Through the Viewfinder: Main Street, Puente, 1926

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

After giving brief presentations to sixth through eighth grade students from Workman Elementary and Sierra Vista Middle School on Tuesday, I was surprised that I didn’t find tonight’s highlighted photograph from the Homestead’s collection in any of the files I searched when gathering material.  But, that’s just fine because it gave another opportunity to highlight La Puente history with this post!

The view is of Main Street in what was then simply known as Puente and taken from the intersection of College Street, later renamed Glendora Avenue.  This looks to have been a snapshot rather than a commercially published image and it shows two very common corner buildings that you’d find in virtually any downtown in those days.

On the left is a Rexall drug store with awnings shading the corner entrance and the windows from the late afternoon sun and with signs advertising Crescent ice cream.  To the right is the First National Bank of Puente, one of two commercial banks in the small town.

Page On Puente From Chamber Of Commerce Booklet 1927
This page from a 1927 promotional pamphlet for Puente shows some commercial buildings, including the French-American Bakery that existed for many decades and the Puente Investment Company Building, as well as the Hudson Grammar and Puente Union High schools.  What was not mentioned is that the growing Latino population, largely comprising agricultural laborers, were confined to a barrio on the east side of town and their children educated at a segregated school, Central, that was not given the amenities of Hudson.

Much of the view down Main Street is obscured by a very large tree on the north side of the street (in fact, it seems that the towering tree might have been planted with Puente was laid out in the mid-1880s), but there are some signs that can be read for such businesses as a hardware store, restaurant, a grocery store, and a cafe.  Over the brick building where the restaurant was located is a portion of Puente Hill, or simply P-Hill, now known as Industry Hills.

The card, which was postmarked at Puente on 22 November 1926, has a message from an unsigned writer for Ruby Cross, a young resident of Lyons, Kansas, which is now a town of 3,000 northwest of Wichita and which is probably not larger than Puente was ninety years ago.  Cross was visiting the family of Dwight C. Hartle, who was a native of Kansas and perhaps a relative of the writer and/or Cross.  Hartle was a foreman at the orange packing plant in Puente and lived on College Street with his wife and two young sons.

The short message refers to the fact that Ruby got to her destination safely and, as for Puente, she merely wrote “[I] like it fine, sure pretty weather.”  She offered the common wish that Ruby was enjoying the climate and the locale with her.  She mentioned the Hartles were doing well and their young boys “are surely cute.”  It would be nice if there was more to the message, but what was written was pretty typical.

Page On Puente From Chamber Of Commerce Brochure 1927
This page of the brochure highlighted a local community church (which still stands today) and several fine houses, including the Rowland House from 1855, Walter P. Temple’s La Casa Nueva, and the residence of dairy owner Louis H. Didier, which stood two miles east of Puente where the Altadena Dairy is today.  The house was, however, razed not that many years ago.

Puente was the seat of a rural, agricultural area within the Rowland township amid the La Puente Valley.  The township grew steadily, though the population remained small, with a little more than 700 persons in 1890 and fewer than 2,000 twenty years later.  There was, though, in the 1910s, a growth of nearly 40% to over 2,500 residents.

During the 1920s, however, there was a significant surge in the Rowland township popuation, so that, by 1930, there were over 4,600 persons, close to a doubling of residents in the decade.  This was pretty typical of conditions in the San Gabriel Valley, even if the larger communities were in the western portion closer to Los Angeles.

For example, Pasadena grew from about 45,000 to over 76,000; Monrovia doubled from 5,500 to 11,000; Arcadia more than doubled from 2,200 to 5,000; San Gabriel jumped from 2,600 to over 7,200; and San Marino went from just under 600 to over 3,500.  In Alhambra, where Walter P. Temple, owner of the Homestead in 1926, was an active developer in that booming city’s downtown, there was over a tripling of numbers from about 9,000 to nearly 30,000.

Los Angeles Times, 10 October 1926.

So, there was a significant and sustained boom underway in greater Los Angeles during the Roaring Twenties and, in Puente, the chamber of commerce issued a pamphlet in 1927, not long after this postcard was sent, to advertise the advantages, benefits and charms of the town for prospective residents and business owners.  One section of the brouchure was included in the Sierra Vista post on Tuesday, but there are two more included here.

Much of the growth in the Puente area remained with agriculture, especially walnuts, it being noted in the talk and post that the town had the world’s largest walnut packing house when it was completed several years prior to this photo being taken.  Orange, lemon and avocado raising were also significant economic products and dairy farming was also being done.  In fact, A.V. Handorf, was expanding his dairy operation immediately to the west of the Homestead during the mid-1920s.

Interestingly, there was one example in 1926 of an industrial use that, in a way, presaged the coming of the City of Industry three decades later and was perhaps reflective of county planning for an industrial corridor between the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroad lines that run through the valley.

Times, 5 December 1926.

Just a couple of weeks after the postcard was mailed from Puente, the Los Angeles Times ran an article that the Western Art Publishing Company was in the process of building a plant, initially comprising 10,000 square feet, “immediately south of Puente on the Union Pacific Railway.”  This appears to be very close to the Homestead as the Union Pacific line, built by the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad in the first years of the 20th century, runs just to the south of the ranch.

The facility was expected to be completed by mid-January 1927, at which time 40 persons were to be at work on calendars, ink blotters, cards and other products.  By mid-year, though, company officials were anticipating have 250 persons employed there, a substantial labor force for a community that was still under 5,000 residents.

The developer was the Barcom Investment Company of Los Angeles, headed by W.E. Durston, who had projects in El Monte and Baldwin Park, but it appears that plans may have changed or that there were two plants built, because Western Art wound up announcing the building of a same sized plant for the identical maximum number workers in Stanton in Orange County later in 1927.  In any case, the idea for an industrial enterprise in the Puente area was new, if ahead of its time by a few decades.

This real photo postcard from the Homestead’s holdings shows Main Street from College Street, now Glendora Avenue, in Puente.  The card was postmarked from Puente on 22 November 1926 and appears to be a snapshot, rather than a commercially produced card.  The building at the left, a Rexall drug store, appears to still be standing.

Puente was also given some notable publicity when a booth promoting the town at the Los Angeles County Fair, the first of which was held just a few years prior in 1922, won a third-place award.  The Times identified the display as “Puente’s bit of old Nippon,” suggesting a Japanese-style to the booth.

There was, actually, a small Japanese community in the area, comprised of truck farmers, but anti-Asian sentiment ran high in the region and statewide, including a legal prohibition against land ownership.  This is why, when the Temples bought the Homestead late in 1917, it was being leased to a man known only as “K. Yatsuda.”

As the 1920s came to an end, the growth in the La Puente Valley was stymied, as elsewhere, by the onset of the Great Depression, which included the loss of the Homestead by foreclosure in summer 1932.  This very rare photograph of downtown Puente gives us a glimpse into the community as it expanded during the Twenties, though it would be thirty years before the City of La Puente was incorporated in 1956.  To see what the intersection looks like today, check out this Google Maps link.


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