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Azusa Looks Ahead to Its Next 100 Years

April 26, 1998|JANE CHAFIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Dick and Beverly Stanford moved to Azusa in 1994 and Beverly took a job as a professor of education at Azusa Pacific University, they had no idea how involved they would become in their new community.

In the last four years, Dick Stanford has organized a campaign to successfully block a card club proposal and won a seat on the City Council.

And the Stanfords founded a local weekly newspaper, the Azusa Gazette, which they edit and publish.

Their hometown, population 45,800, lies 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, along the 210 Freeway. Called the "Canyon City," it is in the foothills at the entrance to the San Gabriel River Canyon, a large recreational area in the Angeles National Forest. And this year Azusa is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its incorporation.

The Stanfords (he's 60, she's 59) paid $217,000 in 1994 for their three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo at the Rainbow Lake Club on the site of the old Los Angeles Angling Club. The couple was attracted to the gated community's lake and beautiful landscaping as well as to its legacy as a popular spot with Hollywood celebrities of the 1930s and '40s.

Dick Stanford's involvement in local politics began in 1995, when the City Council proposed a measure to allow a card club to operate in the city.

"I thought it would be bad for Azusa," said Stanford, who volunteered to organize a campaign to oppose the card club. The gambling measure was rejected 72% to 28%.

"Defeating the casino was the turning point for many residents who had already seen their once-vibrant downtown die. They had had enough."

"Now, Azusa is a city right on the cusp," said the semiretired Stanford, who stays busy with City Council business, the newspaper and teaching computer literacy classes at Azusa Pacific.

As evidence of Azusa's progressive momentum, Beryl Simmerok, a Realtor with ReMax Masters who has worked in the city for 20 years, cites the proposed Rosedale housing development.

A joint venture of Lewis Homes and the Monrovia Nursery, the project will provide 1,700 new homes over a 10-year period on the site of the nursery as it gradually moves to other locations.

"There is a lot of foresight and planning in the City Council," she said.

The average price of a home in Azusa is $134,000, for a three-bedroom, one-bath house, Simmerok said. Prices range from a high of $275,000 for a 3,000-square-foot four-bedroom, three-bath house on an acre to a low of $42,000 for a tear-down, sold to a builder for land value only.

Condos range from $48,000 to $194,500. The average Azusa condo has two bedrooms and one bath and sells for about $89,000.

The story of the origin of the name "Azusa" differs depending on whom you talk to.

One romantic story has it that Azusa got its name from a Gabrielino Indian maiden with magic healing powers, while many people insist that it means "everything from A to Z in the USA."

The first recorded reference to Azusa is found in the diary of Juan Crespi, diarist and engineer with the Portola Expedition in 1769, which was on its way northward in search of Monterey Bay.

Mexican Land Grant

A land grant from the Mexican government in 1841 gave an area of three square miles to Luis Arenas, who then sold it in 1844 to Henry Dalton, an Englishman who had acquired wealth importing and exporting goods with Peru. Dalton paid $7,000 for the land and named it Rancho Azusa de Dalton.

In 1854, gold was discovered in the San Gabriel River Canyon and a town named El Doradoville was built at the fork of the San Gabriel. During the next 20 years, it is estimated that $12 million in gold was mined and shipped from El Doradoville, which was destroyed by flood waters in 1861.

Dalton lost title to Rancho Azusa de Dalton in 1881 to Los Angeles banker Jonathan Slauson, who then sold the land in smaller parcels, one of which became the city of Azusa, incorporated in December 1898.

Azusa was popularized during the '30s and '40s on the Jack Benny radio show with Mel Blanc's famous line, "Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga."

Many of Azusa's Route 66 landmarks from the early days, such as City Hall and the Foothill Drive-In Theater--one of the last operating drive-in theaters on Route 66--can still be seen today.

"This is a small foothill community intent on keeping its identity," Simmerok said.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the city's long-term strategy for revitalizing the Central Business District, a plan that includes landscaping, traffic calming and a pedestrian breezeway connecting parking to the historical downtown area.

Susan Chavira, a 44-year-old kindergarten teacher, has lived in Azusa all her life. "My son is fourth-generation Azusa; my granddaughter, fifth," said Chavira, who lives with her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in the house she bought for $35,000 in 1980.

The house originally had four bedrooms and 1 3/4 baths.

As the family grew, "we added up and out," Chavira said. "It was a nightmare.

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