Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Oldest Building in Covina

The other day, I got to wondering which might be the oldest structure still standing in Covina. Considering how few buildings from the turn of the last century must remain, the field of candidates could not be very large. Citrus Avenue would probably be a good first place to look. I can't think of anywhere else in town where more structures from that time period could still be standing – at least commercial ones.

The logical place to find this information is the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor. The Assessor maintains public records for every parcel of land: its legal description, its valuation, etc. If the parcel has a building on it, the original year of construction is also recorded. Fortunately, the County Assessor has an interactive map online where the public can easily access all of this information.

Although not the oldest, the building that has remained in its original state of construction for the longest period of time is 126 N. Citrus – originally the Warner & Whitsel Grocery, and the place most of us who grew up in Covina knew as Custer's. The Assessor's record states that it was built in 1905. I have to question that date, however, as a photo taken on the Fourth of July, 1906, clearly shows the older Warner store still standing. Additionally, two historical accounts agree that the new grocery building did not open until Summer, 1909. Whatever its actual construction date, however, aside from some modification to its frontage and interior over the decades, the Warner/Custer's building has remained largely unchanged and still recognizable for the last 105+ years.

The Warner & Whitsel Grocery (later Custer's, left) and the Allison-Webb Building, circa 1910.

The earliest build date on the east side of Citrus is given as 1880, for the parcel at the northeast corner of Citrus and Badillo. For over a hundred years, the Reed Block/Covina Theater occupied that site. The Reed Building could not have been built in 1880, however. Covina as a townsite didn't even exist until 1882 (although settlers were living at a crossroads called "Citrus" north of present-day Covina in the 1870s).

This is purely speculation on my part, but I think it is possible that a structure was built at Badillo and Citrus in 1880 that was subsequently incorporated into the Reed Building. That would account for the date in the Assessor's official records. According to descendant Glenn Reed, his grandfather's simple two-storey brick building – so familiar to generations of Covinans – was actually erected in 1900. Sadly, in 2004, it was razed to construct the Covina Center for the Performing Arts. If the Assessor's record still gives an initial build date of 1880, however, then it's possible that some portion of the Reed Block and its supposed predecessor (perhaps part of the foundation) was retained in the 21st century structure.

The oldest building still standing on the east side of Citrus is actually next door to the former theater – The Allison-Webb Building at 114 N. Citrus – which is now occupied by the unwholesomely-named "Rude Dog Bar & Grill." It was constructed in 1903, though looking at its current false front, 114 N. Citrus today is completely unrecognizable to anyone who grew up in 20th century Covina.

The Reed Block (1900) and the Allison-Webb Building (1903, left) circa 1905.
Courtesy USC Digital Library. Click image to enlarge.

On the west side of Citrus, across the street from the former location of the Covina Theater, there is another candidate for Covina's oldest existing structure: the Chapman-Workman Building (now called the Old Covina Bank Building) at 101 N. Citrus. The Assessor's record shows (as does a photo of the building, below) that it was erected in 1897.

The Chapman-Workman Building (1897, left) and the actual oldest building in Covina (1885, center) circa 1905.
Courtesy USC Digital Library. Click image to enlarge.

But even the Chapman Building isn't the winning entry in our race. Turns out the oldest existing commercial structure in Covina is actually the little hole-in-the-wall storefront next door: 111 N. Citrus (the dark two-storey building in the center of the photo above). The Assessor gives its build date as 1885, with its "Effective Year Built" being 1905 (probably when the second storey was added).

Here it is today. Not much to look at, is it? But evidently, behind that chintzy 20th century facade, and inside its walls, is a structure that is almost as old as J. S. Phillips's township of Covina itself.

Concerning houses, it appears some of the oldest ones still standing in the original residential section of Covina are three small homes built in a row in 1901 on Cottage Street. It's actually quite shocking to me just how few private dwellings remain in the downtown area bounded by Badillo, 2nd, Hollenbeck and San Bernardino Road. Most of them were swallowed up over the years by municipal parking lots, and by Inter-Community Hospital.

The oldest building of all, however, would almost certainly be the Thomas Griswold House, which was one of the earliest American homes built in Rancho La Puente. Originally located at the intersection of Citrus and Cypress in the aforementioned settlement of Citrus circa 1877, Barbara Ann Hall's book "Images of America: Covina" (p.15) states that the Griswold House was moved to Covina Boulevard in 1891, where it was said to still stand today. I tried to find it via the Googlemobile, but was unsuccessful. If the Griswold House does, indeed, still exist, it would not only be the oldest building in Covina, it would be one of the oldest structures in the entire San Gabriel Valley.

Source: Images of America: Covina, by Barbara Ann Hall, Ph.D., Covina Historical Society, Arcadia Publishing, 2007.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Glen

In the closing months of World War II, a grieving father resolved to create a place of peaceful repose dedicated to the memory of his son who had died defending freedom in Europe. This father's labor of love lives on today at Covina's "Parque Xalapa."


Charles Jobe and his wife Betty were citrus growers in the hills east of Covina. They were the proud parents of two sons: Harold Glen (left, b.1922) and Claude (b.1929), and it was Harold who lost his life at Saint-Lô, France, during the last days of the Battle of Normandy ("Operation Overlord") in August, 1944.


A small, wooded creek ran through the Jobes's land on Holt Avenue, and it was in this mixed stand of valley oaks and orange trees that Charles Jobe created "Memorial Glen." Near the center of the grove, in the shade of a magnificent 400-year-old oak, Mr. Jobe set up a stone monument with a bronze plaque dedicating the park to his fallen son and to the other servicemen from Covina who had sacrificed their lives in World War II.


Over the next two decades, the Jobes hosted multitudes of visitors to Memorial Glen. Sadly, after Charles Jobe died in 1967, and his widow had to relocate elsewhere, the park became the haunt of youths who used the secluded spot for, well, let's just say less-than-reverential purposes. During this period of neglect, almost all of Mr. Jobe's labors were trashed by disrespectful vandals.

To make matters worse, when Interstate 10 was widened in the early 1970s, the adjacent service road was realigned to the east, and all of the trees in the western third of the former Jobe property were taken out. The removal of this protective canopy exposed the trunk and limbs of the ancient valley oak to the sun's direct rays, and this resulted in the slow death of the veteran giant. Arborists tried their best to save it, but finally, in the early 1980s, what remained of the great tree had to be removed.

By this time, the City of Covina had acquired the land, and its Parks & Recreation Department created Parque Xalapa, named after Covina's sister-city in Mexico. In 1998, part of the park was turned into a formal Veterans Memorial. This interpretive monument was erected on the site...

  ...and a new commemorative plaque was installed to replace the long-vanished original.



More recently, the family of nephew Jere A. Jobe donated these new bronze plaques to the park.


As someone who grew up only a mile from Memorial Glen during the 1960s, and who personally witnessed its decline in the following decade, I am truly grateful to the City of Covina for restoring and preserving this unique historical site for future generations.

Color photos © J Scott Shannon. Special acknowledgment and thanks to fellow local historian J. David Rogers for the black-and-white photographs, the biographical details of the Jobe Family, and the history of Memorial Glen.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Covina Valley Panorama, 1926

Recently, I found this amazing panoramic photograph showing Covina and its environs in the mid-1920s.

'Dick' Whittington Studio, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

I realize it doesn't look very amazing at this size, but below are some labeled enlargements which point out what is what in the photo.

Monday, August 26, 2013

75 years ago tonight

These photos were taken 75 years ago tonight along Garvey Boulevard (today's I-10) on the stretch that passed through the Covina area. They are from the archives of the Southern California Edison Company, and were evidently taken to document street lighting along the roadway.
The first one shows the signage at the eastern boundary of West Covina – the city limits of which, at that time, extended all the way east to Range Avenue (today's Grand Avenue). The slope of the pavement down the grade to the Walnut Creek arroyo is recognizable even today.
The neon sign fascinates me because I never knew it existed. The smaller sign illuminated by incandescent light warns motorists about the speed trap that West Covina had become notorious for since the opening of Garvey Boulevard. (My father used to tell tales about the WCPD cops and their famously predatory traffic law enforcement.) It's pretty obvious from this very prominent signage that they meant business. "You have been warned!"

G. Haven Bishop, photographer. From the Edison Archive. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.

Here is another neon sign that I didn't know about before, either. It reads, "COVINA 1-MILE." Looking at the street signs in extreme closeup, I can see this is the intersection of "State Highway" and "Citrus Ave." The mileage sign points east to "Pomona 8" and "Redlands 42," and "El Monte 8" and "Los Angeles 23" to the west. The shaded mileage sign pointing north appears to say "Covina 1" and "Glendora [illegible]."

G. Haven Bishop, photographer. From the Edison Archive. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-size image.

One might wonder what these people were doing hanging out down on the main drag through town at what must have been close to 10PM. Turns out they were assembling for a dedication ceremony for the new overhead street light (the neon "Covina" sign had been put in place three years previously).