the 1920's and 30's, many private planes operated from Alhambra Airport. Western Air Express built the terminal, passenger terminal, and the largest airplane hanger in the world at that time. Later the company merged with Transcontinental Air Transport to form Transcontinental and Western Air, which was later renamed Transcontinental World Airlines (TWA). In 1938, with war looming, the airport became the official shipping point for Lockheed's military airplanes. The airport continued operating until 1943 when the 157-acre property was put up for sale. The City of Alhambra took over the property the following year. In 1945, Harlow Aircraft Company, which manufactured small planes, purchased the airport from Western for $350,000. In 1946, Harlow sold off to real estate developers who subdivided the property, bring an end to the airport.

Alhambra's Participation in WWII

When WWII broke out, many Alhambrans volunteered, but many more were drafted. Again, citizens on the home front rallied in support of the war effort. The flags reappeared and salvage efforts were reinstated. Under President Roosevelt's orders, every city in the country had to organize its own civil defense system. Alhambra's Civilian Defense Chapter offered classes, often conducted by WWI veterans, on dealing with emergency situations. One Alhambra resident who was killed in the war received a special honor by the U. S Navy, having two battleships names in his honor. John Charles England, president of his graduating class at Alhambra High School in 1938, was aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the attack, he rescued three of his shipmates, then returned to the radio room where he had been working, but never returned. The first ship named after him was a destroyer escort DE-635 and was christened in San Francisco harbor in 1943. In 1962, the USS England Guided Missile Frigate 22 was christened and it served the Navy for over 30 years. It was decommissioned in January 1994.

‍Garfield School

Garfield School

Alhambra's Participation in the Korean War

When the Korean War broke out, Alhambrans again answered the call to service. While no list of Army casualties by city has been compiled for this conflict, it is known that Alhambra lost no men in the Navy, Air Force or Marines. A casualty list was completed for those who fought in the subsequent Vietnam War, however, with a count of eleven men from Alhambra who were killed.

In the 50's, Valley Boulevard, once named Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, came into its own as a business artery, including a multi-million dollar shopping center at the city's eastern boundary. Along Main Street, a Central Business District was established to achieve adequate free parking for customers.

1960s - A New City Hall and Establishment of the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency

Alhambra's debt-free $1 million city hall was dedicated in 1961 and later, formation of the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency brought to bear new planning and financial efforts in order to expand, modernize, and redevelop the city's industrial area. At the same time, modern apartment buildings sprang up from the rubble of razed residential structures, and now more than half of Alhambra's population live in multiple-family structures.

In 1974, the County of Los Angeles completed construction of a $62 million courthouse on Commonwealth Avenue, housing five courtrooms.

Four large senior citizen homes operated by the Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian denominations provide excellent care in beautiful surroundings in Alhambra's ideal climate.

Synonymous with the accelerated growth and investment of industry and business has come a series of major street improvements, improved lighting, and general community upgrading designed to maintain Alhambra's position as a city of lovely homes, dynamic business, and growing industrial strength.

‍1901: President McKinley visited Alhambra

1901 - President McKinley Visited Alhambra


In 1880, the San Gabriel School District extended from the Los Angeles City boundary to Duarte, including the great ranches in between. It was considered at one time to be the wealthiest district in the county, outside Los Angeles. However, the early schoolhouses consisted of redwood "shacks," one of which was located under an oak tree on the ranch owned by J. A. Graves. A similar one was situated on Roses Road near the Bradbury Packing House, and another on Santa Anita Ranch which later became the Baldwin Ranch. And a fourth was an adobe building at the southeast corner of Las Tunas Drive and Mission Drive in San Gabriel.

In recalling Alhambra's early days, Rufus Bishop said that H. W Stanton was one of the first teachers in the school that had been a deserted shanty on Graves' ranch. He "was the most conspicuous personality among us, a man always ready for any- thing. A spirit that stirred the enthusiasm of everyone to action. If any man may be called 'the father of Alhambra,' that man was H. W Stanton. He was our first storekeeper, our first telephone agent, our first promoter."

San Gabriel District trustees decided in 1881 that they needed a new and better-equipped schoolhouse. A special tax was voted and a two-room building was erected at Vega and Main Street, on the west bank of the Arroyo. Years later, it was converted into a residence on Hampton Court, south of Main Street.

Diamond Castle

Diamond Castle

About 1884, the Alhambra Tract homeowners decided they wanted their own schoolhouse. After two bond elections failed, partly because of the strong opposition of the San Gabriel School District, Alhambrans petitioned for a division of the district and agreed to give San Gabriel the school at Vega and Main. Old Mill Creek became the dividing line on the east, with a detour that gave San Gabriel the school.

When the petition was granted, the new principal, Sebastian Shaw, and the Alhambra pupils set up classes in an empty redwood shack on the Hall property on South Chapel near Beacon. A hydrant across the plowed field on Garfield supplied the school with drinking water. When the shingles on the roof caught fire one day, the children brought water in their dinner pails to extinguish the blaze. A $10,000 bond election was passed to build a school and a site was purchased from John Conner at Garfield and Alhambra Road for $175 where a four-room, two-story frame building was constructed.

In September 1887, the school opened with 27 elementary and high school students. Mrs. Edward Jones was the teacher-principal. Because of the increasing enrollment, Marengo School was built in 1905 and the cornerstone for Alhambra High School was laid in April of that year.

Today, Alhambra has four high schools: Alhambra High School (rebuilt several times at the same location between Second and Third Streets, south of Main); Mark Keppel High built in 1940 on Hellman Avenue; San Gabriel High, constructed in 1955; and Century High School, located south of the former Marengo, elementary school.

There are 13 elementary schools, nine in Alhambra and four in the City of Monterey Park, part of which is in Alhambra's two school districts. The elementary district and the high school district are two separate entities with different boundaries but governed by one five-member board. Enrollment in both districts total more than 16,000 students.

‍Donahue Family Home

Donahue Family Home


The San Gabriel Mission was the first church in this vicinity, founded in 1771. About 1872, the Episcopal Church of Our Savior was built on its present site in San Gabriel and the first church built in Alhambra was the Methodist Church (1876) on land donated by Don Benito Wilson. In Alhambra now, many religious faiths are represented by more than 30 churches.


Alhambra's first library was a reading room started by George B. Adams in 1900 on the second floor of the brick American Savings Bank at Garfield, on the south side of Main. Books were donated by the Alhambra Book Club organized in 1887 and by the Alhambra Wednesday Afternoon Club. Three years later, the library was moved to a room in Alhambra High School, still located at Garfield and Alhambra Road. In August 1906, the City Council officially authorized the library, which by then had been moved into the new high school building on Main.

A $10,000 bond election passed in April 1907 to purchase land for a library. George Adams' son Claude, sold his property, at Chapel and Main to the city for $7000. For the next three years, the first library board of trustees negotiated with Andrew Carnegie for a grant for the building construction. When Carnegie insisted on complete authority, the trustees withdrew their petition for help. In 1912, a $50,000 library bond election passed; the original site was sold, and the present library location was purchased at Fourth and Main. A branch library was established in Granada Park in 1930.

In 1967, the main library was condemned as unsafe. For the next seven years, the library was housed in temporary quarters and finally, in January, 1975, a new $1.3 million, 37,000 square feet building was finished at the former location, 410 West Main. With more than 52,000 cardholders, it had a collection of 152,000 volumes, 3500 videos, and 200 periodicals.In 2006, the Alhambra Civic Center Library was completed at 101 South. First Street, comprised of a total floor area of 45,000 square feet It includes a two-level underground parking garage with approximately 240 spaces. Service areas feature specially-designed portals for each section, including areas for young children, teens and adults, a Literacy Center and International Language collection. There is also a spacious multi-purpose room with an attached kitchen and outside access doors, outdoor patio reading area and onsite beverage kiosk.

Ratkowski Family Home

Ratkowski Family Home


Alhambra's first hospital was a remodeled bungalow at the corner of Second Street and Boabdil (Main), opening in 1893 under the management of two new Chicago Medical School graduates, Drs. O. O. Witherbee and Milbank Johnson. When they became associated with a Los Angeles hospital, the local facility closed and it wasn't until 1914 that the Alhambra Medical Association equipped the Adams residence at Chapel and Main for use as a hospital. The five doctors in the association, Annie S Bullock, J. M. Armstrong, W W Wooster, F. E Corney, and Herbert T. Bishop, guaranteed to underwrite any deficiencies. In 1918, the residence was sold and moved to another owned by Dr. Corney on South Third Street.

Three years later, a hospital corporation was formed and a new hospital was built at Garfield and Bay State Street with financing by an Alhambran, E U. Hickman who became wealthy when oil was discovered on his Oklahoma property. At his death, his wife demanded repayment so in 1927, a number of doctors purchased and reorganized the hospital as a private corporation.

By 1952 the heavy tax burden and precarious value of the corporation's stock made it expedient to change ownership. It now became "The Alhambra Community Hospital," a non-profit corporation, operated by a Board of Trustees. It served thousands of Valley residents for more than half a decade.

Through the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency, a first-class 154 bed new hospital was dedicated in 1974 at 100 S Raymond Avenue. The $11 million facility provides excellent nursing care, 24-hour emergency service, and the finest medical equipment available.


The Joslyn Senior Center, located adjacent to Story Park, is one of the finest meeting centers for senior citizens in the entire state. After a $75,000 grant was received from the Joslyn Foundation, the City contributed an additional $130,000 for the center, dedicated in December 1973. Thousands of senior citizens and other community clubs and groups use the center weekly.

Alhambra's parks are comprised of more than 200 acres that often are used in television and motion picture productions. Alhambra Park (14 acres donated by Henry E Huntington), Granada and Story parks each contain a swimming pool, and large recreation buildings are located in Almansor and Granada parks. The city operates a broad recreational program not only for adults but also for children in parks and on school playgrounds after school. The West San Gabriel Valley YMCA on Corto Street has an indoor pool and offers a wide variety of activities for children, youth, and adults. Burke Heritage Park is adjacent to the Alhambra Historical Museum.

Early view of Downtown Alhambra

Early View of Downtown Alhambra

In January 1977 the largest single public improvement began construction for the depression of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks that bisect the city along Mission Road. This $20 million project, the first of its kind in the United States was designed to increase the safety of automobile and pedestrian traffic at all nine grade separation crossings. The dirt removed from the depression was used for the expansion of the city's municipal 18-hole golf course.