For the next three weeks, CVW will be looking at the 100 years of Montrose; how the town has grown and changed, and how it has remained the same. We will look at why families moved here, why they stay or why they return, the movies that were filmed here, the memories that have been made and the reason this small town has a big reason to celebrate.
By Mary O’KEEFE
Go to Montrose Shopping Park on any given day and you will see young families pushing strollers, teenagers giggling while eating ice cream and older residents walking down Honolulu Avenue. It seems as if Montrose couldn’t possibly be only 20 minutes from one of the most urban areas of the world, Los Angeles. It is as if this small town at the base of the foothills has been lost in time, but in fact it is exactly as planners envisioned it 100 years ago.
The Montrose Shopping Park Association is planning a big centennial celebration on Feb. 23 and 24. Honolulu Avenue will be shut down to traffic. Carnival rides, stages and barbecues will be set in place.
“We are going with a western theme,” said Linda McMenamin, MSPA events coordinator.
There was always a little western feel in the early days of Montrose with actor and community supporter Dennis Morgan riding horses down Honolulu Avenue with his friends in what would become the first Montrose Christmas Parade.
Montrose has always looked back as it continues to move forward. For example, one weekend during the summer, Andersen’s Pet Store parking lot at 2218 Honolulu Ave. transforms into a temporary movie theater, a nod to the Montrose Theatre that stood there years ago.
The Montrose Centennial Days celebration will be doing the same. The barbecue over the weekend at the end of the month will be reminiscent of the one that was hosted by Robert A. Walton in 1913 as a way to promote the new community of Montrose.
“We will be having a lot of fun entertainers [including] a wild whip [demonstration] by the man who trained [Harrison Ford] in the Indiana Jones [film series],” McMenamin said.
There will be activities for young and old at the celebration, she added.
“We are trying to pack [a lot] of activities in those two days,” McMenamin said. “It will all be about community and family, which is what Montrose has always been about.”
McMenamin said Montrose is unique in that it stays so true to its roots. It started as a small town and as cities grew up around the area, Montrose maintained its community integrity.
“It is still charming,” she added.
The town began when J. Frank Walters, who is described in most books simply as a capitalist, bought the parcels of land that is now Montrose. Robert Walton was a realtor who took on the task of selling the land.
At the time, Canyada Boulevard didn’t go through. If someone wanted to come to Montrose, they would take Verdugo Road. The trolley line stopped at Verdugo Park, so if you wanted to come to Montrose you took a horse and buggy or, if you had money, you would travel in an automobile.
By the 1920s, a two-block business district had grown along Honolulu Avenue that included a bank, hardware store, men’s clothing store, drug store and local newspaper.
Honolulu Avenue is unique itself as it winds back and forth. Local historian Mike Morgan and McMenamin said the reason the road was designed that way was so drivers could look at the businesses as they travelled down the avenue. The design of the road not only allows that view but also reduces cars’ speeds when going through the town.
Often compared to Mayberry, the fictional town where Sheriff Andy Taylor lived in the 1960s television show, Montrose draws families because of its small town feel. The tree-lined streets are still home to many businesses that are owned and operated by neighbors and community members.
“You won’t find a WalMart here,” McMenamin said.
Many of the stores along Honolulu Avenue have been owned by generations of families. They support local organizations and hire local residents, including local teens. On any given day, you can find students walking from store to store with posters promoting their school’s next fundraiser. Storeowners not only know their customers but in many cases their customers’ entire family including parents and grandparents. It is this type of longevity that has preserved the small town feel for so many years.
MSPA invites all to come and join them in this centennial celebration.
By Tyler BIDDLE
Starting on Saturday, Feb. 23, the Montrose Centennial Days celebration will be giving visitors and locals a taste of what makes this town one of Southern California’s hidden treasures. The celebration commemorates the original Montrose land sale in 1913. Festivities will include carnival rides, live music, walking tours, a petting zoo and a good, old fashioned barbecue.
So, how do people find this town and how has it quietly thrived for almost a century? For starters, Montrose is a community where businesses and families know each other.
“I enjoy shopping at stores where they remember you,” said Jean Maluccio, a former president of and current advisor to the Crescenta Valley Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of Montrose businesses, being smaller stores, do remember their customers.” The town harbors a small, tight knit community that few outsiders are familiar with, yet those who do stumble upon it often can’t escape its charming small town atmosphere.
The atmosphere comes from community members who have lived and worked here for years. Ken Grayson, owner of Grayson’s Tune Town on Honolulu Avenue, is one of the community’s most active members. Grayson is a former president of the chamber of commerce and is currently serving his second term as president of the Montrose Shopping Park Assn.
“I love this town,” he said. “Over the years I have met so many people. [At Grayson’s], we are dealing with third generation customers.” The shop has provided work to four generations of the Grayson family. Currently, Grayson’s daughter Kathy and grandson Connor are part of the business which started in 1953. When Ken was 8 years old, his father moved the family here from Chicago and decided to open a record store. Ken graduated St. Francis High School in 1961 and now, more than 50 years later, one of his grandchildren can also attend the same school.
People return to Montrose generation after generation for many reasons. Families with children find it easy to bond with other families with children, often having moved into the area for the excellent schools. Parents of students at Crescenta Valley High School are often alumni themselves. Those that grow up here often venture out in their adult lives only to later return to raise their own children.
La Crescenta-Montrose is also in the top 10% of America for the sheer number of artists and media workers living in the community. The Harvest Market hosts community artists each week and Honolulu Avenue has many art related businesses such as Critters, Color Me Mine, Collector’s World and Grayson’s.
The Graysons, who are soon celebrating the 60th anniversary of their business, are just one of many multi-generational families living in Montrose that give the community the charm that draws people in and doesn’t let go.
Centennial Days, the much anticipated weekend celebration, runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the Feb. 23 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Feb. 24 in the Montrose Shopping Park located from the 2200 to 2400 blocks of Honolulu Avenue. Admission is free.