California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Montebello

I went to a baptism the other day for one Mateo Gareza in the city of Montebello, the subject of this neighborhood blog.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Montebello, available on a variety of merchandise as well as art prints

For the occasion I was accompanied by none other than Miss San Gabriel Valley ’05, ’06, and ’07, Ngoc Nguyen. Montebello, for those not in the know, is situated between the more interesting East Los Angeles, Monterey Park, and Rosemead. It straddles the San Gabriel Valley and SELACO. They used to have a Puerto Rican parade, the only one west of Chicago, but it was deemed too much fun and moved to the Pomona Fairgrounds. It still has a lot of Mexican restaurants, chain stores, and bakeries.

Mateo wore a white Ralph Lauren with popped collar and white trousers. Several other boys wore similar outfits, although some sported white dress shirts and vests and the girls all dressed like child brides.



If you’ve never been to a Catholic ceremony, you probably wrongly assume (as I used to), that there’s scary hushed chanting in Latin, ominous hooded figures, incense and peppermints, and statues of Jesus crying real blood. But sadly, no. There’s merely unenthusiastic and unintelligible mumbling, scary sweater-clad figures, acoustic guitars and churchgoers crying real tears of boredom. Catholicism is now like an exaggerated stereotype of the blandest version of Protestantism.

On two separate occasions I went into some weird zone where I could count every speck of dust illuminated by colorful shafts of light passing through stain glass windows and then everyone would stand up (except for the guy that fell asleep) at the prescribed time and I’d come back to the “real” world. You’re told to stand. You only stand when you’re told to. The spirit will not move you to say “Amen;” rather, the priest will make a gesture. This is the organization that burned people at the stake just for kicks so I did what was expected and tried not to doze off. As with every Catholic service I’ve attended, at the final “Amen” there is a spirited dash for the parking lot that rivals the final bell ringing in public school. No donuts and chit chat for this set. It’s off to grill outs or bars — both safely removed from the stifle of the Church.


Today, Montebello is roughly 75% Latino (primarily Mexican and Salvadoran), 11% Asian (primarily Japanese), and 11% white (primarily Armenian). Montebello is home to the oldest Armenian community in Los Angeles County and home to the only Armenian Cathedral in California, Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral. The Armenian Martyrs Monument at Bicknell Park commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks is the largest monument found on public property in the world. In the early 20th century, Japanese Montebellans ran four nurseries in town, but were sent to concentration camps during World War II. Japanese-Peruvian and Japanese-Hawaiian communities settled in Montebello after the Japanese interment ended.


As with most of the area, the region now part of Montebello was for thousands of years Tongva land. After the Spaniards arrived, most of the Tongva died out with almost none left by 1870. During Spanish and subsequently Mexican rule, most of the lands which now compose the city of were parts of Rancho San Antonio, Rancho La Merced, and Rancho Paso de Bartolo. The Juan Matias Sanchez Adobe, built in 1844, remains standing at the center of old Rancho La Merced in eastern Montebello and is the city’s oldest structure. The Battle of Rio San Gabriel took place in Montebello on 8 January 1847. After several decades as part of Mexico it became part of the US.

In the 1860s, some 5,000 acres of the East Los Angeles region was owned by an Italian settler from Genoa, Alessandro Repetto. After his death in 1885, his brother sold his rancho to a consortium of five Los Angeles businessmen. It was out of the Harris Newmark and Kaspare Cohn share that Montebello was established in 1899. After consulting William Mulholland, it was incorporated as the Montebello Land and Water Company in 1900. An area of 200 acres adjacent to the tracks of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad were developed into a townsite called Newmark, and the remainder of the land was subdivided into small lots. Newmark became Montebello. Montebello was originally an agricultural community. From its beginnings through the 1920s, the area was famed for its production of flowers, vegetables, berries, and fruits. On 19 October 1920, the city’s name was officially changed to Montebello and it was incorporated. The discovery of oil by Standard Oil Company on the Anita Baldwin and Walter P. Temple properties in the Montebello hills, in 1917, resulted in a switch from agriculture to oil production.


The annual Armenian Food Fair is hosted in May every year at Holy Cross Cathedral. As far as restaurants, there’s Alberto’s Mexican Food, Alexandras, Aloha Hawaiian BBQ, Alondra Hot Wings, Amy’s Pastry, Ani’s Chicken, Arry’s Super Burger, Astro Burgers, El Atacor No 7, Bakers Square Restaurant & Pies, Bamboo Express, Beverly Pizza & Subs, Big Submarine, BJ’s Suds & Grubs Pizzeria, Brioche Pastries, Broaster Kitchen, Bryan’s Super Burgers, El Bukanas, California Chicken Roaster, California Steak & Fries, Canton City Restaurant, Chela’s Tacos, Chicken Now, Chinese Food Express, Chinese Garden, Crabby’s Seafood and More, The Daily Brew Coffee House, Doublz, Fiesta Mexicana, Fruit Revolution, Gardunos, Gina’s Pizzeria, Golden Skewer, Golden Ox Burgers, Golden Wok, Great Wraps, Happy Family Restaurant, Happy Teriyaki Bowl, House of Kabob, Hye Bakery, J&S, JP’s Pizzeria, Jimmie’s Family Restaurant, Jin Ja Teriyaki, Juan Great Fiesta, Krazy Kabobs, Kuan’s Chinese, Lebizu, Maki Yaki, Massis Kabob, Mediterranean Express Grill, Miki Chan’s Okazu Ya, Modern Thai, Nevera, Nick Paradise Cafe, Ordonez Mexican Restuarant, Panderia y Pastaleria, El Patio, Piccolo Mondo, La Pinata Tortilleria, Los Pinos, Playa Baja Mexican Seafood, Playa Baja No 2, Playa Express, Polly’s Pies, Rafael’s Mexican Restaurant, Rio’s Pizza, Salvatore Italian Restaurant & Pizza, Sergio’s Tacos, La Sirenita, Submarina, Sushi Bar Cafe Hiraki, Sweet O Donuts, Taco Village, Tacos Don Chente, Tam’s Burgers, Tapia Mexican Food, Tokyo Grill, Tom’s Burgers,Tony’s Italian Delicatessen, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Two Sal’s Pizza, Venecia Bakery, Waba Grill, Whittier Peruvian Restaurant, Wild Coyote Steakhouse, Zankou Chicken, and El Zipote Pupuseria.


A common criticism of Montebello is that there’s not much to do. Not exactly au contraire, but what about Beverly Bowl? Club Chico? Little Red Rooster? The Paloma Room? Quiet Cannon?


Not a lot of big musicians from Montebello. Jack Russell, lead singer from Great White, is from there. Then there’s a rapper who goes by Nosaj Thing. Pioneering Chicano band The Blendells were also from Montebello. It also produced the punk band, Anti-Social. Montebello was mentioned in Little Village‘s song “The Action.”


Several actors from Montebello have gone onto receive a degree of recognition. Montebello-born and not-even-remotely-Kazakh-looking actor Jay Hernandez appeared in the Kazakh film Nomad.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
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