I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe table on Myrtle Avenue. It's at the center of the Old Town district, a four-block-long section of turn-of-the-century brick buildings in the heart of Monrovia. Sun sparkles through the old ficus trees that line the street. The scene resembles something out of New England or the Midwest, and in fact is often used by Hollywood production companies as a set representing such locales.
Pam Fitzpatrick ― co-owner of the Dollmakers, a store on Myrtle ― is seated across from me, a big smile spread across her face. She's trying to explain just what's so great about Monrovia. Trouble is, passersby have interrupted her three times, stopping to ask about her shop, her family, her dolls.
Finally she gets a break and responds, "It's the community. It's not a place for hermits. It's way too friendly."
A place where the past is preserved
The history of this friendly place dates back to the late 1800s. William Monroe, a Los Angeles city councilman who made his fortune building railroads, moved to the area with his family in the spring of 1884, attracted by its lovely setting at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. In short order Monroe rounded up a small group to establish a 120-acre town site. Lots went up for sale on May 17, 1886, the official birthday of Monrovia, which makes it one of the oldest cities in Los Angeles County.
Harking back to those early days are the buildings on Myrtle Avenue. Outside Boxx Jewelers stands a fine old jeweler's street clock that's been keeping time at this spot since 1921. Here and there you can see an old sign for a livery stable or gas station, now painted over but indelibly imprinted into the brick façade. Fitzpatrick tells me that the upstairs of her former building was once a house of ill repute.
According to John Veenstra, executive director of the chamber of commerce, "In Monrovia, everybody has an interest in preserving the town's history." The town has not one but two historical preservation groups, one dedicated to restoring old commercial buildings and landmarks, the other more focused on important homes.