Montebello Memories

Those who labor, learn or live in Montebello may submit their memories about what they have done or seen in Montebello before 1990, including in the Montebello Hills.  We are interested in a wide variety of stories from twenty to one hundred words, e-mailed to, with "Montebello Memories" in the subject field.  Submissions may be made in Spanish, also.   

Also, if you have story about the history of Montebello or a historical photo of Montebello or its people, even if you were not a witness, you are welcome to submit that.

"My Montebello" reserves the right to decline or remove information which might not be accurate, takes up too much space or might be offensive to a reasonable person.

Organizations which have helped bring the memories and history here:

For personal stories, click here.

For a story about the Battle of San Gabriel River, click here.

For a summary about the life of Montebello Police Officer Henry Acuna, click here.

For a history about Montebello's "Sister Cities" program with Ashiya, Japan, click here.  For a report on the trip of a Montebello delegation to Ashiya, Japan, go here.  For a photo of the delegation and its Japanese hosts, click here.

For other photos:

Cars, 1973
City hall, 1972
Downtown Los Angeles, 1971
Garfield Avenue, 1971
Montebello general plan, 1973
Montebello main library, 1971
Montebello Boulevard over the hills, 1972
Montebello Boulevard, 1971
Oil derrick, 1973
Pomona Freeway, 1971
Zoning map, 1971



Personal Stories

As a rookie fireman, I was one of the fire fighters responding to a fire by the Sanchez Adobe.  We saved the Adobe. //  Before there was Lincoln Avenue, there were fig orchards on 29th Street, while 45th and Lincoln was all avocado trees.  When the houses went up, the trees were gone. //  There were many Birds of Paradise plants on 6th and Cleveland.  Robert King, former fire chief and presently the Montebello City Clerk, 10.2007.

My family had a small, ten-acre farm.  Part of the farm flooded two times by Lincoln Avenue.  If you go by Washington and Bluff Road, you can see where the water flowed in the 1920s and the early 1930s.  I remember the flood of 1938.  Vail Avenue used to flood.  Claire Stohlman, long-time resident and member of the Montebello Historical Society, 10.2007.

We had a stone roof and peacocks loved to romp on the roof.  Eleanor Brown, long-time resident and member of the Montebello Historical Society, 10.2007.

My family moved to Montebello in the 1920s.  My brother and I were born here.  We could walk to school with no houses in the way.  There was Curries Mile Hi Ice Cream.  There were also Tovers Market and a Methodist church.  Temple Market was under the dance hall.  There as also Karnes and Crawford's market.  The central school burnet down, which led to the construction of Fremont and Washington.  There was a Masonic Lodge and Brown's Men's Store.  Jack Bowman cut hair and there was the Vogue Theater.  City Hall was at Sixth and Whittier.  We had Lemark's Dairy, Howard's Nursery, Helms Bakery, Rudy's Dance Studio, Bob Calf Butcher Shop.  The Montebello bus connected to the "R" car to Third and La Brea.  Montebello Hospital was on Fifth near Whittier, where there now is a rooming house.  Mr. Green had a clothing store.  Jean Melver, long-time resident and member of the Montebello Historical Society, 10.2007.

I remember when I first used to go to the City of Montebello, in the mid 1970s. From East Los Angeles I would get the 40 bus on Beverly which would drop me off at my summer job, Montebello Convalescent Hospital or something to that effect, now called something else. The bus was such a nice ride with the friendly drivers and the music playing on the bus speakers.  I remember how clean and safe the city looked to me,  residents and properties alike. Those are my first recollections of Montebello.  In 1988 we made Montebello our home. I look forward to when the city returns to being that safe and clean again.  Ray Negrete (pen name), 2.2008.

We live on La Merced and only had to cross the street [to the Montebello Hills].  The hills were the best playground a kid could have.  My mom, Helen Manookian, would yell at us not get tar or oil on our shoes and to be home before dark or when my Dad whistled. They never worried about anything dangerous up there.  I used to climb up the hills for giant tumbleweeds at Christmas.  It would take me hours to find a tumbleweed that was loose or I could pull from the hard ground.  I needed them to be round and three different sizes for I would spray them with snow flocking and make a snowman for our front-yard Christmas décor.  He would stand five- to six-feet tall and we would all decorate him.  Other times, we hung out at a giant tree and hours passed throwing stones and just being free.  Sometimes after a rain there would be lots of frogs; mostly the boys would collect them.  I was a bird lover, not bugs or reptiles.  Many times we would run home in a panic because we saw a snake or animal, but mostly giggling, laughing and out of breath, especially if it was a skunk or possum.  Life was beautiful, kids just don't have the unstructured luxury anymore of just being in nature not planned, supervised or organized.  Nature was just a part of life.  How lucky I was to grow up across from the Montebello Hills.  Denise Hagopian, long-time resident, owner of Heavenly Choice, and member of the Montebello Rotary Club, 3.2008.

Within a year of moving to Hibiscus St. there was a 'monsoon' which washed a foot of mud down our La Merced area streets from the hills and delighted us kids. Like Denise, I and all our neighbors played in the hills, occasionally finding pottery shards or arrowheads, and being astounded in finding petrified sand dollars just below the dirt. We waved at the oil workers, who waved back, as long as we kept away from the 'wig-wags' which pumped oil day and night. If you stuck a shish kabob skewer into our parkway, you sometimes got oil.  Michael Popoff, long-time resident, member of the Save the Montebello Hills Task Force, and member of the Montebello Historical Society, 8.2008.

I lived in Montebello from 1955, when I was born, to 1976, when I left for college. I have so many memories of Montebello. One that stands out is the night the Thrifty drug store burned down. My father loved to follow emergency sirens so that he could get in on the action, even if it was during the middle of the night. About 2:00 am, sometime on the mid to late 60's, he rousted my mom, my sister and me out of bed because he heard sirens. We all jumped in the car, and off we went to find the action. We lived in the three hundred block of North 10th street, so we didn't have to go far. There it was, Thrifty was fully engulfed in flames. The funny thing was that the fire house was directly across the street. The firemen only got there about ten minutes before we did, so the fire had to be raging while the firemen slept. I always wondered if the firemen saw it first, or if someone had to call them and tell them. Well, the whole place burned right to the ground. I remember the firemen had to hold back because all the ammo from the gun case was going off. Through all the danger and excitement, there we were with front row seats. My Mom and Dad have left Montebello, and they're both in their mid 80's, but my dad still to this day jumps in the car when he hears the sirens calling.  David Wynn, former Montebello resident, 12.2010.

I was born on March 20, 1932, at 124 So. Greenwood, where I lived with my parents and two sisters.  I lived in that home until a Saturday morning in February 1953 when I left to go to the old St. Benedict's Church to marry my wife.  We have been married for 57 years and now live in Chino Hills.  I attended St. Benedict's grade school.  I remember being at the dedication of the school on December 7, 1941.  That's right, that was the day the Japanese did their sneak attack and bombed Pearl Harbor.  I remember one day during the war a C-47 flew over our house with on engine on fire.  It was dropping parts of the plane and some of it started a fire at the nursery on Olympic and Greenwood.  Kind of ironic, that nursery was owned by a Japanese family and it was being maintained by Fred Saurazin (sp) until they returned from the detention camp after the war.  The plane flew on and landed at Vail Field. During the war the Army had a search light at Cleveland and Popular where there are apartments today.  At that time it was a big field.  All of us kids used to stop by there and visit with the solders and they would give us biscuits.  On the west end of the hills at the highest point at the time was an AA gun.  The idea was that if the enemy flew over the search light would light them up and the gun would shoot them down.  I remember the Vogue Theater, Vail Field Airport.  there also was a airport at the underpass on Whittier Blvd. called Montebello East Airport.  It was where later the drive-in (passion pit) was built.  It [the airport] was gone before the war started.  There was a clothing store in Montebello before Brown's clothing store arrived on the scene.  It was called Olanders and that is where the boys bought their Boy Scout uniforms and all their supplies.  The Olander family owned the Vogue Theater and later the Garmar (Ramrag) [Another source says that the Garmar Theater was named after Olander grandsons Gary and Mark.]  Before the Vogue Theater, there was a theater on 6th and Whittier Blvd. across from the A&P grocery store.  That theater was different in that you walked in and turned around and sat down instead of the way movie theaters are today.  Charles Field, former Montebello resident, 5.2012.

The best years of my life were spent growing up in Montebello. Who remembers the exciting Pioneer Days when my families would walk to Whittier Blvd. to watch the people and parade? I used to enjoy fishing for crawdads in the Rio Hondo at the Mines Avenue pond. My family lived at 4th Street and Olympic, next to the Union Pacific, where one could wave at the arriving trains. During high school I worked as a box boy at Crawford's Super Market. I later worked at Mrs. Stewart's family restaurant at 4th & Los Angeles, now a temple. At MHS I had a number of friends who were members of either the Ball Peens or Los Braceros car clubs. They put on a number of car shows in the school parking lot. While at ELAC I would help my friends, Cary and Gary, clean up the Vogue Theater after hours and change the marquee when necessary. In the fall of 1962 I was privileged to be able to return to MHS as a student-teacher from Cal State LA. I taught Mr. Poor's U.S. History class at the time of the Cuban Missal Crisis.  What an exciting time.  Bruce Olsen, MHS '56

My name is Kathy Conlin O'Keefe and I was born at Beverly Hospital in 1947. My family lived on 10th Street across the street from St. Benedict School where I attended 1st grade. My sister, Betty and brother Pat also went to St. Benedict's school before we moved to Whittier. We also have a younger sister, Mary. My Grandmother and 2 uncles lived on Greenwood and she would walk to Church everyday to attend mass. My memories are playing in my father and uncle's sporting good store - Conlin Bros. on Whittier Blvd near Montebello Blvd in the early 50's. I remember the Vogue Theatre, the Garmar, Joan Susan's coffee shop where occasionally we got to have lunch with dad and have root beer floats; Jack the barber gave me my first haircut before I started kindergarten. And Monte's Camera shop was we took our film to be developed. Every Christmas dad would set up chairs on the street to watch the Christmas parade on Whittier Blvd. in front of our store and Santa was the finale. We bought our shoes at Marson's shoe store and went to the eye doctor a few doors down. You got a certificate for an ice cream at the corner drugstore. My sister would take me with her to buy a phosphate or lemon coke and flowers for mom wrapped in green tissue from the big Drugstore on the corner. There was a candy store near by too...not sure if it was Shoemakers or Sees but dad would buy us Valentine hearts for Valentine's Day and chocolate coins for my brother. A toy store was on the boulevard also where my sisters and I would "drool" over the pretty Madam Alexander dolls. A furniture store was next door to Conlin Bros. And Crawford's market was around the corner. // While visiting my grandma on Greenwood we would walk around the block and play hide and seek at Montebello high school. It was a very safe time there. We could wander around the area for hours it seemed. // I recall my dad, Jerry, had a small column in the Montebello paper about sports or the local fishing news. He also coached a softball team locally at the park. Another memory was going to the Montebello plunge to swim. // Later when I was 7 we moved to Whittier but still spent a lot of time in Montebello and on the ride coming or going, we would beg my mom to take Bluff Road between Whittier and Washington Blvds so we could see the cannons, ride on the bumpy road and stop at Helms Bakery for bread and cookies (or it could have been another bakery too that had meringue cookies). // My dad and his brothers opened another Conlin Bros. Sporting Goods store in Whittier in the late 50's-early 60's and had a successful business in the L.A., Orange County, San Diego and surrounding counties supplying athletic equipment and clothing to many school districts, youth leagues as well as to individuals through their full line sporting goods retail stores. // You can imagine what great times I had with all the family those days growing up in Montebello and Whittier. Nothing can take those memories away!  Kathy Conlin O'Keefe, retired graphic designer living in Northern California,


Montebello Police Officer Henry Acuna

October 6th, 2017 marks the 46 year anniversary of Officer Henry Acuna passing away as a result of a gunshot wound sustained while on-duty as a Police Officer with the Montebello Police Department.

On October 5th, 1971 at around 10:05PM Officer Henry Acuna was on duty when he responded to a call of an armed robbery in progress at 2321 W. Beverly Blvd, West Beverly Liquor. When Officer Acuna arrived the suspect was exiting the store. The suspect was using an elderly woman as a shield. Officer Acuna withheld firing, at which time the suspect shot him. Officer Acuna died as a result of the gunshot wound the next morning at around 2:45AM.

The suspect was apprehended a year later. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on July 26, 1973. He was recently denied parole.

Before his law enforcement career Acuna attended San Gabriel High School where he received several awards in athletics. He served in the United States Army for four years as a helicopter mechanic. While with the Montebello Police Department he received several commendations for outstanding service to the community.

Officer Acuna was just 31 years of age when he died and had seven years on the job. He is survived by his wife Jean, whom he married in 1963, daughters Kathy, Sandy, and son Joe.

Officer Acuna is the only Montebello Police Officer to be killed in the line of duty. Montebello Police Officer Jaime Carranza recalled meeting with Officer Acuna the evening of the robbery. Carranza recalled Acuna saying, "Why does anyone become a cop? That's the way people are. It takes a certain breed. I'll always be a cop."

Officer Acuna gave the ultimate sacrifice for choosing a career that he clearly believed was his destiny. He will always be a cop and never forgotten.

In memory of Officer Henry Acuna, all Montebello Police Officers will wear a mourning band and on their badges beginning at Midnight on October 5th and ending at Midnight on October 6th. The station flag will be lowered to half-mast during the same time period.

Reprinted with permission, from an e-newsletter from the Montebello Police Department, October 6, 2017.

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