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.