Another Vintage Bit of Historic Route 66 in Monrovia

IMG_1839In addition to being home to the fabulous Aztec Hotel, Monrovia also has an awesome vintage gas station located on what is now a wide, side-street (Shamrock Ave.), just north of Huntington Drive. The building looks so preservation-worthy to me . . . so every now and then I stop by to snap a few photos. Recently, I was most happy to discover some information about this local gem in a cool little book, Life on Route 66: Personal Accounts Along the Mother Road to California.

It turns out that this particular gas station was, indeed, one of the original Route 66 businesses. The Mother Road, as it passed from the town of Duarte and then into Monrovia heading west, underwent some confusing alignments and this odd jog seems to be one of them.

From the Hellers’ book: “Route 66 through Duarte is now named Huntington Drive, and after traveling a few blocks west across the Monrovia border, the early route curves to the north on Shamrock, and almost immediately a photo op appears: a classic-style gas station with vintage gas pumps. It is said that a movie about the Lindbergh kidnapping was filmed here. A bit north, lined with Craftsman homes, the early route turns west as Foothill Boulevard.” (p. 99-100)

The old station sits empty today, but with its sunny corner location across the street from a school and large park and just down the block from a small neighborhood market/restaurant, it seems like it would make a great little coffee spot. It might be that there are old gas wells under the site that preclude developing the property, but that’s beyond my scope. Anyway, I do hope the city of Monrovia keeps its eye on this one . . . it really is a tangible blast from the Mother Road’s past, and (like the Hellers’ say in their book), it IS a nice photo-op.

(all photos: credit L1OTB)

(all photos: credit L1OTB)


The Aztec Hotel: Monrovia’s Route 66 Relic

Inspired by my recent visit to The Autry‘s Route 66: The Road and the Romance (exhibit runs through January 4, 2015), I headed out last week to view a local bit of this history. I’ve been by the Aztec Hotel in Monrovia countless times over the years. The architectural stylings of the old building intrigue, but it’s not in use and looking increasingly run down. So I snapped a few photos just in case its days are numbered. (Hopefully not. It was designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.)

Photo Credit: L1OTB

Aztec Hotel main entrance and fab neon sign. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

The Aztec Hotel is quirky and a well-known example of Mayan Revival architecture, which was popular during the 1920’s and ’30’s. The style was inspired by the iconography of ancient Meso-American cultures.

Photo Credit: L1OTB

Photo Credit: L1OTB

The hotel opened in 1925 and was the first commissioned work in the U. S. by English architect, Robert Stacy-Judd. He styled the hotel’s facade, interiors, and furniture in ways that incorporated abstract patterns inspired by Mayan motifs with then-popular Art Deco.

Over the years, celebrities and ghosts alike have frequented the ornate Aztec. It was a fancy and well-known stop along the Mother Road. Today, the status of the tired-looking hotel seems unclear. Over a year ago there appeared to be a serious move to renovate rooms, re-open the old Elephant Bar restaurant, and keep fans engaged with a lively FB page. But that seems to have died down, and the property now sports an “in limbo” look to passersby. If any readers know more about plans for the old Aztec Hotel, please feel free to comment. An update would be great.

In the meantime, Monrovia’s Aztec Hotel is still quite photogenic . . . and I was happy to grab a few new snaps:

Aztec Hotel front entrance, facing Foothill Blvd.  (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Aztec Hotel front entrance, facing Foothill Blvd. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Interior as seen through the front entrance door. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Interior as seen through the main entrance door glass. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Aztec's corner coffee shop. (Photo Credit L1OTB)

Aztec’s corner coffee shop. (Photo Credit L1OTB)

Photo Credit: L1OTB

Photo Credit: L1OTB

Leaded glass Aztec Coffee Shop panels. Gorgeous. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Leaded glass Aztec Coffee Shop panels. Gorgeous. (Photo Credit: L1OTB)

Surfridge, LAX, and the El Segundo Blue

I once worked in El Segundo, a small city bordered to the north by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and to the west by remnants of the demolished Playa Del Rey/Surfridge neighborhood, perched on the cliffs above Vista Del Mar (Pacific Coast Highway, aka PCH). Sometimes on my lunch hour, I would make the short drive to the beach and then up Sandpiper, one of its steep, abandoned streets. Parked beside an empty curb and munching a sandwich, I would thoroughly enjoy the calming combination of breezy salt air, dull roar of waves, and bright sun glittering on the sea’s horizon.Palisades Del Rey I never got out of my car to walk around . . . but I would usually muse about what could have happened to erase an entire neighborhood from this most beautiful of spots.

Sometimes the sky would darken with the monster shadow of a jetliner rising up from the canyon to my right, engines roaring and so close that it seemed I could almost see passengers’ faces in the tiny windows. It was such an ungodly loud and surreal sight! And so it seemed to me that the wide and weed-filled curving streets, the panorama of empty lots with concrete stairs and driveways to nowhere, and the big old palm trees growing amid clumps of dune grasses that dotted this old neighborhood must have an interesting story to tell . . . I just didn’t know what it was. But now I do.

Back in the early 1920’s, this area was called Palisades Del Rey (“the King’s Cliffs”)—a wealthy neighborhood built next to the equally majestic-sounding, but small beach community of Playa Del Rey (“King’s Beach”).

Playa Del Rey, 1902
Lagoon and Del Rey sea cliffs in 1902.

L.A. developers, Dickinson & Gillespie Co., successfully marketed the area as a pricey and exclusive enclave for the rich, and as “the last of the beaches” . . .  advertising that “never again will you have . . . the opportunity of procuring at original cost, Beach Lots, Palisade Sites, Investment Sites and Boulevard Frontages—All Improved.”  Sales boomed, and soon the sandy cliffs morphed into an orderly array of curving streets and roomy homes built in Spanish Colonial and other colloquial styles of the day. A string of small businesses and shops were constructed below on Vista Del Mar. Parks and a beachfront clubhouse were added to the mix. Dockweiler Beach was just a short walking distance to the south and streetcars provided cross-town access for all.

In 1928, the city of Los Angeles built the small Mines Airport nearby to accommodate members of the “flying set,” who liked to arrive for their visits in single-engine propeller planes. And with this, the die was unwittingly cast for the eventual destruction of beautiful Palisades Del Rey.

Because who could have predicted, in the 1920’s, just what that little municipal airport would become with the advent of the Jet Age? Its name was changed to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 1938. Increased use meant that long runways were added, and by the 1960’s, the loud scream of jet engines made living in Palisades Del Rey and next-door Surfridge Estates a noisy nightmare. Beachfront or not, noise levels and safety fears caused property values to sink. Owners valiantly fought for their bit of ocean-adjacent paradise. And even after LAX wielded its ultimate trump card—eminent domain—for runway expansion, Palisades Del Rey/Surfridge neighbors battled on. Of course, in the end, the fight was lost . . . and when it was all said and done, more than 800 homes were bulldozed or relocated in stages during the late 1960’s and into the 70’s.

In time a massive chain link fence was put up around the abandoned area. To keep people out, of course . . . but also to protect the only bright spot in this whole story . . . and this is the part where the butterfly comes in.

El Segundo Blue butterfly

The El Segundo Blue.

Declared a federally-designated Endangered Species in 1975, the El Segundo Blue butterfly population is now protected and successfully regenerating in the ONLY place it can live and breed in the wild . . . on the Coast buckwheat grasses that thrive in and around the sand dunes that once held the Palisades Del Rey/Surfridge Estates. (Odd that the theme of “flight” remains forever linked to this place.)

Today, you can no longer drive up any of the streets into the old neighborhood . . . they are sealed off behind the endless chain link fencing. Sandpiper was officially closed to traffic post-911, for fears of a security threat. But if you have a moment sometime, stop along this fast-moving stretch of PCH and take a look up at the ghostly neighborhood that once was. Imagine the views and what it might have been like to live there before the Jet Age came along and changed everything.


GREAT short video captures the eerieness of this abandoned area: