Early Monrovia, a Brief History

Rancho Map

Map is from Monrovia, A Calendar of Events in the Making of a City, by W.W. Robinson. Title Guarantee and Trust Company, Los Angeles: 1936. This book is from the MOHPG Archive Collection.

Monrovia is a foothill city in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. Because of its position on the lower slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, on a clear day, Monrovians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries could see across the valley to Catalina. Present day Monrovians who live higher up on the slopes still have that same lovely view. 

In the 1700's, the land which would become Monrovia was brushy and had clumps of oak trees. According to early settler Hugo Reid, there were no permanent Native American villages, but with the available water and small game, Indians did move through the region. Occasionally bear and deer would come down from the higher slopes of the mountains to forage, and this, too, would make the area attractive to Native Americans. Bear and deer still do visit the lower slopes, the deer to munch on homeowners roses and tomatoes and the bears to rummage through trash cans or soak in a hot tub. 

The area remained fairly undisturbed through the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the land came into the hands of the King of Spain, and then was made the property of Franciscan fathers of the San Gabriel Mission, which still stands today in the City of San Gabriel. In 1822, Baja and Alta California became the property of Mexico, and portions of the San Gabriel Valley passed through several owners until 1875, when Elias J. (Lucky) Baldwin bought eight thousand acres in the valley. By then, California had become the property of the United States, and Americans were beginning to see the possible advantages of moving to California. Baldwin subdivided the eastern part of his property in 1883 and Rancho Santa Anita, a major portion of which would become Monrovia, went up for sale. 

William N. Monroe, whose biography is located elsewhere at this site, was the first person to purchase Rancho Santa Anita property, but he was quickly followed by Los Angeles judge J.D. Bicknell, former Los Angeles mayor E.F. Spence, and J.F. Crank, who had made money in railroads. These men and J.F. Falvey, who had been a foreman of Baldwin's ranch, decided in 1886 to combine their holdings and established a sixty-acre town which would only be 18 miles from Los Angeles. Monrovia's official birthday is still celebrated on the day of the first lots sold, May 17, 1886. 

Here are some more interesting facts about Monrovia from 1886-1900.