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Bedroom Community Has Rural Roots : Temple City: Cornfields give way to family-oriented community that feels small and welcomes children.

March 13, 1994|PAM WATERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Waterman is a Pasadena free-lance writer

When Florine Thompson moved to Temple City in 1949, most of the bean patches, orange groves and chicken ranches she remembered from visits to friends in the 1930s were gone. Even so, a rural flavor still existed in the unincorporated town where she and her family decided to settle.

"A Caltech professor was growing experimental corn in a big field on the north side of town," Thompson, 82, recalled. "Temple City High School has taken over the corn patch now."

"I've seen a lot of changes," said Thompson, a founding member of the Temple City Historical Society. "Still, this city remains a satisfying place to live. It has a small-town feel and I know many of my neighbors."

Located in the western San Gabriel Valley, Temple City covers four square miles and is home to more than 30,000 residents. It is bordered by San Gabriel to the west, Arcadia to the north and east and El Monte and Rosemead on the south.

According to Linda Pyle of Herbert Hawkins Realtors, Temple City homes range in price from $155,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath house to $400,000 for newer, four-bedroom, three-bath models. The average Temple City house has between 1,300 and 1,800 square feet with three bedrooms and 1 3/4 baths on a 50-foot-by-115-foot lot.

When Bonnie and Larry Smith decided to move from the Pico-Fairfax area three years ago to be closer to her teaching job in Eagle Rock, the small-town feel and children's recreational facilities available in Temple City were a big draw.

"We found Los Angeles very convenient for adult entertainment, but not for our children. Everything our son and daughter wanted to do involved driving them somewhere," Bonnie Smith, 44, said. "Now we have a park and library within walking distance. Plus the walking is pleasant and safe.

"I first heard about Temple City from a friend who was building a house here," Bonnie Smith said. "I asked her, 'Where is that?' When we began looking around for a house, we were open to a wide range of possible areas. The realtor mentioned Temple City and it struck a bell."

"Our daughter Delicia, 18, found opportunities in Temple City's Theatre Arts Department that just didn't exist in our Los Angeles neighborhood school," she said. The Smiths paid in the high $200,000s for their three-bedroom, two-bath house, with a spa and guest house.

"We weren't worried about finding a prejudiced environment in Temple City," said Larry Smith, 45. The Smiths are black. "If we met a problem, we felt we could deal with it. It turned out our neighbors were very welcoming."

Temple City originally offered a welcoming rural environment to Jeff and Gloria Simpson when they emigrated from England in 1957. Because both worked in horticulture, the Simpsons wanted a house with a small yard. "But we liked this place so much and the price was only $11,000. We bought it even though the lot is 165 feet long. Naturally, we wound up gardening at home and at work," Gloria Simpson, 62, said.

"At first our neighbors kept many animals: pigeons, chickens and geese but when the lots were subdivided in the '60s, the animals had to go," said Jeff Simpson, 67, a retired landscape foreman. "Now we only have two tortoises and several cats," he added. "But the woody area on our block is home to possums, squirrels and a flock of wild parrots."

The Simpsons appreciate the warmth of their Temple City neighbors. "If one of us has a tragedy, we all cry," Gloria Simpson said.

Although the city seal proclaims it to be the "Home of Camellias," Temple City homeowners don't appear to grow them in any greater quantity than in nearby towns. The motto was adopted in 1944 after city council members searched for a flower to represent the town. The Camellia Festival, a spring parade held on the last Saturday of February, also commemorates the town flower.

Children play starring roles in the parade by building small floats that are pushed or pulled along Las Tunas Boulevard. First-graders from city schools serve as king and queen. Longtime resident Jean Gerard remembers when children would knock on the door asking to pick her camellia blossoms for float decorations. Nowadays a typical Camellia Festival Parade contains about 10 floats, a dozen local marching bands and scores of uniformed scouts and young athletes.

The city's history began when Walter Temple, son of Pliny Temple, a pioneering Los Angeles businessman, purchased 400 acres of Lucky Baldwin's Ranch and called it the "Town of Temple." In 1921 he began subdividing lots for a town where "people of medium income could come to live and afford to own their homes." Temple's shrewdest move was to persuade the Pacific Electric Railway to extend the Red Car line from Alhambra into the new town, thus ensuring an easy commute.

The first house in the Temple town site was built on Garibaldi Avenue in 1923. By 1924 a hardware store and pharmacy had opened on Las Tunas Drive, the city's main street. In 1927 the Red Car line began daily operation.

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