Before it took on its current Asian persuasion, Walnut was mostly Caucasian. Before that, of course, it was inhabited by the Tongva people, whose village in the area was called Pemookangna. After the Spaniards arrived it was mostly used as a ranch which grew walnuts, wheat, grapes, fruit trees and as pasture for cattle. By the 1840s, the Spaniards called the area Rancho de Nogales, which means Walnut Ranch. Many of those walnuts were pickled. In 1868, John Rowland and William Workman divided the land into La Puente to the west and Walnut to the east. The city was incorporated in 1959. In 1975, the William R. Rowland Adobe Redwood Ranch House was designated an Historical Landmark.
A few years back, a number of well-heeled Taiwanese business people moved to Walnut. Ten years ago, Asians, non-Latino whites and Latinos still made up roughly equal populations of the city and CNN hailed Walnut as a model of diversity. Since then, large numbers of Cantonese, mainland Chinese and especially Filipinos have moved to the area and numbers of white and Latino residents have diminished. The city’s changing character is reflected in the variety of popular restaurants including Heartland’s Market and Kitchen, Apo Apo Deli Café, UCC Cafe, Colima Burgers, Coffee Break, Sate House, El Taco Nazo, Ninja Sushi, Mikasa, Kalahi Bakery, the New York Pizzeria, Osuna’s, Bangkok BBQ, Charlie’s Sandwhich Shoppe, Upper House Boba Tea Shop and Donut Tree. Donut Tree, open 24 hours a day, serves as a sort of de facto community center. When my roommate Tim and I went there, it was packed with retirees speculating about Oprah‘s reasons for announcing her retirement. The retirees came and went during our visit, all seeming to know one another, and almost invariably arriving and departing in nice cars.
Hockneyesque collage panorama of Walnut’s downtown
Walnut is a decidedly tranquil, some would say, sleepy suburb. Money named it the 70th best place to live in 2009, thus placing it above all other California cities, although there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do. Its “downtown” is a cluster of shopping centers known as “The Village” and is dominated by chains like Applebee’s, Panda Express, Kohl’s, Staple’s, Starbucks and Millie’s, albeit quaintly rendered in a craftsman style. As with many suburbs, most of the businesses are spread out along the main thoroughfares, clustered in shopping centers with names like Flag Automotive Center, Lemon Creek Village and Walnut Tech Business Center. As we know from films likePoltergeist, Blue Velvet and Paranormal Activity, sleepy towns usually have their share of ghosts, and Walnut is no exception according to this website.
In the autumn, Walnut hosts a parade and fair held in Suzanne Park which is known as the Walnut Family Festival.
Wolfgang DelgadoDarius McCrary
There aren’t that many famous Walnut natives. Former Amoebite Wolfgang Delgado used to live there, as did Darius McCrary (Family Matters‘ Eddie Winslow). The self-described Latin Elvis and Latin Frank Sinatra, Gerardo “la Pelota” Meija, moved there from Ecuador and became the world’s first Latino Rap Superstar with his megahit, “Rico Suave.” It’s also the birthplace of drummer Ricky Lawson.
A few films have been shot in Walnut, in part or in whole, including Awaken the Dead, Background(ed), Freudian Eyebrow, Hangman, The Call, Zodiac and Lakeview Terrace.
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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.”