Each city in the US has its share of interesting stories surrounding its founding, but possibly no others are quite as colorful as El Monte, California.
Twelve miles east of downtown Los Angeles, today’s El Monte is the hub of the San Gabriel Valley. Its population, 72% of whom are Hispanic, resides within this “island” measuring seven miles long and four miles wide.
In earlier days, El Monte was literally an island in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley between the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers. Between 1770 and 1830, Spanish soldiers and missionaries who often stopped here for a rest called the area, “El Monte,” an archaic Spanish translation for “marsh.”
During the Gold Rush, El Monte was a stopping place for those headed to California gold fields. In these early days, it had a reputation as a rough town where men settled disputes the old-fashioned way. Bandit gangs led to the formation of local militia; justice often came in the form of lynchings by the “El Monte Boys.”
Though few of the hopeful found any gold, many recognized the fruitful land along the San Gabriel River as an ideal place for a homestead, and El Monte’s agricultural community grew into a sizeable settlement.
Fast forward to 1925 when El Monte became home to Charles Gay who raised wild animals for use in the new motion picture industry, many of whom starred in the old Tarzan films, and in fact the famous MGM lion is Mr. Gay’s beloved “Jackie.” The equine character of Mr. Ed (real name Bamboo Harvester) of the classic 60s TV show was born in El Monte in 1949.
In the 1950s, a hostile climate forced rock and roll shows from Los Angeles to the El Monte Legion Stadium. Musicians who got their start there include Ritchie Valens, Earth Wind & Fire, The Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa.
From outlaws and animals to a modern, urban community, El Monte is supported by an expanding industrial and commercial base. New immigrants have brought a positive work ethic, new opportunities and fresh ideas to the area. As the San Gabriel Valley continues to grow, the story of El Monte continues to unfold.