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Trail's End? Maybe Not, but El Monte Is Historic

August 16, 1987|ELIZABETH CARAS | Times Staff Writer

EL MONTE — It might not be exactly what some residents wanted, but this city has been designated by the state as a historic landmark.

Not because it has been declared the end of the Santa Fe Trail, as a city committee worked for a year to prove, but because it has been deemed the first site in Southern California to be settled by people from other areas of the United States rather than by people from Spain or Mexico.

"It would be difficult to say that El Monte was the only end of the trail," said Maryln Bourne Lortie, historian for the nine-member state Historical Resources Commission, which designates sites of historic significance.

Lortie said El Monte was a popular encampment and probably marked the end of some trail, but not the Santa Fe Trail.

"Although it was an end to some people, it wasn't an end to everyone who used that trail," she said.

While the End of the Santa Fe Trail Committee may have fallen short of its goal, members were still pleased.

"El Monte is a wonderful, great city and it deserves this recognition," said committee Chairwoman Blanche Felix. "That was my main purpose, to give the city a measure of pride in its past and make a stronger future."

The decision last week ended more than a year of work by the committee, which had submitted what it said was evidence that the trail ended in El Monte rather than in Santa Fe, N. M.

But the commission found other historic events in the committee's voluminous application that justified landmark status.

Lortie said that while people from Spain and Mexico settled other areas of Southern California, many of the El Monte settlers were U. S. citizens.

"It was the first time that happened," she said. "It represented a new phase in the history of Southern California."

Most Prestigious

Lortie said El Monte should be proud because the landmark program is the most prestigious of the state's three registration programs. The others are the National Register of Historic Places and points of historical interest.

"The standards of importance are higher than for the other two programs," said Lortie of the 1,000 landmark sites statewide.

"If you're a landmark it's usually for being the first, the last, the only or the most significant."

Felix said some residents and committee members thought the group was seeking landmark status solely on the basis of being the end of the trail.

"That was never the goal of the committee," she said. "We're not saying we're definitely the end of the Santa Fe Trail." However, Felix maintained that El Monte is the end of some historic trail.

Under the landmark program, committee members will work with the state commission to develop a marker for an area in El Monte's Pioneer Park on Santa Anita Avenue.

Display Site

The City Council has allocated $226,000 for park improvements, including the development of a site around the marker where historical artifacts will be displayed.

Although the final decision on the marker's wording rests with the state, the El Monte group has already submitted its request:

"El Monte: the end of the trail. El Monte on the banks of the San Gabriel River played a significant part in California's early pioneer history. In 1851, the first American pioneer families trekked the Santa Fe Trail to El Monte and established the first public school and Baptist church in the Los Angeles Basin."

Mayor Don McMillen said the City Council supported the committee's efforts to gain historic recognition for the city in time for the 75th anniversary celebration of its incorporation, scheduled Nov. 14-15.

"There'll be some real authentic pieces of history in this little park,' McMillen said. The display will include an authentic covered wagon the city purchased at an auction in Rosemead. "It's going to be a point of interest for the City of El Monte."

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