Sub­ur­bia with a lively po­ten­tial

A down­town re­vival is help­ing bring a new en­ergy to this quiet burg.

Los Angeles Times - - HOT PROPERTY - By Scott Garner

The city of Al­ham­bra can rightly boast of its beau­ti­ful neigh­bor­hoods, with its troves of his­toric homes in vir­tu­ally ev­ery style pop­u­lar over the last 100 years. It can also boast of hav­ing one of the most re­mark­able founders of any South­ern Cal­i­for­nia city, in the per­son of Ben­jamin Wil­son.

Wil­son came to Cal­i­for­nia in the 1800s with dreams of sail­ing away to China, but a chance meet­ing with Ra­mona Yorba, the beau­ti­ful daugh­ter of one of the prom­i­nent lo­cal Cal­i­fornios, con­vinced him to stay.

He im­mersed him­self com­pletely in the cul­ture of Alta Cal­i­for­nia, learn­ing Span­ish, con­vert­ing to Catholi­cism and mar­ry­ing Yorba.

His trans­for­ma­tion from Yan­kee to Cal­i­fornio was so com­plete that he soon be­came known as Don Ben­ito.

Af­ter Cal­i­for­nia be­came a state, Wil­son em­barked on a suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. He was the first L.A. County clerk, the sec­ond mayor of Los Angeles, an L.A. County su­per­vi­sor and a three­term state sen­a­tor.

In 1874 he bought a tract in the San Gabriel Val­ley and sub­di­vided it for a new hous­ing devel­op­ment he called “Al­ham­bra,” af­ter the Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing book.

The set­tle­ment was the first in the re­gion to have wa­ter de­liv­ered to each home site via iron plumb­ing, and its lo­ca­tion on a busy spur of the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road en­sured a steady sup­ply of home­stead­ers.

Wil­son didn’t live long enough to see the land bust that would nearly sink Al­ham­bra in the 1880s. He died in 1878 and is memo­ri­al­ized by the nam­ing of Mt. Wil­son af­ter him, and by a statue in down­town Al­ham­bra.

The set­tle­ment even­tu­ally re­cov­ered from the bust and in­cor­po­rated in 1903.

Main Street be­came a bustling com­mer­cial corridor, and the Pa­cific Elec­tric Rail­way built a line down the mid­dle of the street, knit­ting the city more deeply into the fab­ric of the rapidly grow­ing L.A. re­gion.

Shift­ing con­sumer tastes led to the de­cline of the Main Street shop­ping district be­gin­ning in the 1970s, and ef­forts to re­vi­tal­ize the strip re­sulted in the de­mo­li­tion of large swaths of the his­toric store­fronts that lined the street.

Al­ham­bra’s his­toric hous­ing stock fared much bet­ter and re­mained a draw for sub­ur­ban home buy­ers over the years, in­clud­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­cans join­ing the east­ward ex­o­dus out of L.A.’s Chi­na­town into the San Gabriel Val­ley.

Neigh­bor­hood high­lights

A city of homes: Al­ham­bra’s homes ap­peal to a wide range of tastes, with well-pre­served ex­am­ples of early 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture as well as more con­tem­po­rary styles.

Down­town re­nais­sance: Res­i­dents of Al­ham­bra are em­brac­ing its his­toric down­town once again, and restau­rants, bars and a movie the­ater are now flour­ish­ing there.

Dine on the Boule­vard: Val­ley Boule­vard of­fers some of the best Asian food in the San Gabriel Val­ley, in­clud­ing Sichuan spe­cial­ists Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Im­pres­sion.

Neigh­bor­hood chal­lenges

Quiet … too quiet: Al­ham­bra’s laid-back sub­ur­ban vibe and dearth of clubs might be enough to turn off younger home buy­ers look­ing for bright lights and bigc­ity nights.

Ex­pert in­sight

Diana Tran, a Re­al­tor with Re/Max Elite Re­alty in Al­ham­bra, said the city is de­sir­able be­cause of its schools, easy ac­cess to the 10 and 710 free­ways and its prox­im­ity to down­town L.A.

And un­like its much more ex­pen­sive neigh­bors, South Pasadena and San Marino, Al­ham­bra pro­vides more mod­er­ately priced real es­tate op­tions, she said.

“In­ven­tory has been very low, and it has been for the last two years,” Tran said.

“So any­thing that hits the mar­ket — if it’s priced right — re­ally doesn’t stay on the mar­ket more than two weeks.”

Mar­ket snap­shot

The 91801 and 91803 ZIP Codes com­pose the ma­jor­ity of Al­ham­bra. In April, based on 11 sales, the me­dian sales price for sin­gle­fam­ily homes in the 91801 ZIP Code was $623,000, up 5.1% year over year, ac­cord­ing to CoreLogic. In the 91803 ZIP Code, eight sales re­sulted in a me­dian sales price of $598,000, a 12.7% in­crease year over year.

Re­port card

There are nearly two dozen pub­lic and pri­vate schools within the bound­aries of Al­ham­bra. Among them is Martha Bald­win Ele­men­tary, which scored 899 out of 1,000 in the 2013 Aca­demic Per­for­mance In­dex.

Ra­mona Ele­men­tary scored 872; Wil­liam Northrup Ele­men­tary had a score of 840; and Emery Park Ele­men­tary scored 835. Al­ham­bra High and San Gabriel High had scores of 798 and 790, re­spec­tively. In­de­pen­dence High, an al­ter­na­tive school, scored 655.

Fred­eric J. Brown AFP/Getty Im­ages

KIDS COOL OFF in Al­ham­bra, a town that’s de­sir­able be­cause of its schools and prox­im­ity to down­town Los Angeles.

An­gel­ica Quin­tero Los Angeles Times

Sources: L.A. Times map­ping, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap

Francine Orr Los Angeles Times

THE CITY’S HOUS­ING stock in­cludes a wide range of sin­gle-fam­ily homes — in­clud­ing early 20th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture but more con­tem­po­rary styles as well.

Ir­fan Khan Los Angeles Times

FRIENDS HAVE LUNCH at Leg­endary Restau­rant, one of the Sichuan spots on Val­ley Boule­vard in the San Gabriel Val­ley.

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