A Brief History of the Development of Alhambra: What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next?


Who doesn’t like to ponder once in a while what the future holds — and what it must have been like to live long ago. For example, what was it like to be a resident of Alhambra in the 1880s or 1940s, and what will it be like to live here in the 2040s? To be sure, every generation experiences bursts of innovation, as well as ebbs and tides in the economy.

Alhambra’s history was born from the westward expansion of the railroads. From 1876-1887, the railroad system (Southern Pacific) spurred massive migration to the Los Angeles region. Alhambra became a big attraction to newcomers because its first subdivision, the Alhambra Tract, had water piped in through iron pipes to each residential lot — the first in the region. With water, Alhambra became an expanse of orchards and flowers, and wineries.

With a growing population of 600, residents formed a town improvement association, pushing for incorporation in 1903. Just 10 years later in 1913, the population grew to 5,000, leading to the approval of the City Charter in 1914. In the 1920s and 30s, Alhambra Airport became a busy home for Western Air Express, and in World War II,the Alhambra Airport became the official shipping point for Lockheed’s military airplanes. At war’s end, the airport ceased operations, and the property was sold to a real estate development company, being subdivided into the charming tract of homes south of Valley Boulevard now called the Airport Tract.

The city was growing by leaps and bounds — from 30,000 in the 1930s to 50,000 in the 1950s. A wave of housing development began to transform Alhambra’s agricultural community as soldiers returned home from war, looking to start their civilian lives. Meanwhile, business was flourishing on Valley Boulevard and Main Street. As people continued to discover Alhambra, a wave of apartment construction followed in the 1960s to 1980s.

In the 1960s, the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency came into existence to expand, modernize, and redevelop the city’s industrial area. It became a significant tool for revitalizing the city, especially as Alhambra’s population swelled to 90,000 by the 2000s, and is responsible for much of the commercial growth that occurred in the 1990s and 2000s, creating jobs, eliminating blight, and bringing exciting new shopping and dining options to Alhambra.

The Alhambra Redevelopment Agency was tuned up to reinvigorate Alhambra’s economic engine, starting with one of its first projects, Fremont Plaza in 1996, which involved converting a vacant Sears building into a Toys R Us, and adding several other major retail tenants and restaurants, including PetSmart, Albertsons, and El Pollo Loco. The City also began to develop other vacant lots and underused buildings, as well as rehabilitated attractive older buildings on Main Street.

Today these efforts are highlighted by a revamped Alhambra Row that includes nine dealerships, pedestrian-friendly downtown along Main Street, and the Alhambra Renaissance Plaza, which features ample free parking, restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. It is no wonder that Alhambra was recently recognized as the “Most Business Friendly City in L.A. County” by the L.A. Economic Development Corporation, or that Livability.com named Alhambra fifth in California among its 2014 “Top 100 Best Places to Live.”

Redevelopment brought about more change than the mere construction of these retail-oriented shopping, dining, and entertainment projects. It also created jobs and helped provide funding to improve the quality of Alhambra’s schools, parks, and utility infrastructure. For example, it helped to fund millions in street rehabilitation projects, updated playground equipment, and provided for the construction of the water treatment facility. While the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency ceased operations in 2012, due to a mandate by the Governor and State Legislature, its benefits to the community will be realized for generations to come.

What’s new in Alhambra is a reinvigoration of residential, office space, and dining and shopping experiences through the construction of mixed-use along West Main Street. From the Alhambra Regency Plaza to the Main Street Collection, residential and professional services have expanded, while infrastructure has also kept up, with the relocation and construction of the Alhambra Civic Center Library in 2008 and the recent unveiling of the Mosaic Parking Structure adding 307 spaces to Downtown Alhambra.

Although Alhambra’s population declined slightly in the most recent census taken in 2010, Alhambra continues to be in the midst of a transformational period of strategic growth. And while the most recent phase focused on mixed-use retail and residential, what’s next will be the continuation of the commercial revitalization of Main Street — from Alhambra Place to East Main Street, as well as enhancing and protecting the City’s neighborhoods with upgraded parks, streets, and water and sewer facilities.

Stay tuned to Around Alhambra to find out what’s next.

Nov 2021


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