Thursday, August 20, 2015

Covina History Timeline

Although I've been interested in Covina history for decades now, I still get confused sometimes about what happened when. So, I finally decided to make a list of as many significant events as I could think of, and put them all in chronological order. I must say, I wish I'd done this a long time ago! It makes things much easier to understand and remember.

Most of the dates cited below were gleaned from Donald H. Pflueger's "Covina: Sunflowers, Citrus, Subdivisions," Castle Press, Pasadena, 1964; Dr. Barbara Ann Hall's "Images of America: Covina," Arcadia Publishing, 2007; and online communications with fellow Covina-area historians Glenn Reed, Tom Armbruster and Jim Harris. Please bear in mind: this timeline is still a work-in-progress. Corrections, additions, and their supporting documentation are welcomed!

September 8, 1771 – European settlement of what will become Los Angeles County commences with the founding of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in the province of Las Californias in New Spain. First built on the bank of the Rio Hondo near today's Whittier Narrows, the mission moves to its present location after a flood in 1776.

1804 – Las Californias is divided into two new provinces: Alta California and Baja California.

1824 – After Mexico gains its independence from Spain (1821), Alta California becomes a territory in the First Mexican Republic.

November 25, 1826Jedediah Smith is the first U.S. citizen to venture into the valley of the San Gabriel. His party camps at Mud Springs, in today's San Dimas north of Puddingstone reservoir.

November, 1836 – During a period of instability following the dissolution of the First Mexican Republic and the ensuing Texas Revolution, Californio Juan Bautista Alvarado leads an uprising and seizes the governorship of Alta California.

March, 1842 – Governor Alvarado grants Rancho La Puente to American-born Mexican citizen John A. Rowland.

July, 1845 – Governor Pío Pico grants co-ownership of Rancho La Puente to Rowland's fellow settler and business partner, British Crown subject William Workman.

April 24, 1846 – The beginning of the Mexican-American War. Subsequently, rancho owners Rowland and Workman (now also a Mexican citizen) both participate in military actions in southwestern Alta California.

February 2, 1848 – The war ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which cedes Alta California to the United States. Under its terms, Rowland and Workman retain ownership of Rancho La Puente.

September 9, 1850 – California becomes the 31st State in the Union.

1854 – The first orange trees are planted in Rancho La Puente.

1865 – The first general store in the Covina area is built at "Four Corners" ("Las Cuatros Esquinas"), where the San Bernardino stagecoach road intersected the Azusa Cañon road, just east of today's Orange Avenue. Orange trees are also planted there.

1868 – Rowland and Workman agree to partition Rancho La Puente; Rowland becomes the sole owner of the land which will later become Covina.

October 13, 1873 – "Don Juan" Rowland dies.

May 17, 1876 – "Don Julian" Workman kills himself following the failure of the Temple & Workman Bank and the subsequent forfeiture of his portion of Rancho La Puente to E. J. "Lucky" Baldwin.

1876 – The Southern Pacific Railroad reaches Los Angeles. Its right-of-way does pass through Rancho La Puente, but to the south of the San Jose Hills, bypassing the Azusa Valley.

September 2, 1876 – Costa Ricans José Julián Badilla and Pedro Maria Badilla purchase 5,563 acres of Rancho La Puente from widow Charlotte Rowland for $45,000, where they intend to start a coffee plantation. The Badilla brothers subsequently build two frame houses on the San Bernardino stagecoach road at the southwest corner of its intersection with today's Hollenbeck Avenue.

Fall, 1876 – Lower Azusa School – the first schoolhouse in what will become the Covina area – opens for classes at the southwest corner of Cypress Avenue and Azusa Street (now Lark Ellen Avenue).

1877 – Eugene C. Griswold builds a general store and meeting hall at the northeast corner of today's Citrus Avenue and Cypress Avenue, which also becomes the area's first post office. Griswold's pioneer settlement is named "Citrus."

1879 – The Badilla coffee plantation fails. John E. Hollenbeck buys the Badilla lands for $16,692.

1882 – Joseph Swift Phillips buys a portion of the former Badilla lands south of the San Bernardino road from J. E. Hollenbeck for $30,000. Phillips and his family take up residence in the Julián Badilla house.

1883Frederick Eaton begins surveying the 2,000-acre Phillips Tract. Eaton subsequently names the townsite within the subdivision "Covina." Eaton also names one of the tract's main streets "Badillo," misspelling the land's previous owners' surname.

December, 1883 – Covina's first schoolhouse – the Phillips School – opens at the southeast corner of San Bernardino Road and Citrus Avenue.

Early 1884 – Joseph Moxley buys the first parcel of land in the Phillips Tract – 20 acres at the southwest corner of San Bernardino Road and Barranca Street – and builds the tract's first residence.

December 12, 1884 – Newspapermen J. R. Conlee and H. N. Short arrive in Covina to start The Covina Independent, and soon after erect the new townsite's first structure – their print shop – at the southwest corner of Citrus and Badillo.

January, 1885 – The Phillips Tract officially opens, The Covina Independent publishes its first edition, and Covina's first general store is built by F. E. Grover at the northeast corner of Citrus and Badillo. A blacksmith shop, butcher shop, and grocery soon follow.

1885 – Samuel Allison builds the first residence in the Covina townsite at 160 West Badillo. Newspaper editor Conlee's house goes up soon after at 202 West College Street.

1886 – J. S. Phillips plants 12 acres of orange trees on his property at San Bernardino Road and Hollenbeck Street.

Fall, 1886 – J. R. Hodges builds Covina's first permanent structure out of concrete on the south side of Badillo Street east of the Pioneer Blacksmith Shop.

1887 – Covina's first telephone is installed in Hodges' "Concrete Block."

1890s – Citrus cultivation steadily grows to become the dominant form of agriculture in the Covina area.

1891 – The Citrus Union High School District is formed to jointly serve the communities of Azusa, Covina and Glendora. Citrus Union's first classes are held that September in an abandoned hotel in the defunct settlement of "Gladstone" north of Covina.

August, 1893 – Area orange growers form the Azusa-Covina-Glendora Citrus Association. Several small packing houses are opened along the Santa Fe rail line through Azusa and Glendora. Lemon growers form a similar association in 1895.

1894 – Two new Grammar Schools are constructed in Covina: one on Citrus at San Bernardino Road, and the Lark Ellen School, which replaces the old Lower Azusa School on Cypress Avenue.

September 9, 1895 – Service begins on the new spur line of the Southern Pacific Railroad through Covina.

October 10, 1895 – The town's first bank opens: a Covina branch of the Azusa Valley Bank.

October 14, 1895 – The Covina Citrus Association is incorporated.

December, 1895 – The Houser Bros. packing house – Covina's first large-scale citrus processing operation – is erected alongside the new Southern Pacific rail line.

1896 – The Covina City School District is formed.

1896-c.1945 – With its own citrus industry, rail transportation links, schools and financial institutions now established, Covina's future is assured, and its first boom begins. The Era of Citrus would span the next half-century.

1897 – The Chapman-Workman Building goes up at the northwest corner of Citrus and Badillo.

Spring, 1897 – The Covina Reading Room and Library Association is formed. The first donation comprises 50 books.

September 21, 1898 – Seventeen ladies gather in the home of Mrs. J. J. Morgan and organize the Monday Afternoon Club, which in 1925 incorporates as the Covina Woman's Club.

1899, 1901 – The First National Bank building is constructed in stages at the northwest corner of Citrus and College.

1899 – Covina opens its own high school on the second floor of the newly-expanded 1894 Grammar School. Lillian Harris is the first graduate of Covina High in Spring, 1900.

1900 – The Reed Block is erected at the northeast corner of Citrus and Badillo.

August 11, 1900 – Covina's first hotel – The Vendome – opens at the northwest corner of Citrus and Cottage Drive.

August 6, 1901 – Covina becomes an incorporated city.

1902 – Fifty electric street lights are installed in and around town.

January 5, 1903 – Classes begin in the new Covina High School building, located behind the Grammar School and facing San Bernardino Road.

November 4, 1903 – The C. W. Tucker photographic studio opens for business.

November 5, 1903 – The first spike is driven for the Pacific Electric Railroad trolley line along Badillo Street. (Full interurban service in the P.E. network would not begin until June 5, 1907, however.)

1904-05 – Flood-prone Walnut Creek is channelized from Azusa Avenue west to the San Gabriel River, and Lucky Baldwin's 4th Subdivision in Rancho La Puente lays out the grid of streets of what will later become West Covina.

October 28, 1905 – Joseph Phillips dies.

December 4, 1905 – Dedication of the new Carnegie Library at the southeast corner of Second Street and Italia Street.

1909 – Warner & Whitsel open their new two-storey brick grocery store on Citrus Avenue. The building is known to later generations of Covinans as Custer's.

March 1, 1909 – The rancho period ends upon the death of Lucky Baldwin.

March 30, 1909 – Dedication of the new Covina Union High School building at the northwest corner of Citrus and Puente.

August 7, 1909Covina Argus editor J. L. Matthews encourages adoption of the name "West Covina" for the farming community to the south and west of the city.

1915 – The San Gabriel Grand Lodge of the Masonic Order obtains 55 acres on East Badillo Street in Charter Oak to build its new home for indigent children. The Masonic Home is dedicated in 1917.

April, 1916 – The street clock in front of the Finch Brothers Jewelry Store on Citrus Avenue is installed.

1919 – The fourth and last Covina Grammar School is constructed at Citrus and San Bernardino. The old high school building is moved to the southwest corner of Second and School Streets, and is dedicated as the Covina Masonic Lodge that same year.

December 19, 1921 – Opening night of the Covina Theater. "Bits of Life," starring Wesley Barry, Rockliffe Fellowes, and Lon Chaney, Sr., is the first film shown in the new motion picture venue.

Summer, 1922 – Graduate nurses Melisse Wittler and Lavinia Graham open the city's first hospital in the former Charles E. Bemis home at the northwest corner of Badillo and Second. Soon after, sister Mary Wittler joins the partnership.

February 23, 1923 – The residents of West Covina vote in favor of incorporation. Two days later, it is officially declared a city by the County Board of Supervisors.

1924 – Covina Hospital moves to a new facility at 275 West College Street. That same year, The Magan Clinic opens at 155 West College Street.

January 30, 1930 – Dedication of the new City Hall on East College Street.

1935 – Four-lane Garvey Boulevard (U.S. Highway 99) is completed through the eastern San Gabriel Valley and over Kellogg Hill to Pomona.

May, 1939 – The new United States Post Office is opened at the southwest corner of College and Second.

1945-1946 – The "quick decline" virus begins spreading through the orange groves, killing thousands of trees. The devastating blight heralds the end of Covina's Era of Citrus.

1945-1955 – High demand for new suburban housing after World War II results in a shifting of the local economy from agriculture to residential real estate and construction, ushering in Covina's second boom.

1946 – The Wittler sisters agree to sell Covina Hospital to a group of 200 local citizens. The sale and expansion are completed in 1948, and the institution is renamed Covina Inter-Community Hospital.

March 28, 1947 – Citing competition from private automobiles, Pacific Electric ends its trolley service to Covina.

August 1, 1952 – The first stores of West Covina Center are opened on Garvey Boulevard just west of Glendora Avenue.

1953 – The Covina Grammar School on Citrus is closed, and in 1955, the building is sold to Aetron: a division of Aerojet-General Corporation.

1954-55 – Construction of Shoppers Lane at the southeast corner of Citrus and Rowland.

1955-56 – Construction of the original West Covina Plaza shopping center on Garvey Boulevard west of Vincent.

1956 – Covina High School moves to a new campus on Hollenbeck, and West Covina High School moves into the old Covina Union High School buildings until its own new campus opens for classes in 1957. Edgewood High School is the last to occupy the grounds during the 1958-1959 school year.

1956-57 – The San Bernardino Freeway (Interstate 10) is extended through the West Covina area, and is completed on April 26, 1957.

October 24-26, 1957 – The Eastland Shopping Center opens, becoming the sixth modern mall in the Southland and the first to be built adjacent to a freeway.

1959 – Classes begin at the new Northview High School at Azusa Avenue and Cypress.

October 14, 1960 – 30,000 people gather to hear Vice President Richard Nixon deliver a campaign speech at Eastland.

1961 – The abandoned Covina Union High School's main building on Citrus is gutted in an arson fire, and is subsequently razed.

1962 – The historic Badilla/Phillips house at San Bernardino Road and Hollenbeck is burned down in a fire department training exercise.

1963 – The present Covina Public Library is constructed on the site of the old Carnegie Library on Second Street.

1964 – Classes begin at the new South Hills High School at Barranca and Cameron in West Covina.

1969 – The former Covina Grammar School/Aetron building is razed to clear the site for a proposed new Civic Center, which is never built.

1986 – Covina celebrates the centennial of its founding.

2001 – Covina celebrates its centennial as an incorporated city.

2005 – The historic Reed Block/Covina Theater building is demolished to construct the Covina Center for the Performing Arts.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Oldest House in Covina

In an earlier post, I told of my search for the oldest building in Covina. That turned out to be 111 North Citrus. Constructed in 1885, it was one of the very first structures erected in pioneer-era Covina.

So, what is the oldest residential structure in the Covina area? It's the historic Thomas Griswold House at 18430 East Covina Boulevard. It was originally located in brother Eugene Griswold's pioneer community of Citrus, at the southwest corner of Citrus Avenue and Cypress Street. According to Thos. Griswold's great-grandson, Jack Milliken, the deed for that property was recorded in September, 1885, so the house would likely have been built soon after. Mr. Milliken believes it was moved to its present location sometime in the 1940s.


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


Photo by Jack Milliken, used with permission.

There are two homes from 1887 within the Covina city limits, but only the one at 16731 Cypress Street still looks like a 19th century house. Unfortunately, the remodeled one at 311 Italia Street just happens to be the oldest existing house located within the original Phillips Tract. Given that historical distinction, it's a real shame that it no longer looks anything like it must have when it was built.

If you're curious to find out when a particular structure was constructed, that information can be found on the built:LA interactive property map. It can be a little difficult to locate things at first, because the streets are not labeled, but if you mouseover a particular property, it will show its address in a box in the upper left corner, and (in most cases) the year it was built.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Featherstone Quarry

We neighborhood kids used to call it the "Chalk Mine." To us, the abandoned quarry looked like something out of the Old West. We thought for sure it had been there since cowboy days; maybe even a hundred years! There were a bunch of other tall tales about the place, but it would be another half century before I finally uncovered its factual history. Much was surprising to me. For one thing, the rocks mined there weren't "chalk" at all...

"There was a large deposit of [diatomaceous] earth on Covina Hills Road that the Featherstone Company successfully mined and processed through the 1920s and early 1930s. The operation closed during the Depression. The property was part of the 2,100 acre Hill Ranch that Frank Marion Chapman and E. G. Shouse purchased from the Hollenbeck family of East Los Angeles."                              --Barbara Ann Hall, Ph.D.1

So, far from being there a hundred years, it turned out the quarry wasn't even as old as my parents. The diatomite itself, however, was actually formed about 7 million years ago, in the upper Miocene epoch.2

Featherstone Quarry, Covina Hills, 1926. The complex extended from today's Rancho La Floresta Drive at left to the main diatomite mine at right. I-10 now passes from left to right through the low white hill at center. 'Dick' Whittington Studio, photographer. Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Link to full-res image.

The processing plant over the hill on the Charter Oak side, mid-1920s. In this photo, we are standing on a spot a few yards down the hill from the end of today's Woodhurst Drive, facing southwest toward the intersection of Rancho Los Nogales Drive and Puente Street. Photo courtesy Covina Valley Historical Society.

The photos above are the only ones I know of that show the quarry when it was still in operation. The diatomaceous earth mined there was used primarily in the manufacturing of tile, pipes and conduits.2

A worker showing why the mine was named Featherstone!1

Exactly when quarrying began at Featherstone is not known. Looking at old maps, it can be seen that roads associated with the mine were present in the 1910s, which would be earlier than other accounts. Exactly when quarrying stopped is also uncertain. A geology field report based upon data compiled in 1932 stated that operation of the mine "ceased several years ago,"2 so it may be that Featherstone Quarry did not survive into the 1930s, after all.

The main quarry (bottom) and its associated roads in 1934. The road at top approximately follows the alignment of today's Puente St.; the road over the hill from the quarry site, Jalapa Dr..
Fair use courtesy U.C. Santa Barbara Library, Special Research Collections.

The "Chalk Mine" as seen from our house on Rancho El Encino, June, 1962.3
What we called the "Quartz Mine" can also be seen to the left of center. Inside that cleft was a thick outcropping of crystalline gypsum.

In 1965, all of the ancient hills north of our neighborhood were bulldozed to create the Covina Heights housing development. Almost a mile square, the massive earthmoving project took a year to complete. Our chalk mine and the whole wild rangeland surrounding it were no more.

View of the former quarry site from Rancho El Encino, December, 1968.

The mine may be gone, but 50 years after the hills were bulldozed, many surface deposits of the white diatomaceous earth are still plainly visible.

Treasure! My own specimen of Featherstone diatomite, collected in 2010 in situ from a still-intact geologic stratum.



1Hall, B.A. (2007) Covina (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing, San Francisco, California. 127pp.
2Harshman, E.N. (1933) Geology of the San Jose Hills, Los Angeles County, California. M.S. Thesis. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. 91pp.
3PS: If any of my old neighbors from the Ranchos has a better picture of the chalk mine than this one, please let me know!


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Casa Mirasol

Local history has changed a little! Likely unbeknown to almost everyone, it turns out one of the buildings of the old Baptist Seminary in the Covina Hills still stands today.

Now a private home, this lone survivor was originally the residence of the Headmaster of the California Preparatory School for Boys.

As this student-made drawing from 1936 indicates, the house in its Cal Prep days was known as "Casa Mirasol." According to Assessor's Office records, it was built in 1929.

In 1942, Dr. Gottfried de Purucker moved his branch of the Theosophical Society to the Covina Hills campus, and Casa Mirasol became his home. After the California Baptist Theological Seminary acquired the property in 1951, it was used as the Dean's residence.

Casa Mirasol in 1942

The old school campus was important in Covina's history, and part of my own history, as well. One can only speculate why this building alone was spared demolition, but I'm happy to know it's still with us.

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. This cannot be correct. According to Donald Pflueger's 1964 history, there were no buildings at all in "downtown" Covina until December, 1884, when the office and print shop of the Covina Independent newspaper was erected at the southwest corner of Citrus and Badillo. The only buildings in the Covina area before 1884 were the Badilla/Phillips house at the southwest corner of the San Bernardino stage road and what would later be known as Hollenbeck Avenue, and a handful of simple structures at "Citrus:" a pioneer settlement established in the 1870s which was located at today's intersection of Citrus Avenue and Cypress Street.

Returning to the northeast corner of Citrus and Badillo, the first building at that location was constructed in 1885: F. E. Grover's general mercantile store at 104 N. Citrus. In 1900, the landmark Reed Block – best known for later housing the Covina Theater – was erected on that corner. It stood for over a hundred years until 2004, when it was razed to construct the Covina Center for the Performing Arts. Although the present building closely resembles the old Reed Block, it is an entirely different structure than the historic building so familiar to generations of Covinans.

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 North 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 one of the very first structures built in J. S. Phillips's pioneer township of Covina.

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 residence of all, however, would almost certainly be the Thomas Griswold House, originally built at the intersection of Citrus and Cypress in the aforementioned settlement of Citrus circa 1886.

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