Talmage V. Burke, who spent 52 years on the Alhambra City Council and served 15 terms as mayor to become one of California's longest serving officeholders, has died. He was 86.
Burke, known affectionately as "Mr. Alhambra," died Sunday at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, 10 days after undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery. Burke had taken a two-month leave from his City Council position to recuperate from the surgery.
First elected to the 7.4-square-mile city's five-member council in 1952, Burke became its youngest mayor in 1957 and its oldest last year. The mayor's position rotates among council members every nine months. Although a three-term limit for council members was enacted in a 1976 charter amendment, Burke was on the council at the time and had the ballot measure written to exempt incumbents.
Burke considered his greatest achievement to have been persuading the state Public Utilities Commission to spend $16.8 million in 1976 to sink the city's three-mile section of Southern Pacific railroad track 30 feet, freeing street traffic and muffling noise. He also prided himself on insisting in 1960 that the city's $1-million City Hall be paid for in cash.
A conservative Republican, Burke was nevertheless a strong booster of industrial and commercial redevelopment -- even when it endangered his own wealth. In 1987, when the city created a row of car dealerships along Main Street, he paid to raze apartment buildings on 14 of his properties to clear space. Car dealers paid him one-third of what his previous tenants did, he told the Pasadena Star-News, but added: "I was realistic and I made sacrifices for the city's success."
As Alhambra gained Asian residents, Burke reached out to them, and helped make the city a model of ethnic diversity. Burke remained in office so long, one longtime observer noted, because "he wears well. He has mastered the art of compromise ... and he's the smartest cookie on the council."
Born in Long Beach, Burke moved to Alhambra at age 2 and lived the rest of his life in the house his father built. He earned bachelor's, law and master's degrees from USC and practiced civil, divorce and estate law in Alhambra for 60 years.
He served as city attorney before joining the City Council. Burke never missed a local Rotary meeting for 52 years, and was named man of the year by seven service organizations.
His father, Montivel Burke, preceded him on the Alhambra City Council and as mayor and was a state assemblyman for 18 years.
In honor of both men, the Burke name adorns some two dozen Alhambra buildings and parks. Last year, a street was named Talmage V. Burke Way.
Burke is survived by his wife, Lisa; son, Montivel A. Burke II; daughter, Karen M. Brown; and six grandchildren.
Services are private.