California Fool’s Gold — A San Gabriel Valley Primer


San Gabriel Valley postcard

Invariably when one speaks or hears of “The Valley,” the valley in question is the San Fernando (despite the fact that there are at least six major and loads of minor valleys in Los Angeles County). For the same reasons that I’m mildly annoyed when people refer to “THE City” or “THE Bay,” the notion of “THE Valley” smacks of ignorance at best and unpleasant small-mindedness at worst. This blog entry is an introduction to the San Gabriel Valley, that great and amazing expanse of suburbs, boomburbs, exurbs and enthoburbs (any “suburb” portmanteaus I’ve missed?) with surprisingly significant history and variety of cultures beneath the seemingly uniform surface of bandage-colored strip malls and homes. That being said, at the time of writing, the San Fernando Valley page on Facebook has 25,519 fans whereas the San Gabriel Valley page has a mere ten.

Map of the San Gabriel Valley Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of the San Gabriel Valley


The San Gabriel Valley is bordered by the the Verdugo Hills and San Rafael Hills to the northwest; the San Gabriel Mountains (and Angeles Forest region) to the north; The Pomona Valley and Inland Empire to the east; the Puente Hills and San Jose Hills and, on the other side, Orange County to the south; SELACO to the south west; and The Eastside and NELA to the west.

The San Gabriel Valley derives its name from the San Gabriel River that flows southward through the center of the valley. The river takes its name from the Spanish Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. The Mission takes its name from the angel Gabriel, a supernatural being who in Abrahamic mythology famously foretold the births of both John the Baptist and of Jesus and also revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad.


Mission San Gabriel Arcangel

For most of the Valley’s history, the inhabitants were Tongva, with the Hahanog-na band living in the northern hills. Fathers Angel Somera and Pedro Cambon founded the original Mission San Gabriel Arcángel on September 8, 1771, marking the beginning of the Los Angeles region’s settlement by “the white man.” The Battle of Rio San Gabriel took place in ever-since-uneventful Montebello on January 8, 1847, also in the San Gabriel Valley, resulting in the lands of Alta California being passed from Mexico to theUSA.


San Gabriel Japanese School, Rosemead, 1927

The mostly white and Latino (at the time) San Gabriel Valley was settled by small but significant numbers of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and South Asian pioneers and settlers in the mid-19th century who found work picking grapes and citrus for their Caucasian bosses. The first large numbers of Japanese arrived in the 1920s to work as farmhands in and around Monterey ParkWhereas the cities of Covina and Pasadena long remained centers of agriculture to the east and west (respectively), much of the southern San Gabriel Valley was dominated by dairy cattle and oil drilling.

The San Gabriel Valley remains a highly diverse region today. The population of approximately 1.5 million is roughly 45% Latino, 26% Asian, 25% white and 2% black. In particular, the San Gabriel Valley is noteworthy for having the largest concentration of Chinese-American communities in the US. Monterey Park was, in fact, the first Asian-American majority city on the continent.

And now for the individual communities.



Alhambra sign

Alhambra is named after Washington Irving‘s book Tales of the Alhambra, not after the Alhambra palace in Spain. It was founded in 1903 and, being a fairly old (by American standards) city, it’s home to many old homes in the Craftsman, Bungalow, Spanish Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial, Italian Beaux-Arts and Arts & Crafts styles. Alhambra was home to Phil Spector, who murdered actress Lana Clarkson in his home in 2003. The historic Garfield Theatre was an impressive Vaudeville venue rumored to have hosted The Gumm Sisters (featuring Judy Garland). It later showed Chinese films as it and the surrounding area become more Asian before going out of business in 2001 (to become, arguably, even more Asian with the addition of a Yogurtland and Energy Karaoke). Today the diverse population is 47% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), 36% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 14% white. To read more about Alhambra, click here.


Avenue of Deodars

The town of Altadena‘s beginnings were with Woodbury Ranch, established by Marshalltown, Iowa natives Capt. Frederick Woodbury and his brother, John. Five years earlier, a nursery, “Altadena Nursery,” had briefly operated in the area. For much of its early history, Altadena attracted wealthy whites from the East. A portion of Mariposa Street was nicknamed “Millionaires Row.” In the 1960s and ’70s, large numbers of black residences moved in after many white residences moved to the westside after the arrival of freeways to the area. The most famous road in Altadena is Christmas Tree Lane, a California Historical Landmark. Altadena’s population today is 40% white (mostly English andLebanese), 31% black, 20% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 4% Asian. To read more about Altadena, click here.


Peacock Fountain, Arcadia, CA

Nicknamed “Arcasia,” Arcadia has population that’s 45% Asian (mostly Taiwanese and Chinese), 40% white and 10% Latino (mostly Mexican) and a small but noteworthy number of Tongva. It is famously the site of theSanta Anita Race Track (where Seabiscuit was filmed) and home to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden (where Fantasy Island was filmed). During World War I, Arcadia was home to theU.S. Army’s Ross Field Balloon School in what is now Los Angeles County Park. During World War II, Santa Anita Park racetrack became the site of the Santa Anita Assembly Center for the Japanese. To read more about Arcadia, click here.


Avocado Heights California

Avocado Heights is a tiny unincorporated community almost entirely surrounded by the City of Industry. The population is 79% Latino (mostly Mexican), 11% white (mostly German) and 9% Asian (mostly Vietnamese). There isn’t a lot of note there, although it is the home of famed collaborator with Ming & Ping who inspired the Valley Girl “requel,” San Gabriel Valley Girl. It’s also home to many avocado trees and horses.


Downtown Azusa

Azusa is located at the entrance to the San Gabriel Canyon on the east side of the San Gabriel River. Azusa was once home to the Lucky Lager brewery, built in 1949, but which was purchased by Miller in the 1970s. In the 1980s, the operation was moved to Irwindale and Azusa’s beer facility was demolished. Although it probably has nothing to do with Miller’s awful taste, in 1980, it was announced that the groundwater there was contaminated with trichloroethylene and part of it was subsequently declared a Superfund Site. In pop culture, the Old Time Radio Jack Benny Program involved a character announcing the arrival or departure of a train to or from “Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc-a-monga” (hilarious, huh?). Today the population is 64% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% white (mostly German) and 6% Asian (mostly Filipino).


First In-N-Out destroyed

Baldwin Park is the youngest community in the San Gabriel Valley with a population that is 79% Latino (mostly Mexican), 12% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 7% white. It began life as Vineland in 1860. In 1906 it changed its name to Baldwin Park, after Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. Baldwin Park was home to the first In-N-Out burger stand (also the state’s first drive-thru), opened on October 22, 1948. Lest Baldwin Park have anything interesting about it, the first In-N-Out was finally destroyed on April 14, 2011.


Bassett Park

Joseph Workman, son of William, owned 3.29 km2 of the Rancho La Puente land and was forced to borrow on the property. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments so the bank acquired the property. In 1895, O.T. Bassett bought the property and Bassett Township was established. It remains small and dominated by strip clubs, auto shops and Bassett Park, which hosts the Annual County Capers Festival!


Bradbury mansion

Not only is Bradbury wealthy (listed by Forbes magazine at #1 on their annual list of America’s most expensive zip codes in 2010), it’s also old, or the population is… the oldest in the San Gabriel Valley, in fact. Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the city has three distinct areas the gated-community of Bradbury Estates, the gated-community of Woodlyn Lane, and the un-gated remainder. The gated communities are largely zoned for horses and the city’s human residents are 66% white (mostly German and English), 19% Asian (mostly Indian) and 12% Latino (mostly Mexican).


Charter Oak California

Charter Oak was originally a small agricultural town (composed primarily of citrus orchards) centered around the intersection of Arrow Highway and Bonnie Cove Avenue. Since the 1960s, most of the agriculture has been gone and Charter Oak is a bedroom community situated on a dry riverbed with nurseries that focus more on cacti than oranges. The population is 44% white (mostly German), 36% Latino (mostly Mexican), 10% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 5% black.


Citrus, California

Citrus is a tiny census-designated place (CDP) situated between Azusa, Glendora, and Covina. It’s 64% Latino (mostly Mexican), 23% white (mostly German), 7% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 4% black. It also has a dental clinic, a furniture store and a church.


William Workman House

Industry (or City of Industry) is an industrial suburb where there’s a MacDonald’s that’s only used for commercials and films (e.g. Mac & Me). The city’s zoning is primarily devoted to business: 92% is Industrial, 8% is Commercial. The main industries are cheese and tortilla factories and the garbage trucks actually run on cheese by-products. One of the factories was where the Terminator was crushed in The TerminatorThe Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum is located in the City of Industry. The tiny population is 62% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% white (mostly Danish) and 9% Asian (mostly Taiwanese). To read more about Industry, click here.


AMC 30

The city of Covina (a combination of “cove” and “vine”) was named by a young engineer, Frederick Eaton, who surveyed the area. The city’s slogan, “One Mile Square and All There” was coined when the incorporated area was only (or slightly less than) one square mile, making it the smallest city in area in the country at the time. As far as the “all there,” that’s long been even more contentious although Covina does claim to have the largest movie multiplex in the county. The population is 42% white (German), 40% Latino (mostly Mexican), 10% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 5% black.


Diamond Bar

Formerly the Diamond Bar Ranch, the land that became the city of Diamond Bar was acquired by the Transamerica Corporation in the 1950s for the purpose of developing the ultimate master-planned community. It may look boring outwardly but it has a diverse population of 42% Asian (mostly Chinese,Korean, Taiwanese but also Filipino, Indian and Vietnamese), 31% white, 19% Latino (mostly Mexican) and a small Tongva population. There’s also an old windmill at the Diamond Bar Towne Center.


Plaza Duarte

Duarte is located along historic Route 66. They still hold an annual Salute to Route 66 Parade on the third weekend in September. The bedroom community is geographically isolated from much of the rest of the valley by the San Gabriel River and rock quarry operations in Irwindale and Azusa. The population is 43% Latino (mostly Mexican) 32% white, 13% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 9% black.


East Pasadena

Of Pasadena’s siblings, South Pas gets all the love. Where’s the East Pas love? There isn’t much… even people that live next to it may not have heard of it… or refer to it as Michillinda Park. Meanwhile, whilst no one is looking, Pasadena keeps gobbling it up through annexation. The small remaining population of free East Pasadena is 37% white, 36% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 20% Asian (mostly Chinese and Filipino). To read more about East Pasadena, click here.


El Monte Lion

El Monte is the poorest city in the valley. Historically is known as “The End of the Santa Fe Trail,” it was established around 1849 on an oasis by immigrants from Arkansas, Missouri and Texas in search of gold. Later, El Monte produced television gold and the city is considered the birthplace of TV variety shows such as Hometown Jamboree, a KTLA-TV show, which was produced at the American Legion Stadium there in the 1950s, hosted by Cliffie Stone. The modern population of El Monte is 73% Latino (mostly Mexican), 19% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese) and 7% white. To read more about El Monte, click here.


The Donut Man

Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Glendora was founded on April 1, 1887 by George D. Whitcomb, who’d moved to California from Illinois in the early 1880s after having previously foundedWhitcomb Locomotive Works in Chicago and Rochelle. He supposedly devised the name “Glendora” by combining the name of his wife, Leadora Bennett Whitcomb, with the location of his home in a glen of the San Gabriel Mountains. Nowadays it’s an upscale city with neighborhoods including Morgan Ranch, Gordon Highlands, Bluebird Hill, Silent Ranch, Oakhart Estates and Easley Canyon Estates. The population is 67% white (mostly German), 22% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 7% Asian (mostly Filipino).


Inside Hsi Lai Temple

Hacienda Heights is located on the northern face of the Puente Hills. The highest point of the Heights is Workman Hill. It’s home to Hsi Lai Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere. The population is 38% Latino (mostly Mexican), 36% Asian (mostly Taiwanese and Chinese) and 23% white.



Hillgrove is a small unincorporated community so apparently insignificant that it’s been included in the Hacienda Heights census since 1970. There’s not much to it besides some homes, an In-N-Out and the Helen Evans Home for Retarded Children.


San Gabriel Bike Trail, Irwindale

Irwindale is, ethnically speaking, the least diverse city in San Gabriel Valley; it’s 88% Latino (mostly Mexican and Costa Rican) and 8% white (mostly German). The city is dominated by rock quarries and is also home to The Irwindale Speedway, the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area and a Miller Brewing Company which also shills macro-brewed swill under the Olympia and Hamm’s names to gullible hipsters more interested in cans than their contents. In 2005, Irwindale became the new permanent site for the annual Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire.


La Puente

La Puente began in 1841 when John Rowland and William Workman were granted the 190 km2 Rancho La Puente. The area was known for its fruit and walnut groves during the 1930s and was, for a time, home to the world’s largest walnut packing plant. With the walnut industry having moved away, nowadays La Puente is almost charmingly sleepy. Today its residents are 83% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 7% Asian, 7% white, 2% black.


Mayflower Village

The pilgrims who make there home in California’s Mayflower Village are 48% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 30% white (mostly German), 10% Asian and 9% black. These are about the only facts I have. It’s home to about 5000 people and there are a couple of churches there.


Monrovia Station

Monrovia is a city located in the San Gabriel Mountains foothills and has been used extensively for filming many TV shows, movies and commercials. I will get into that if Monrovia gets more blog votes. The residents are 46% white (mostly German), 35% Latino (mostly Mexican), 8% black and 7% Asian (mostly Filipino). The well-known companies of Trader Joe’s and Naked Juice are based there.


Monterey Park, as mentioned earlier, was the first Asian-American majority in continental US. In the 1970s and 1980s, many affluent Taiwanese immigrants moved abroad from Taiwan and began settling into Monterey Park. In the 1980s, Monterey Park was also referred to as “Little Taipei” or, affectionately (and rather optimistically), “The Chinese Beverly Hills.” By the late 1980s, immigrants from China, Hong Kong and Vietnam began moving into Monterey Park and many of the established Taiwanese-American pioneers moved to wealthier communities in the valley. Today the population is 61% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), 29% Latino (mostly Mexican), 7% white. To read more, click here.


Apartment in North El Monte

North El Monte is less than half a square mile in size… and yet it still exists through sheer inertia, willpower or stubbornness, possibly a combo of all those factos and more. It’s entirely residential and has a population of about 5000 — 40% white, 31% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 26% Asian (mostly Chinese and Filipino).


Old Town Pasadena

Although Pasadena is most famous for hosting the annual Rose Bowl football game and Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena is known to Angelenos as a center full of scientific, cultural and learning institutions including the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena City College (PCC), Fuller Theological SeminaryArt Center College of Design, the Pasadena Playhouse, the Norton Simon Museum of Art and the Pacific Asia Museum. On the screen it’s the setting of Brothers & Sisters and The Big Bang Theory. It’s mentioned in that Beach Boys song, too. It’s the seventh largest city in LA County and large parts of the community exist in the San Gabriel Valley, which it’s often considered to be part of. It’s not only the youngest city in the Verdugos, but also the most diverse, with a population that’s 39% white (mostly English), 33% Latino (mostly Mexican), 14% black and 10% Asian (mostly Filipino). To read more about Pasadenaclick here.


Ramona is an unincorporated community which is dominated by Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Covina Hills, the 10 Freeway, and California State Polytechnic University Pomona, which despite its name, is located mostly within Ramona. It’s otherwise almost entirely residential. As of 2010 its population was 35% Asian (mostly Taiwanese), 32% white, 26% Latino of any race (mostly Mexican), 3% black, and 3% other. 34% of the population is foreign born, 19% from Taiwan and 18% Mexican.


Banh Me menu (Lee's)

Rosemead, like neighboring cities in the San Gabriel Valley, saw large numbers of Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants arrive in the 1990s, yet as far as I know, it still doesn’t have a clever nickname reflecting its Asian-American character. Today the population is 49% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), 41% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 8% white. There is a Bánh Mì District! To read more about Rosemead, click here.


Rowland Heights Bus Stop

Rowland Heights acquired the nickname “New Little Taipei” following Taiwanese exodus from Monterey Park to more affluent areas after Monterey Park saw an influx of Chinese, Vietnamese and Hong Kongers. I can honestly say, it doesn’t bare much resemblance to Taipei. Maybe it’s more of a Little Keelung because there’s an obvious Korean influence too. Today Rowland Heights is 52% Asian (mostly Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean), 27% Latino (mostly Mexican), 16% white and home to a small Tongva population. To read more about Rowland Heights, click here.


San Dimas

San Dimas is named after the San Dimas Canyon of the San Gabriel Mountains in the foothills of which it is located. San Dimas was a thief who was crucified. It’s where the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the 1991 sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey were set (supposedly a third installment is on the way!). It’s also home to the Raging Waters theme park. The population is 61% white (mostly German), 24% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 9% Asian (mostly Filipino).


San Gabriel Square

San Gabriel grew up around the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. In 1852 it became the original township of Los Angeles County, which is why some people call it the “Birthplace of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.” Its twelve-acre San Gabriel Square Plaza is colloquially known as the “Chinese Disneyland” (although the Los Angeles Times humorously called it “The Great Mall of China.” The city itself is colloquially known as “Chan Gabriel.” All those Chinese puns are a result of the demographics: 49% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese), 30% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 17% white. To read more about San Gabriel, click here.


El Molino Viejo, San Marino

San Marino is the wealthiest city in the San Gabriel Valley. With a plurality of San Marino residents coming from Chinese-speaking backgrounds (47% Asian, mostly Taiwanese and Chinese), 44% white (mostly English) and 5% Latino), San Marino is, as with San Gabriel, similarly nicknamed Chan Marino. San Marino was established in 1913 as an exclusively residential town with grand mansions set on large yards with wide streets and lush parkways. Fittingly, it’s the location of the renowned Huntington Library and gardens, the Japanese garden of which served as Japan in the classic film Beverly Hills NinjaTo read more about San Marino, click here.


Residence in Sierra Madre

Sierre Madre is a neighborhood in the San Gabriel Mountain foothills and is sometimes known as “Village of the Foothills” (and “Wisteria City”). There’s a small downtown with restaurants and shops. Sierra Madre is also home to the company E. Waldo Ward and Son, which was founded over 120 years ago and specializes in fancy olives, jams, jellies, and syrups. Its groves were the first in the US on which Sevilla oranges were planted. The population today is 80% white (mostly German and English), 10% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 5% Asian (mostly Filipino).


Firestone Boy Scout Reservation, South Diamond Bar

South Diamond Bar isn’t exactly a neighborhood, although it is home of the Firestone Boy Scout Reservation. The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Department classifies it as an agricultural zone. It’s owned by the City of Industry and colloquially known as “The Ranch.”


South El Monte

South El Monte, though small, is home of New Temple Park, Greater El Monte Community Hospital, Shiveley Park and Mary Van Dyke Park. Its population is 86% Latino (mostly Mexican), 8% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese) and 5% white. According to the city’s website, “South El Monte has one great characteristic that separates them from their neighbors: OPPORTUNITY.”


The Myers Home from Halloween

South Pasadena is located in the westernmost portion of San Gabriel Valley. Known for its tree-lined streets, Craftsman homes and decidedly small town character, it is a popular film location and stand in for small towns in other states. The Myers Home, from Halloween, is actually a South Pasadena dentist’s office. The residents are 50% white, 26% Asian (mostly Chinese and Korean) and 16% Latino (mostly Mexican). To read more about South Pasadena, click here.


South San Gabriel

South San Gabriel is located in the Whittier Narrows. It’s a small bedroom community of about 8,000 residents who are 48% Latino (mostly Mexican), 41% Asian (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese) and 8% white.


South San Jose Hills

South San Jose Hills is an unincorporated, mainly residential community located on the southern end of the San Jose Hills. It’s home to Sunshine County Park and a population that’s 83% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 7% white and 6% Asian.


Temple City 1970

Temple City began when the town of Temple was originated on May 30, 1923 when Walter P. Temple purchased 2 km2 that had til then been part of Lucky Baldwin’s Rancho Santa Anita. Temple subdivided the lot and named the streets after friends and family, including Workman, Kauffman, Temple, and Agnes. Temple City is home to the first Winchell’s Donut House and that the city has a Bridal District. Nowadays the population is 39% Asian (mostly Taiwanese and Chinese), 38% white and 20% Latino (mostly Mexican). 


Rimgrove Park, Valinda California

Valinda is a mostly residential neighborhood the population of which is 70% Latino (mostly Mexican), 13% Asian (mostly Filipino), 12% white and 4% black. It has Rimgrove Drive Park and a Pizza Hut.


Vincent California

Vincent is named after Vincent Avenue, a street which passes through the community. Besides Valleydale Park, there’s a tire shop, a costume shop, and some Mexican restaurants. The population is 60% Latino (mostly Mexican), 25% white (mostly German), 9% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 4% black.


Donut Tree

The city of Walnut obtained its name from the Rancho Los Nogales Mexican land grant, nogales being the Spanish word for walnut. Walnut has a de facto town hall called Donut Tree. The population is 56% Asian (mostly Taiwanese, Chinese and Filipino), 19% Latino (mostly Mexican), 19% white, 4% black and is home to a small Tongva population. To read more about Walnut, click here.


West Covina

West Covina was incorporated as an independent city in 1923 to prevent the city of Covina from building a sewage farm in the area up in WeCo residents’ piece. From 1950 till 1960 it became one of the fastest growing cities in the US with a population increase of more than 1000% as it grew from less than 5,000 to more than 50,000 citizens. One of those residents was Tim Robbins. Good Burger was also filmed there. The population is 46% Latino (mostly Mexican), 23% white, 23% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 6% black. It has a Little Manila neighborhood and there’s also an online show called West Covina about a group of young Filipinas.


West Puente Valley

West Puente Valley is probably named for its location related to the city of La Puente. It’s home to Allen J Martin Park and Hank’s Pizza Bar… and a population that’s 81% Latino (mostly Mexican), 9% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 8% white.


If you’d like to to vote for any of the communities of the San Gabriel Valley or any other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing Boing,Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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