By Tyler BIDDLE and
Wanda Bergstrom can be found most days at City Hall Coffee Shop on Honolulu Avenue in the Montrose Shopping Park where she has worked for over 40 years, becoming something of a celebrity to the community.
“These are the reasons I can’t quit,” she said, gesturing to the morning crowd gathered for breakfast. “I’m here at 5 a.m. and I have customers already waiting at the door.”
Over the years, Bergstrom has grown a substantial morning crowd at City Hall. The back wall of the shop is lined with rows of coffee mugs, reserved for regulars.
She has worked with Young Rhea, the shop’s owner, since 1978 and together they have fostered an atmosphere where diners are more like family.
“Every year we sit down and say, ‘Well, should we renew the lease?’ Well, we just have to!” she said.
She moved here at the age of 13 from a small town in Minnesota of only about 100 people.
“I was used to a small town,” she said, “so I just fit right in here.”
She graduated from Glendale High School back when Crescenta Valley High School wasn’t even on the map yet. She was married in 1957 and since then has raised four children in Montrose. She has also seen seven grandchildren attend CV High School.
“People who grew up here come back in to see if I’m still here after they graduate, and they are so happy to see me!” she said with a smile.
Many of the staff and regulars at City Hall Coffee Shop, including Bergstrom, are so well known that they have menu items named after them. Customers ordering “Wanda’s Breakfast” are in for a spinach omelet with cheese and Ortega chili.
The walls of City Hall Coffee Shop are lined to the ceiling with sports team banners from all over the country. It began when the first banner, for the Dodgers, was put up by Bergstrom herself.
“I love the Dodgers,” she said. Since then, customers have brought in their own banners, adding to the homey atmosphere.
The rows of coffee mugs on the far wall were also all brought in by customers. To have a mug waiting for you in the morning at City Hall is a show of community spirit. In fact, since the staff at City Hall has been keeping mugs for regulars, they have run out of space and there is a waiting list to get a spot of your own.
“It’s like my second family here,” Bergstrom said. She has seen generations of kids grow up, move away, then always return to have their favorite person serve them breakfast like she did when they were young.
Despite a strong spirit, when at City Hall she serves with the sweetest touch that puts everyone at ease.
Bergstrom is at the heart of what gives Montrose its small-town charm and could be one of the biggest reasons why people return to the community year after year.
But while Wanda Bergstrom may represent the face of Montrose, many “faces” of Montrose have been seen over the years – on the big screen.
With all of the filming done in and around Los Angeles, there is always a call for something small-town-oriented. Some productions fabricate their own small towns on studio backlots and in sound stages, like the long running TV show “Gilmore Girls.” But others go on location to get the real small-town atmosphere. Enter Montrose.
Steve Pierce handles all of the filming done in the Montrose Shopping Park as the association’s film liaison.
“Montrose has a wide variety of interesting things. You can basically think you’re in Midwest America in some of the locations around Montrose,” said Pierce. “Some of the homes on Oak Circle, for example, have been used for filming. In fact, one of the Dodge commercials was filmed there about six months ago, and the reason they chose that area was because they said it looked like something from back in the Midwest, and that’s what they were interested in doing. Montrose is almost like any city in the USA. It can be something from the Cape Cod area to something on the San Francisco peninsula.”
Montrose is located within “The Zone,” a 30-mile zone around L.A. that is easiest to get permits and transport a crew without having to provide lodgings for a night, so the town gets a lot of screen time.
In 1985, Montrose Bowl was used in the cult classic film “Teen Wolf” starring Michael J. Fox. Montrose Bowl, known as the local bowling alley for private parties and Monday night public bowling, has been used in countless TV shows, commercials and films over the years, “Teen Wolf” being among the most notable.
In 1998, Montrose Bakery was prominently featured in the Adam Sandler romantic comedy, “The Wedding Singer,” co-starring Drew Barrymore. For years in the corner of the front window of the bakery was a framed picture of the owner, Henry Baez, with Drew Barrymore when the crew was here to film.
In 2003, a comedy classic was born. “Old School,” starring Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson, shot around Montrose. For those familiar with the film, Blue was kidnapped for pledge week in Cordon’s parking lot. And the most famous part of the movie, when Will Ferrell announces, “We’re going streaking!” and then runs naked through the small college town, was Montrose Shopping Park. The town that is in the background of Ferrell’s drunken, naked run is the same place one can purchase vegetables on Sunday mornings at the Harvest Market.
More recently, “NCIS: Los Angeles” filmed at Once Upon A Time bookstore, vampires invaded Images Day Spa early last year to film an episode of “True Blood,” and the Oscar nominated film “Hitchcock” shot a scene at Faye’s. Viewers of the movie can easily identify Faye’s as a 1950s clothing shop.
This is a small sampling of the many films shot in Montrose over the years. And there will undoubtedly be more filming in the future as the need arises with productions around Los Angeles that want to get the hometown feel but stay in “The Zone.”
“I think the filming has been much more active in the last year and a half in Montrose and I think there’s a lot more interest from location scouts to use Montrose,” said Pierce. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I have to say in the last few months the number of inquiries has doubled, at least in interest in Montrose. It doesn’t always translate into an actual shoot because things come up at the very end with a change in their schedule or a change in their plans, but … we’re getting a lot more calls on filming in Montrose.”